Thoughts About Business School

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bschoolDespite being kind of a closet fuck-up, I am always happy when I can provide opinions to guide people through their life’s decisions. I have a young friend who has been mulling over graduate school, including business school, which I attended a few years ago. She sent me a note with a series of questions which I answered truthfully. Thinking that this might be helpful to some of you, I am transferring these questions and answers to my blog today, with strategic parts of my answer obscured (to preserve what’s left of my anonymity). Would love to hear your thoughts, questions or comments, either in the comments section below or via any other channels where you may know me.

1) What your the biggest takeaway after graduating bschool?

I’m not sure how to interpret “takeaway” but despite this being question #1, I’m answering it last– so I’ll answer with information that isn’t shared below.  I think having gone through the whole process, and despite some of the challenges and misgivings I have had about the experience, I feel really blessed to have done this in my life. I think it’s true that you value the things that you have to work the hardest for. Bschool was never really in my life plan and it’s not something—not at the point of admission, not at the point of attending—that came easily to me. I was rejected the 1st time I applied, I was waitlisted up to the last minute the 2nd time and had to push for admission (and received a phone call acceptance and had to move within a one month!), I struggled in the classes, was on academic probation—it was all super hard! But I also know that I worked harder and I made it and there is something satisfying about that.

I don’t boast about the MBA and in fact more of the time it’s people telling me what they think of me because I have it (and usually it’s positive) rather than me talking about it proactively. But I do think that I am part of a reasonably elite group. In some ways, it’s an honor to have been given this opportunity and I do think I gained a lot from it. So in that vein, it’s like a prize that I feel proud to have earned.

2) What is the one thing you wish you knew before you had applied that would have help set expectations about bschool or make the app process easier?

That bschool admission is a numbers game. Every school will list the average stats of their current class on the website and you should really look at these numbers in assessing your likelihood of admission. In college, admissions is different b/c I think the goals are different. They want some level of diversity, promise and potential in students, etc. And frankly, they have more spots to fill. So usually when you are applying for undergraduate admission, you have your safety schools, you have your reach schools etc. And sometimes the results are really jarring for comparable schools: like getting into UCLA but not UC Berkeley or whatever. For bschool, I don’t think there is that level of flexible hope. Your GPA has to be good, your GMAT has to be good, your work history should be substantial, etc. I think it’s just a much more cut and dry process.

3) What are the biggest challenges? Is it the curriculum, the day to day, classmates, etc.

Because I was a liberal arts major, the courses were really tough for me. I struggled a lot with the quant-heavy classes. While other people were off partying, I was sitting at home doing ALL the supplemental work that was suggested by professors. To be totally honest, I was on academic probation my first few quarters of school (which the dean told me wasn’t uncommon and that you can pull yourself out of). But I worked more and had less satisfying results than I’ve ever had in my life.

I also did find the social component of bschool really tough. I was older than most of the students by about 2-3 years so that accounted for some of it. But I think also it was my first exposure to the non-tech world and there was some behavior that was unexpected and egregious. The amount of drug use surprised me. Being a woman in bschool is tough, I think. To be honest, there are a lot of jerks in bschool (the finance guys come to mind) and I had never had to be around people like that before. To be absolutely honest as well, some of the girls who were perfectly smart and accomplished acted in incredibly self-degrading ways. It was my first exposure to some of this stuff and it was really tough. I didn’t like it.

4) Why did you choose {the school you attended} over other schools?

I applied for school twice and by the 2nd time, {my bschool} was the only school that accepted me. In all fairness, by that second time, I was waitlisted for 2 schools ({school #1 and school #2}) and my friend had successfully lobbied for admission to {my bschool} and was able to pass on the admission director’s email to me (her sister was a student at {the college} and walked to {the bschool} to get the information for her). I wrote an email to the director giving her updates since the time of application (in my case, it included traveling to India for work, retaking and getting an A in statistics, and taking a solo journey through Germany as a life refresh). Admissions directors are assessed on their acceptance rates so basically you have to let them know “if you give me an offer, I will accept.”

