A layoff veteran speaks out…

Reader Mark Perry shares his multiple-layoff tale – along with some great advice for job-seekers. I’m sure a lot of you Valley longtimers can relate:

Not exactly sure if this applies but, I’ve been laid off three times since 1970. I’m not even sure the first time actually counts because I was laid off before the job started.

The valley computer job market boom-bust cycles seemed to run every 10 yrs. Unfortunately I was looking for my first job during the start of a ‘bust” cycle in 1970.

I had a temp job in 1969 the summer before I graduated SJ State College (before it was named SJSU several years later) .

It was an entry position as a computer programmer for Fairchild Instrumentation. They had promised me a full time position after graduation in the spring. They contacted me two weeks before graduation to tell me that they couldn’t give me the job. “It’s the economy”.

I did land a position there three weeks later via a contacts made at the company. As an entry level position, they paid less than the guy I replaced. I was with them for about 9 yrs when the “microprocessor” came on the scene and a boom in Hi-Tech was just starting. I moved to a new job with local giant Intel

I was working at Intel for the micro-controller group for just a little more than a year when the company announced it was moving the division to Chandler AZ. They wanted me to move with the group, but I didn’t want to leave the area. I guess that doesn’t really qualify as a layoff, but I was out of work again.

A friend heard about my impending unemployment asked if I would join him in a consulting business he had started. I worked with him and a 2nd consulting company for the next 13 yrs. doing various embedded software projects for 23 different companies in the Valley from 1979-1992. Really a lot fun and interesting work during the extended boom time.

Most of the work came through a network of professional friends. My only regret was not saving and investing enough for the eventual end that seemed to come too quickly.

Layoff #2 came after the consulting company I was working with came on hard times (a bust cycle) and was bought out.

I was on the street shortly for about 6 months when a friend at Applied Materials got me an interview and an eventual position that lasted through the Dot.Com Boom and a final layoff in 2003 when the bubble burst.

After that final layoff, I interviewed for 2-3 companies over the next year with no results. My network of professional contacts alll seemed to be in the same boat. We’d exchange leads by email. Several of us would meet for lunch to catch up and maintain contacts. A few were “motivated” enough to move out of the area to follow a professional career. A few others stayed and moved out of the professional career to pursue other interests.

I chose the latter. After a year with only one three week project, I had to face the fact that this downer economy in the Silicon Valley could last longer than I could. Family was here and I didn’t want to move away. Early retirement?

I took a part time job as a substitute teacher for the local elementary schools to pay medical insurance premiums. With my wife’s parttime job as church secretary and our investment strategies changed from “growth” to “income”, we’re doing “ok”.

Our debt level is low (we paid off the house several years ago), we cut expenses to the bone and manage to still be still “semi-retired” five years later.

My advice to “looking” professionals:

1) Maintain active and previous professional friendships via email, phone, or our version of FaceBook: LinkedIn.com. When I was still active, I’d guess the 90% of any new project was through an active network of professional friendships.

2) Try part time consulting companies for a “foot in the door” opportunity to a full time position.

3) It’s “ok” to be depressed at first. It’ll pass.


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  • This past Sunday Business section of the San Jose Mercury News had two great write ups by Patrick May that offered great advice and comparisons and contrasts of the current down turn to the far less in scope dot-com bust. Both articles struck a cord with me because I am a veteran of the dot-com bust and I’m now working my way through the current economic and industry shift…and will survive yet again. I encourage all who are denizens of this crazy valley to click the links and read Patrick’s prose. Nice work.

    I was struck by the “advice” offered by Martin Hendess in the “Tips/Advice from layoff veterans” article:

    “Martin Hendess, 39: “I’m personally at a bit of a disadvantage because I have a broader marketing background, yet companies today are looking for very specific skills. And if you don’t have 10 out of the 10 items on their checklist, they can easily move on to the next candidate because there’s such a huge pool.”

    As a fellow marketing professional, I echo this perspective and would like to add a few possible solutions. Like Martin, I have a general marketing background that was sought after during the early days of the Internet revolution. My MBA concentration was in Marketing Management to boot. There has been a strong shift in desirability for marketing professionals to be more specialized and almost more tactical in skills. However, I think there is still demand for professionals who have the depth and experience to understand marketing at the strategic level and have a point of view for how these new specialized skills support a marketing strategy. What the market is telling us generalist is to become familiar with and learn the new technologies and processes to interact with consumers…which is becoming more 1:1.

    The best education on these new marketing tools comes from reading the latest marketing blogs, talking to those in the field and actually jumping in to do it. Remember, these specialized skills were not main stream 5+ years ago and the text books being used in MBA elective courses are now out of date. Independent real time learning is the key.

    Learn the new marketing skills and find a project to apply and perfect the knowledge. I am applying my acquired knowledge of building customer communities and how to harness the power of blogging to help a friend build a consumer facing business. Developing a plan and learning by trial and error has taught me a great deal about marketing to the social web.

    The big win after this exercise is that I can add this skill set to my resume and will have tangible results to demonstrate effectiveness. I can not only bring social media marketing skills to the party, but can also provide a perspective on how these new skills fit within the larger plan…a perspective gained only through 12 + years of marketing experience.

    • Great advice, Eric. Thanks!