Notebook with Field Notes written on the cover nest to a pencil

The Obligatory Lessons Learned After Four Months Unemployed

If we aren’t connected on LinkedIn you probably didn’t see that I started a new job this week.

Long story short (You can read more details over there), I’m back working at the law firm I started my legal tech career with back in 2005, leaving to relocate in 2011. A lot has changed over the years, including the firm’s name after a merger, and the role I’ll be playing, working with M365 instead of eDiscovery.

Since there are still so many folks getting laid off every day, and back on the market, I wanted to offer a lesson or three while I was thinking about it, from my own experience. YMMV.

  1. The obvious one – there is no replacement for your network.

Yes, it’s obvious that knowing the CIO mattered, a lot. Leaving on good terms with the folks I worked with during my first go-round mattered, a lot. Also being active on LinkedIn and interacting with one of the attorneys from the firm got the ball rolling because she offered to ping the CIO about openings also mattered. I hadn’t ever considered the possibility that in 12 years the outlook on having some remote employees would have changed, but was willing to catch up with an old friend, so now here we are.

Two sub-lessons here:

  • Take the call. I didn’t think there was a great fit, but when you’re looking, take the call anyway. You don’t know everything about the manager’s situation, and you don’t know who else they know. If nothing else, it can help grow your network, which you really need at this time.
  • It pays to be active on social media, especially LinkedIn in my case. The call only came about because someone who I interact with frequently online saw the news of my layoff and availability. I have always been active, as many of you know, but I really stepped up with the blog, newsletters, LinkedIn posting, etc. over the last few months. I intend to continue because again, the network matters!

And a tangent on this lesson. My experience in sending resumes in response to job postings was pretty much nothing. Everything that involved speaking to an actual person came about through someone I know. I had to send a lot of resumes even just to remain eligible for unemployment, so I kept at it, even when it became obvious that it was going nowhere. I’ve read story after story of people sending hundreds of resumes, and eventually, that might work, but it’s a lot. If you know someone in that boat, help them network. This is why your network is so important, people want to hire people they know and trust to put in good work and make the effort to be professional. I also understand that this practice is likely terrible for diversity in the industry. That being said, it’s not going to stop.

So I ask myself if we are destined to favor hiring the people we already know will do a decent job, how can we create a more diverse workplace? The answer that comes back to me is having wider, and more diverse, networks. The bottom line, if you want a diverse team, and also want to hire people you’re familiar with, get familiar with a diverse group of people! Get active in online and offline communities that are diverse. Be open to connection with people who aren’t like you. As a middle-aged, straight, white man I sure hope my network isn’t filled with a bunch of other middle-aged, straight, white men. Still, I’m willing to bet it could be more diverse. I can, and should, be interacting in more diverse spaces than I do. I continue to work on it and encourage you to do the same.

Anyway, tangent over, back to the lessons learned…

2. If you’re currently working, especially in tech, start thinking now about saving and what your options will be if you get laid off.

In my case, there was a sense that further layoffs might be coming, but I incorrectly assumed it would be at the end of the second quarter rather than the first, and yet in April, I got the call. I put off some of the things I shouldn’t have, like starting up my M365 newsletter, creating an LLC for selling content and potential consulting work, etc., and had to kind of rush that process while also dealing with the emotional aftermath of being laid off.

On the other hand, I had a decent amount of savings and a spouse who worked and who had health coverage that I could switch over. I didn’t have to take the first job I saw. In fact, going back to my earlier point about sending resumes to online postings, it’s possible that there were some jobs that would have responded that I didn’t apply for because it would have been taking a job just to have a job and I was privileged enough to not need to do that. I could wait out a longer hiring process and let my network open up some interesting possibilities for me instead of applying for a job I wasn’t that interested in, but could do easily enough.

3. Keep learning.

The story of how I wound up back and Bricker Graydon is about networking and the importance of not burning bridges. It’s also about the new skills I’ve developed in the last 12 years. I’ve been in eDiscovery. I’ve been a trainer. They have an eDiscovery team and a trainer already. I’ve also found myself waist-deep in M365 the last few years. They didn’t have that already. They didn’t even have an open position for that yet. But they knew they would have one, and they knew I could help, and they knew I was available, so the process got started.

The funny thing is, if you had told me 18 months ago that I would end up working in an IT role focused on M365 I would not have believed that. I would have probably told you “no thanks” if you offered it to me. The truth was that I didn’t particularly like working with M365. The technology was frequently frustrating to me. The constant change for the sake of change was incomprehensible to me. (Ask anyone who had reams and reams of documentation that had to be changed because MS changed the name of a product about that frustration level. It’s real!) And yet, when I talked to MJ about M365 inside the firm, it hit me. I have knowledge and skills here that can help them avoid some of the biggest pitfalls and take advantage of the good things that exist in M365, and I get to do it from inside the firm instead of with a Microsoft partner company. The trainer that lives inside of me, who is passionate about helping people use technology with less stress and more efficiency got very excited at the prospect that all of that frustration I felt in learning all things M365 and Compliance could be used to help the firm avoid pain points and mistakes. I also got excited at the possibility that I could continue to offer my newsletter and that the testing I did for that, and the testing I do at my job, could feed off each other while remaining two separate roles, of course.

So after 12 years, I’m back, but it’s very different. Because 12 years is a long time and things change fast around here. This opportunity only came about because I’ve been changing and now have something different to offer, that matches up with how the firm has been changing. I could have resisted learning all these new things over the years, but that would have also limited what I could do going forward. I’m really happy I didn’t do that. It might be the best career move I’ve ever made.

Now to get used to actually working all day again. 😉

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