In terms of why I decided to apply to {my bschool}: a colleague who had gone to {another bschool located in the South} gave me advice and her biggest piece of feedback was that the geography of the school seriously impacts your opportunities b/c it dictates which companies will recruit there, why students are there and which programs are better. She had difficulty attending {her bschool} and getting traction on internships and jobs back in California which is where she aimed to be after graduation. Geography also dictates why some schools are known for certain programs. NYU, Columbia and Wharton are big finance schools b/c they are close to NYC. There are a lot of good brand marketing programs in the midwest (Michigan comes to mind) b/c a lot of CPGs are in the midwest (P&G is in Ohio, I think Kimberly Clark is in the area too).  I figured {my bschool} was a good bet if I wanted to work in California.

5) How did you know the time was “right” for you to go? Or did you know?

I started thinking about bschool when I was probably around 25 and I was working at a magazine. I had two friends who were either about to go or had just been accepted so there was some “maybe me too” about the situation. My journey to bschool was longer b/c I wasn’t the type of person who had always aspired to it. So around that time, I started taking econ classes at the local community college. By 26, I started working at Google and at that point in time, you didn’t leave Google. You just didn’t. I still though took the GMAT at that time b/c I wanted to use it as a decision maker (basically if I did poorly, I would know bschool wasn’t the thing for me). About 2 years into Google, I was pretty sure I was ready to start thinking about other things and that’s about when I applied for the first time to bschool.

I don’t think there is an epiphany about when the time is right. I think for me the time was right for two reasons. I think, very truthfully, as a woman you have to make these hard decisions. I didn’t want to go to bschool when I was too old. And then I think you should apply when you have a body of work and an application that is impressive enough to grab an admission officer’s attention. So I applied when I thought that all my ducks were in a row and when I thought I had enough professional equity to be able to benefit from going back to school for my master’s.

6) I want to find an opportunity to volunteer…but not just any opportunity  I want to go about it strategically…any tips? Or do you know any contacts?

There are resources like VolunteerMatch where you can find places to volunteer. I think generally I have volunteered at organizations that I cared about or where somebody offered me a chance to volunteer. So I volunteered at a camp for kids with cancer and I was a leader on my high school’s housebuilding trip to Mexico (in this second case, a friend was a teacher at the school at the time and a couple of their faculty leaders dropped out). Currently, I do an annual volunteering project at Glide with {my bschool} b/c an alum puts it together and always asks me if I want to go. I think you need to do things that you enjoy. If you are thinking about this in terms of having it on your resume for bschool, I would suggest that you volunteer for projects where you lead a team, where you produce a deliverable, or something that demonstrates a quality that is impressive.

7) How did bschool change or impact you (either personally or professionally)? 

Before deciding to go to school, I had a friend describe to me what she felt like she gained from getting her MBA. And she likened it to putting on a pair of glasses: that it sharpened everything that you saw from a business perspective. I think pre bschool, I had really good instincts about things and had always been told that I was really analytical. I think I now have a more structured way of thinking about things and sharing my opinions. Also, most bschools are based on the case method where you study how companies in the past had tackled problems. You realize that despite progress that happens in the business world, a lot of the same situations are revisited time and time again. So again, it gives you a framework for understanding any challenges you may tackle currently in your job.

I think also it has helped me with gaining trust or respect in the workplace. I am pretty much the person nobody wants to be in the business world: a minority, a female, small in stature and youthful in appearance. I hate saying this b/c I hope it doesn’t dishearten you but I am never the person that people want to listen to and I am never the person who automatically gets respect from others. When I was younger, I thought it was because I was young and new to the working world but as I’ve gotten older (and yes, ok, I didn’t really age as much so that is probably one reason), I’ve realized that the working world is a tough place for females, for minority females, etc. I feel like when people know that I have an MBA from a good program (and also have a sense of my work history), they cut me more slack than if they were just meeting me cold. So there is a sense of a personal benefit in the workplace from having that beacon in my personal history.

