My Staged Plan For Unemployment

Six weeks and counting until I leave my job. Time flies by quick.

I’m waist-deep prepping for work deadlines that wrap up right before I leave so I’m in adrenaline rushed, get ‘er done mode. Even though the burnout part of my brain is ready to check out, I’m doing pretty well at making sure all the big things go smoothly. I want to make sure my teams are in a good place by the time I depart. I haven’t told most of my colleagues I’m leaving yet. We’re all in a crunch so I’m waiting to announce until things slow down around mid-May.

There was a period that I considered contracting for my company part-time. With Fiancé’s new job, I’d be able to make enough for us to live on pretty readily. I’d still be open to the possibility if it works out, and management seems to be on board, but the bureaucracy doesn’t seem to be able to get it together in time for us to have a contract in place by the time I leave. And I refuse to stick around in limbo all summer hoping that changes.

So I’m now outlining the plan assuming I won’t be contracting and I won’t find a new job before I leave. Originally I drew it up still relying on a separate finances model. (Honestly, I’ve been putting off combining my finances with fiancé because of my upcoming unemployment. I really hate the idea that right when we merge our financial lives, I’m no longer contributing to the family pot. He’s been very supportive about everything– pointing out that I’ve contributed the lion’s share while he’s been unemployed before and that I’ll probably be back to work again soon. Still, it feels weird and vulnerable and while I like that we can rely on each other, it’s very scary to loosen my grip and feel less in control.) But I’m coming around to basing things off our proposed joint budget.

Introducing a staged approach

Because this period of unemployment is going to include my first real summer in the six years since I graduated college, I really want to make the most of the time to decompress. But in order to make that happen, I want to set boundaries so that I feel free to really enjoy this time and not rush myself into hasty decisions going into my next job.

According to my monthly net worth projections (based on my monthly tracking), I’ve done pretty well enough adding to our cash position that even if I stuff most of my upcoming paychecks into my Mega Backdoor Roth 401k, we’ll be sitting on more cash than we would typically want or need in our emergency fund. How freaked out I plan to be will be based off of where we are in terms of that cash position: well above normal emergency fund, getting close, at or below, or in the red.

Here’s my unemployment in four potential stages:

Stage 1 – Guilt-free decompression

  • Primary goal: relax.
  • Spend money as I would normally.
  • Put together revised resume and LinkedIn. Otherwise, no obligation to search for jobs.
  • Only accept job offers from companies that align with my values as well as my professional and personal goals. No accepting low-balls or any position I don’t feel 95%+ about.
  • Duration: until 1/3 of “excess” cash position is spent, approximately two months (June 2018 – July 2018)

Stage 2 – Strategic workforce re-entry

  • Primary goal: get a good job.
  • Spend money according to joint budget.
  • Apply for jobs in product management. Use variety of avenues — recruiters, LinkedIn/Glassdoor/Indeed/AngelCo, Meetups, alumni networks, personal network
  • Accept job offers that align with professional and personal goals.
  • Duration: until remaining “excess” cash position is spent, approximately four months (August 2018 – November 2018)

Stage 3 – Aggressive workforce re-entry

  • Primary goal: get a job.
  • Spend money according to joint budget but cut personal allowances.
  • Apply for multiple types of tech or tech-adjacent roles- product management, software engineer, data analyst, QA, technical writing. Continue using variety of avenues. Use side hustles to supplement income while waiting for full-time work.
  • Accept job offers which meet minimum salary requirements, that I could deal working at for 1-2 years.
  • Duration: until half of emergency fund is spent, approximately nine months (December 2018 – August 2019)

Stage 4 – Drastic times call for drastic measures

  • Primary goal: stay afloat.
  • Revise joint budget and cut personal allowances.
  • Apply for work within and outside tech. Continue using a variety of avenues. Get in touch with temp agencies. Beg for my old job back? Use side hustles to supplement income while waiting for full-time work. Consider renting out second bedroom to roommate or on AirBnB. Investigate strategies for tax-effectively liquidating assets as needed (brokerage > half retirement > home > rest retirement).
  • Accept any non-illegal job that’ll keep household afloat.
  • Duration: ???

I refuse to write out a stage 5 plan. I’ll worry about it if we get there. Here’s hoping I stay in stages 1 and 2!

What would you do if you left your job? Would you start finding a new job immediately? At what point and by how much would you lower your standards during unemployment? What would you cut first?