8) You said the curriculum is quant heavy…can you elaborate or give an example of the material? 

You can check out the curriculum for the first semester or quarters of bschool on any school’s site. I can’t remember specifically but your first quarter will always be general classes so something like accounting and statistics and economics etc. For me, a lot of the material didn’t come naturally b/c I had a soft major. Also, unlike in college where most students are on your same level, by the time you hit grad school, people have specialized. So it’s not uncommon for you to be in an economics class with people who were economics majors from great schools. It’s inherently never a level playing field by that point. I remember taking a statistics final where I really struggled up to the last minute (and still did only ok) whereas a girl who I knew was a math major from {a good undergraduate school} finished it within 20 mins and got up and left. And I’m pretty sure she got an A. With that said, I do think that bschool is not set up to help you learn material—you can’t learn Accounting in 10 weeks. So I would recommend that you take some of these courses at the local junior college either to be prepared and not be shellshocked but also to get a sense of if this stuff even interests you. I took Macro and Micro economics classes at the local JC before I even applied to bschool to see if I liked the material at all. (PS I LOVED it)

9) If there’s one thing I should absolutely know – what is it?

You asked me before whether I thought you could still be successful if you didn’t go to grad school and my answer was a resounding “YES.” While going back to school can yield great opportunities, professionally and personally, whether or not you are accepted into a program and decide to go is not a mark of your value, not as a person and not as a professional. Getting an advanced degree is not a guarantee of future success and not getting an advanced degree is not going to handicap you from being exceptionally successful if that’s what you work towards.

I think also, a big revelation is just how much bschool and the admissions cycle is a numbers game. When I was a student, my bschool went through a brand refresh and one of the deans made a really interesting comment. Somebody said to him that the brand should be updated to appeal to prospective students b/c the students are the customers. The dean responded that the students are the product and that their real customers are the businesses who hire from the bschool. It was an interesting comment b/c it gave insight on the whole ecosystem: that the bschool has to produce graduates who go into some industries who are so happy with those employees they keep recruiting there which drives new students to want to apply to that school for the chance of working at those companies… It’s a business. And for that reason, they are eyeballing applicants as unformed “products” that they can buy, update and sell, as it were.

10) Optional: If you don’t mind me asking, what was starting salary like right after graduation?

I don’t want to say the number but my salary increased substantially (but also, I think I was underpaid at my previous employer). I would say my salary increased by 30%+ pre to post bschool.

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Schadenfreude

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nelson_ha_haThere is a wonderful German word “schadenfreude” which literally means “harm-joy” and describes the feeling of enjoyment when you hear or see others’ misfortune. I was thinking about this sensation in the context of the pain when you have been let go from a company (or if you have struggled at a company and left on your own) and how you feel when you later hear about difficulties that have ensued since your departure.

I was thinking about the complexity of schadenfreude in the context of professional life– namely because the company is different than your coworkers which is different than your manager or anyone else you may have interacted with at the employer. So for example: if your boyfriend dumps you, it’s a one to one thing. So the schadenfreude is yours for the taking and you can fully feel free to hate him and gleefully rejoice when his next girlfriend dumps him. Or when he gets herpes. Or when his next girlfriend dumps him after giving him herpes. Feel free to fill in the blank with whatever you want here.

But it’s more complicated when it’s a company because while you may sometimes feel a lingering twinge of bitterness, it can be hard to direct the negative feelings and you have to temper the schadenfreude because you know that there is impact on people you have cared about.

If you have been following this blog, or if you just look back to a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know that I was let go by my last employer in a cost-cutting measure. I don’t necessarily think it was purely just cost-cutting if I am to be totally honest, but if I keep my mind on track and focus on the quants, I can agree that things weren’t going well and it made sense to get rid of me and perhaps some of the other team members (if the focus was on sustaining a bare necessity staff, essentially).

Because I left with a certain amount of knowledge, background and experience and frankly, because the team is down two headcount, it is not surprising that some things are tough for my old team right now. I don’t feel happy about it– I mean, I feel like I’d be a sadist if I said that I am pleased by the difficulties currently experienced by my former colleagues.

But I think what I do feel is some sense of vindication and perhaps the right word is validation: that when you exit and things become tough, others realize the contributions you were making and what they lost when they cut you loose. I was telling a former coworker that the best case scenario is that you leave your role and all things go to shit– not because you wish it but because it would truly demonstrate your worth to the company and it’s kind of a final “eff you” to however shot the final bullet.

I guess, then, if I go back to my comparison of work to a relationship: it’s less about feeling happy when your ex experiences pain. The schadenfreude of work isn’t like that. It’s more like recuperating from the trauma of the breakup, working out and getting really hot and then seeing your ex and knowing that he’s feeling pretty bad when he fully comprehends what he has lost.

A look back: the week of July 21

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checklistAt Google, it was common to keep weekly lists of your accomplishments. For anal retentive people (like me) these types of tasks were a dream come true. I’ve continue this habit at most of my later companies b/c it’s nice to have a record of the things that you have done. So in light of this being the end of week #2 of unemployment, I thought it would be good to start keeping a list of things I have done, particularly for friends who are wondering how I am spending my time. Sorry to strangers who may be bored by these blog entries.

JOB STUFF

1) I had a phone screen on Monday morning for an SF based firm. Not sure how I did though he mentioned company activities for the remainder of the week so feedback regarding possible next steps would be delayed.

2) Had an in-person interview on Monday afternoon with a very small (stealth mode) startup in the Peninsula area. I hadn’t applied for this job; a recruiter found my information and contacted me. I mentioned this being the impetus to my startups blog post earlier this week. While I like the idea of working in a smaller company, I think this company was too small and underdeveloped as a business for me at this point. There is a tricky thing about working at small startups, I think, particularly if the founders are leading the company and if they are technical people. I tend to think that they perceive the product as their pet project and they hold everything very close to the vest. My metaphor for this is surgeons and doctors who are asked to refrain from operating on or treating family members. Their judgment is clouded because they can’t be totally objective in that moment.

This startup needed to start developing marketing materials, which is where the role I interviewed for came in, but I got the sense that they didn’t have a business lead and that I would be left fighting a lot of those battles. I didn’t feel like I had the seniority for this and for other reason, I just didn’t feel like I was the right one for this job. In all honesty, the company should probably hire someone on a contract basis to complete the collateral. I communicated to the recruiter and pulled myself from consideration.

3) Had a casual in-person “conversation” with a potential hiring manager at an SF based company based on a referral from a former coworker.  When the layoff was announced (not even my last day at the company, but the day of the announcement), a former coworker sent me a note asking if we could catch up. Given the timing, I guessed that she wanted to see if I was interested in a role (either that or she wanted to gossip given the freshness of the pain). She introduced me to the head of a department at her company and I met with her on Thursday to talk about the company, what she has done, what she is hoping to do and what she felt were deficiencies. These types of informational interviews are kind of tricky. Because on the one hand, you aren’t sure if there are any positions actually open so you can’t really pitch yourself. On the other hand, it’s good to know that this person has some level of interest in you based on the introduction– b/c why would they otherwise be doing the interview? I have the problem of keeping myself very distant during interviews– I don’t want to get my hopes up and I don’t want to come off as desperate. I’m also generally not very animated when it comes to business dealings. So in the end, I worry that I came across as disinterested. I also generally feel weird when people help me (I know– it’s totally stupid). You’re always supposed to try to get a foot in the door via a referral or some other personal means. It’s really the best way. But part of me always feels like I need to earn the right and I probably end of subconsciously sabotaging myself because of it. In the end, this is sounding like a great opportunity; however, it’s not exactly an open job req. I wrote to the hiring manager this morning letting her know that I’m very interested and to keep me updated on developments on her team.