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Be Entitled

On my way out the door, I’m starting to impart my last words of wisdom to our newest hires. It didn’t really dawn on me until the past year that there’s a cohort of people who look up to me. Not just as a manager but as a… mentor? Whom they ask for… advice? It still feels awkward to think about.

When I joined my company, there were no other women in the firm’s technology group. Just twenty-five-ish guys, most of which were at least six feet tall, all of which were white.

Now, our team has six women out of a group of thirty-ish, not including myself. Two of which are non-white. In spite of the fact that I’d never considered myself the type of person to actively lean in, guess how many of those women moved into our group after I started getting involved in hiring decisions.

In my short time I’ve even been in the position to mentor others– not just women, but especially women– there’s one thing that I’ve wanted, desperately have tried to impart, over and over:

Be entitled!

Now, being entitled doesn’t mean what you might think. It doesn’t mean being a jerk, doesn’t mean to obstinately block progress lest you get exactly your way. But it does mean getting what you deserve and really knowing you deserve it too, even if the little gremlins in your head tell you maybe it’s an overreach, maybe you aren’t ready.

Here’s the thing: over the years, I’ve had the benefit of learning from some really smart and talented men. One thing I’ve learned is that when those men have very strong convictions about something, they make sure those convictions are heard. Sometimes prolongedly, sometimes stepping on the toes of others, sometimes ad nauseum until a poor new hire is checking the clock every thirty seconds to see if she’s going to make it out of this meeting in time to catch the train to a dinner party she needs to get to. And these men do this not because they are trying to be jerks, but because we work in an environment premised on collaborative argumentation and in that environment they are entitled to have their opinions heard in full and considered by others in good faith.

It took me a while to get used to this way of working. When I was new I would often come and go from meetings not having said a word, feeling unsure of how to interrupt and make space for my opinions. Managers would have to call on me like I was still a student, YAPFB, what do you think about this? YAPFB, you’ve done the analysis, does this fit what you’ve seen?

It took a few good mentors, men who are staunch feminists and walk the walk, to reiterate for me again and again: You can interrupt. You are entitled to have your opinion heard. You are allowed to take up space. It had been so engrained in me all my life to be as background as possible, to take up as little oxygen in the room as I could, that my understanding of my own desert was warped. While I didn’t need my mentors permission, I did need their reminder:  I am not just allowed, I am entitled.

This revelation of entitlement expanded to other areas of my work life. I was not just entitled to be heard, I was also entitled to be paid. I was not just entitled to be paid, but I was also entitled not to take on all the career-stunting admin work that nobody else wanted to do because I was so “organized.” I was entitled to work-life balance and, as a human, I was entitled to sometimes make a mistake. I am entitled not to hear sexist jokes by the water cooler and I am entitled when I hear them to call them out.

When I see newer, younger women in my group, I often see a mirror of my younger self’s habits and behaviors. Recently, one of our newer hires jumped back into projects the day after a semi-serious head injury and working into the late hours of the night to hit a couple of deadlines. Because she felt like she had to fulfill her obligations to the team, she ended up exacerbating her injury. When I told her manager that I was concerned, he said, “I think it’s cute that she works so hard.” #nope, going to go flip some tables now

Because she, you, I, all humans in decent living conditions are entitled to drop tasks after a head injury. (Hopefully not silently, but whatcha gonna do?) Basic things, health being the first among that list, nobody else should be able to take from you. Not your employer, not anyone. You as a person, an identity you had way before you as an employee, are entitled to that.

It’s taken a lot of practice to feel comfortable being entitled. To learn to assert my own desert than to wait for others assert it on my behalf. To learn to state what I feel entitled to instead of asking if I am entitled to them. To be– if I’m being flip about it– like “one of the boys,” who haven’t had a sense of diminutiveness, of sweet and passive deference cudgeled into them from the day they were born. I hope to pass this along to the next cohort of women as well as I can, with what little time I have.

What advice would you give young professional women in your field?

Senioritis

Whenever I read threads about retiring early, people talk about feeling elated and almost nostalgic at their jobs before they leave. They often say things like how leaving takes the pressure off the office politics, how for the first time in years they’re able to really focus and crank out their work. Sprinting to the finish line.

On the one hand I definitely feel less annoyed at office politics. Knowing that I’ll be gone in two months has helped me take a lot of really painful changes in stride. Though I still continue to think about the long term wellbeing of my group– and in particular about the colleagues I really care about– I no longer feel like each change at the organization is going to upend our team. They’re bad business decisions that require annoying workarounds. And that’s okay. Not my circus, not my monkey. It won’t affect me for much longer anyway.