4) Received a response from a job I’d applied for in SF. They had sent me an exercise with questions to complete. Finished those this morning and set them off.

5) Received an email from a recruiter from a Peninsula company. Setting up times for phone interviews next week.

SOCIAL STUFF

I mentioned that I’m trying to strike a good balance of being social while also being mindful of my money situation. I think I was pretty good this week.

1) Had Happy Hour with a former colleague in the Peninsula. She had worked at my previous company so I let her know about the layoffs and how I’m doing.

2) After my Thursday interview in SF, met up with a high school friend (who I actually have known off and on since the 3rd grade). We had drinks and it was great. Really enjoyed our hour spent catching up. After we left, I met up with two former coworkers in SF for dinner before taking public transportation home.

OTHER

1) Finished the book “Mastering the Art of French Eating, Lessons in Food and Love From a Year in Paris” by Ann Mah. Loved it. I absolutely adore Paris so anytime I can read about it and reminisce, it’s pure bliss. This is the 14th book that I have read this year. My goal is 20 and it looks like I will definitely make it!

2) Trying to purge things in my house that I don’t need anymore. Hoping to have a garage sale in a couple of weeks. Sent a note to my neighbor asking if they had any problems. Moved some of the sellables form my parents’ to my house for sorting and tagging. Just sold a shirt that I no longer want on eBay.

3) Went to kick boxing class on Wednesday.

LOOKING AHEAD

I’m having dim sum with two high school friends on Sunday so I’m definitely looking forward to that. Plan to spend the next couple of days sorting out the garage sale stuff, picking up a library book and returning some materials. Headed up to SF on Thursday to have lunch at the home of a Xoogler friend with another Xoogler friend. And probably lots more!

Hope you all have a great weekend!

To startup or not to startup?

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Silicon Valley HBOMy last job was at what I will always refer to as “a small company.” I don’t know that I would call it a startup given the age of the company. I reside in Silicon Valley (always have!) so upon my dismissal from my last job, inevitably I have been asked “so do you want to work for a startup or a big company?” I have had the benefit of working for bigger Silicon Valley companies as well as helping out with a friend’s husband’s ground floor startup so I have some pointed opinions about the benefits and problems of working at a startup. I’ll try to share them in an organized and respectful fashion. As context to this posting, I interviewed at a startup yesterday and decided not to continue on in the process at this particular firm.

Silicon Valley is starting to feel a bit like Hollywood these days– in the sense that each day, bright eyed and bushy tailed young people hightail it to the area from their nondescript places of origin to make it big. They’ve learned about the magic of the place in the media– the bright lights! the money! the parties!– and they too want to MAKE IT BIG. But like Hollywood, the truth is that few will make it big. And like Hollywood, despite the depressing statistics, everyone will still think that they are the exception and not the rule. I’m trying not to be a Debbie Downer about this, but as a 10+ year veteran of Silicon Valley who has worked or has insight about working at “hot” companies, I’m just a little bit less dreamy about it all.

The pros: I actually think there are a lot of pros to be working at a startup. A lot of it has to do with being surrounded and having more direct access to some of the most exciting things about the tech industry. You feel alive because you work with people who exist in the mindset that: yes, together we can make a difference! We can make things better! WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD! Having worked in some of the most unevolving industries (publishing and console-based video games come to mind), where status quo is the business model, I can understand the allure of working on cutting edge projects with really smart and innovative people.

The cons: I don’t know if “cons” is the right word for this. I think it’s more caveats, and I have a few.

Young people. So I have mixed feelings about young people (right out of college or those in their 20s) working at startups. On the one hand: I think it’s a great idea. You have nothing to lose when you’re young. I repeat: nothing to lose. (Ok, maybe “less to lose” is more apt). Unless you have a huge amount of student debt (in which case, maybe you need to rethink or think more carefully about the instability of working at a startup), you should take the risk and experience the excitement of the startup life. I’m not entirely certain how startups pay for standard entry level roles compared to big companies, but my guess it might be lower or comparable. But regardless: you make no money when you’re young and you kind of don’t expect to make a ton of money. So if money is all the same, go for it! The equity part is nice but truthfully, I think about equity like a bonus: money that you shouldn’t expect to earn and if you do, you should put it right into retirement or long term, high growth savings.

For older individuals, like myself, I think the risk is slightly higher. I was talking to a friend recently about this and we both agreed: if given the choice between a lower salary and equity in a startup and a higher salary, we’d take the latter. I want a high salary. I need a high salary. This is the only thing (from a money perspective) that matters to older people like me. Potential payout from having equity in a company won’t serve as a down payment on a house. You know what will? That’s right: a high salary.

I also am personally not a fan of people joining a startup right out of college or even as a #2 job out of college. At most startups, everyone is young. Your manager will be young. Heaven forbid your manager has never worked at a blue chip company and has always worked the startup circuit. I understand that young people don’t want to work at stodgy old companies (under, let’s face it, stodgy old managers) but I feel like the Peter Pan quality of startups encourages a “let’s-never-grow-up” quality in people. My “what-a-hot-mess-nightmare-of-a-situation” example of this is the sexual harassment lawsuit brewing at Tinder where a 24-year old VP had a relationship with a colleague and now is claiming sexual harassment based on a series of terrible text messages and emails. There is too much room for young people to be young people at startups– which is basically to say, forget that it’s a work setting with work expectations and work repercussions. However you get it, I think you should first have a work experience where everyone virtually conducts themselves as strangers so that you understand that work is a different life setting and one where personal restraint is advisable.

Not all startups are the same. So I have some attributes that I look for when considering working at a startup/smaller company. I have worked on B2C as well as B2B products throughout my lifetime and prefer to continue along the B2B path. My rationale is: consumers are much more fickle so user acquisition as well as retention for a B2C product is much harder and the risk of failure is higher. With B2B, contracts bring in more money so you make bigger but fewer sales to stay afloat. Also I don’t know that I can back this up but I think it’s true: there is higher inertia with products so a company that purchases a B2B product and is happy enough will not look to change unless something goes wrong (or a really compelling new offering surfaces). (There’s a business term for this and I am mad that I can’t remember it.) I also tend to think B2B products are less about the sizzle and more about quality of the actual product so if you can make a sale, it’s more “earned” than I figure is the case with B2C.

I also am just generally critical of business models. Freemium should be avoided at all cost as it has been shown to have very low conversion. So if a company’s plan is “we’ll give it away free and then at some point charge”– this makes me kind of wary. Having had the magic of life beat out of me by 2 years of business school, I am less impressed by the magic of the technology or the disruption we (together!) may bring about. I am like a Chinese-American Cuba Gooding Jr., jumping up and down shouting “Show me the money!”

Don’t go for the sexy. I’ve worked for some pretty sexy tech brands in my day so I feel like I’ve earned the right to say this. I think most people have a list of the sexy startups that they want to join– either because they’ve heard about it so much in the news or because it’s a product that they use as a consumer. Don’t get me wrong: there is great benefit to having a sexy brand on your resume. The halo effect definitely gets you in the door later in your career and there is honestly nothing better than telling a person, “I work at {insert sexy brand}” and seeing the admiration in their eyes like you are some really hot shit (and kind of you are). But admiring a brand and being in the trenches as an employee are two totally different things. So I’m not saying don’t throw your resume in the pile at a brand you admire. I am saying don’t let this be the only thing you assess as you consider startups or any smaller company. Choose a company for the product. For the people. For the growth opportunities (and the real ones, not the ones the over-caffeinated recruiter pitches to you).