On the other hand, I don’t feel any less stressed doing my actual work. I still feel this need to make clients happy, to be “on” weekends leading up to a deadline. Lately too I’ve started having work dreams where my brain works on projects while I’m unconscious. This is something that hasn’t happened to me since college, when I’d debug difficult assignments during the course of my most restless sleep.

Sadly though this stress hasn’t translated into motivation. As I get closer to my leave date I can feel my motivation levels suddenly and precipitously drop. I find myself sitting in front of my computer minutes at a time blankly thinking, “Just type. Just type. Just type.” Or, “Why am I here? This is meaningless. Maybe I should quit sooner.” In some ways I feel like I’m in those couple of weeks leading up to finals and my brain’s convinced if it don’t do well I won’t graduate or something. So it’s procrastinating, hard.

I’m still two months out from when I leave, so maybe my mood will change a month out, a week out, on my final day. Right now I’m feeling a bit of senioritis, but I’ll try my best to push through until the end.

How did you feel on your last days/weeks/months before leaving a job? Were your motivation and performance affected?

 

Are Career Coaches Worth It?

Over the course of job searching, my confidence has gone through many ebbs and flows.

Some days I feel super confident, like when I felt good enough to turn down an offer. Other days I feel like the only thing I’m qualified to get paid for is donating my plasma.

In either case, my feelings are volatile and highly subjective. In hopes of anchoring my expectations to “reality”, I sought out an external sounding board: I hired a career coach.

I’ve hired a career coach in the past, to mediocre effect. My previous career coach didn’t have specific experience in tech and gave some generic resume advice, nothing I felt like I couldn’t get off of self-help articles I found online.

This round, though, I found a career coach with specific knowledge in tech recruiting and, let me tell you, the difference was like night and day. She gave me very targeted information about how to restructure my resume and LinkedIn for making a career change, which job boards are used for which section of the market, which recruiting firms and Meetups to target in my area, and what to ask and expect for compensation down to the company level which is a big f’ing deal and worth her advice for that point alone.

One major downside though is that career coaching is not cheap. I paid ~$200 for each session of coaching (about an hour each), though it also included some amount of prep time and follow up from my coaches. If they help me secure a job or avoid making a multi-thousand dollar mistake, though, the price seems incredibly worth it in comparison.

If ever I’m in this situation again in the future, or for others who might be, I would say career coaches are only worth it if they:

  • have experience recruiting in your specific industry of interest,
  • have knowledge of your regional job market,
  • have reviews and testimonials which indicate they can give specific and actionable advice, and
  • are of roughly the same generation / target demographic or otherwise have insight into career development for your cohort for things like, e.g. what can I expect for maternity?

Have you ever used a career coach? Did you feel it was worth the money?

Lowest Common Denominator

Anxiety has started to set in as I begin to approach my leave date. It’s still three months away, but that’s basically tomorrow in anxious-brain time.

As I get closer I’m working through some worst-case scenario plans to hopefully put my mind at ease. For instance, if my projections are correct, I should be able to make it seven months (until the end of 2018) just on my cash earnings between now and my leave date. Which means, assuming I don’t make one red cent after I quit, I shouldn’t be moving “backwards” but just stuck in my March 2018 net worth. That feels like a nicer way of framing the situation than saying I’m drawing down my cash reserves.

Ideally, though, it’d be good to have some small stream of incomes coming in to buffer myself. For whatever reason, though, I never think of doing anything tech-y or managerial (my highest ROI skill areas). If I consulted at the market rate for my current work, for instance, I could probably live off of doing 10 hours/week indefinitely. No, when I think of generating small side streams, I think of: donating my body to science, participating in psychology studies, tutoring. All relatively low-ROI but easy things to do, like I’m a college student again strapped for cash.

The better way to approach this, obviously, is to figure out how to do high-pay work part time.

The first stop, I think, is to see if my employer would be willing to hire me as a contractor to finish up some of my ongoing work. This would let me build up a fat cash cushion and walk away from some of the internal dynamics that are making me unhappy, but may or may not pan out due to various state regulations. I have enough contacts that I’m sure I could dredge up clients on my own, but unfortunately, I can’t consult in my field outside my company for at least two years due to my non-compete.

The second stop, then, would be to retrain for a closely related but not identical area of consulting that I can probably get certified to do in a month.

The third stop would be, I guess, to find part time jobs that play to my skills (assuming I can’t get a full time job that plays to my skills?). This is where I start drawing a blank. Maybe if it gets really bad I could do some freelance coding, but it’s difficult for me to imagine scoring freelance coding gigs and not just signing up for a FT position at a start-up since the job market here is pretty favorable to employees. In any case, it’s an option and probably a better one than selling my eggs.

Do you have a list of Plan B jobs? Do they adequately utilize your high ROI skills?

Rejecting A Job Offer For The First Time Ever

Good news, all: I got a job offer!

Even better news: I rejected it.

Wait, what?

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a recruiter. They were hiring for a company in a similar area of business to my own. It seemed like an interesting opportunity that would allow me to figure out whether my issues are really just with my current employer or the type of work I do overall.

Suffice it to say I killed it during my half-day marathon of interviews. Unlike when I was a college senior– i.e. the last time I got a new job– I knew what I was talking about and after years of experience, felt a lot more at ease with “pitching” myself.

They made me an offer, and the offer was… okay. Money-wise, it was not that different from what I am getting paid now. I probably could have negotiated it higher, but I decided to reject the offer instead. Without going to deeply into it, there were parts of the offer that were red flags (i.e. things that were contradictory to what I had been told verbally) and, after talking a bit more with the team including some junior members on staff who were naively candid, I realized that joining would mean a 25% increase in hours from what I was used to. Which, hahahaha no. I value my time, thank you.

So why, you may ask, am I celebrating rejecting this job?

Because it is the first time I’ve ever been in a position to do so. And it felt amazing.

When I was an undergrad, I remember the frantic do-si-so of courting potential employers. I sent out something like fifty resumes. I went to all the career fairs and company-sponsored talks. I jetted across the country to Seattle, New York, Madison, and more for job and grad school interviews. I’d get back a lot: “our team really liked you but we don’t think you’d be a good fit for this role.” And then they’d put me through another round of interviews for a different role just to tell me no again.

I got rejected everywhere, with one exception: my current employer. I jumped on the one and only opportunity I had. And I’ve done well for myself. I’ve gotten steady promotions and double-digit raises pretty much every year since I’ve joined. But there’s always been that nagging feeling in the back of my head that this was the only job I could get. That nobody else would want me.

But now I know that isn’t true. Not only am I wanted, but I have the confidence in myself to say no to opportunities that I don’t want in return. Maybe later this’ll end up biting me months from now, when I’m unemployed and can’t get another offer. But right now, at least, it feels so good.

Have you ever rejected a job offer? How do you know whether a job is right for you?

 

Do I Have To Lean In?

Lately I’ve been thinking about what’ll happen when I reach financial independence.

Right now I’m working in a particularly white, male-dominated area of tech. In my group there are over a hundred technologists. At the age of twenty-six, I am the most senior woman of the group. There used to be quite a few women in just-under-C-level roles, but they all left en masse after no women ended up in the C-suite. No minorities either, for what it’s worth.

I have been told that this year, our incoming college graduates have been recruited 50-50 men and women, which is good. In hiring committees, I’ve come across my fair share of cringe-worthy moments. Like when my colleague remarked that an American-born Asian candidate needed to improve his English skills. Or when another defended hiring a candidate that was dismissive and sexist to the administrative staff. There have been times I was the deciding vote between hiring a qualified female or minority candidate or not.

I’m at the point in my career where the youngest new hires see me as a mentor. A couple of them even thought I was a mom (still reeling from that one). They ask my advice. I put them up for promotions. I am now apparently “old.”

I have enough seniority to affect some influence in my department. And if I decided to lean my career, I could probably increase it. In this area that really needs more diversity, I can continue to push bit by bit for change.

The problem is: I don’t identify strongly with my current field. Nor with tech in general. I don’t know if it’s just not a fit or if the culture has worn me down, but when I hit financial independence I plan to leave tech. I may even go before then.

That means around the peak of my career I’ll be throwing away any hard-earned influence I have. And that feels uncomfortable. Shouldn’t I be making spaces for women and minorities? Don’t I have a moral imperative to suck it up, put on my activist hat, stick it out (maybe even past FIRE) and pave the way? Even if I don’t like it.

I imagine I’ll be able to assuage my guilt of leaving after FIRE. I only have so much life and labor and I want to spend as much of it as I can doing things that bring me joy. Even so, there’s more I could be doing now while I’m here to increase my sphere of influence. I could stomp out my burnout, go corporate, get ambitious for those promotions. If I really push myself, in the next eight or nine years I’m still working, I could leave a real legacy behind me. But do I have the energy to do it?

What do you think? Are you a minority in your field? Is there a moral imperative for those who can to “lean in”?