So in summary, the question is not just “am a startup person or not?” (although I will admit, there are some people who would not be able to operate in a startup setting and therefore should not. The people who fit this scenario that I worked with in the earlier days of Google ended up going to law school, if that helps you understand this character type any better). I generally do like working in smaller companies and would be open to joining a startup. But only one that passes my assessment as being a great next place for me to work (and not just the hot sexy sizzle test).

I’m great at unemployment– and sometimes that’s a problem

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wbreading-a-bookWhen it comes to unemployment, it isn’t my first time at this sad little rodeo. Following grad school, I took a role at a tech company that failed to turn into anything more than a 6 month assignment. (Though admittedly I was relieved when it ended b/c that place will go down as the single worst work experience that I have had to date.) Then I was unemployed 9 months before taking the job at the company I was most recently at.

I’m a type A personality so where a 9 month block of no-work sounds like bliss to some people, to me it started becoming overwhelming. I decided to spend my unemployment as optimally as I could. The San Jose library system is WONDERFUL, so I spent the time reading as many books as I could think of (and all FOR FREE). (Incidentally, I was able to read the full “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy and share my thoughts on this website I made: http://fiftyshadesofewww.wordpress.com/). I also started getting annoyed by the books on my bookshelf that I bought on a whim and never read. So I started reading those books for the goal of getting rid of the ones I didn’t like. I think I got through and gave away between 20-30 books in that effort. I felt GREAT.

So with this latest development, I gave myself a week or so to sleep it off (and wow, did I). And now I’m starting my plans to maximize this downtime. I am:

  • Again, reading a ton. The San Jose library system continues to be wonderful. And I am already eyeballing a number of books on my bookshelf that I want to read and toss.
  • Organizing and labeling all the crap that I’ve just thrown into boxes in my apartment. Have the categories be explicit and the groupings be logical.
  • This is a big dream but I want to have a yard sale and sell all the crap that I have been hoarding at my parents’ house. Most of it is home goods, which I tend to think will sell well. Also, when I’m not working, I start thinking of creative ways to make money.
  • I started this blog (yay!) but also am thinking of writing a piece for another more prominent blog on a topic that I have been thinking about for some time. Will spend this afternoon writing this, I think.

So yeah, I’m great at keeping busy and in fact value the time off as valuable “doing important life things” time. The one thing that you might notice about my list, though, is the solitary nature of a lot of the activities. They say that when you become unemployed, you need to build structure into your life (done!) and also maintain a social existence so that you don’t spiral into despair. As an introvert, I actually am not too susceptible to feeling lonely when alone but I do know that I need to leave the house and meet up with people if even just to maintain social skills.

The problem though is I’m also very logical and, let’s admit it, cheap. So for every social interaction– like a dinner or meeting someone for happy hour– I think about the money that I’m spending (of what, if I may be honest, was a pretty meager severance from my former employer) compared to what I could be spending sitting at home. Everything outside of my house means spending money and I constantly have to weigh the costs and benefits and force myself to take on some frivolity despite the cost.

So yeah, being the type A personality that I am, I am looking forward to maximizing this time. But I also know that I need to cut myself some slack and have some fun in the meantime.

Anatomy of a layoff

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woman-laid-off-from-jobThere’s been a lot of news today regarding Microsoft laying off 18,000 employees, namely from their Nokia division. (On a side note, this made me panic as I had been laid off next last and the influx of jobless people was concerning. It appears that the layoffs primarily hit the Seattle metro area though.) There is a long meandering layoff email making the circuit.

I was laid off from my job last week so I know all too well the frustrations that the MS people are probably feeling. Layoffs are necessarily sterile and unemotional. It’s a business transaction. Really, it’s a legal transaction. And if you put your heart into your work and worked to build professional and personal relationship, it feels like betrayal– like a reduction of you as an employee and human being down to a curt explanation of the needs of the business. You are not a person. You are a necessary sacrifice.

Here is a rundown of my layoff experience:

For context, I should explain that I worked at a small company and for some time, we all knew things were not going to plan. I personally was holding on for 2 reasons. First, despite the very noticeable churn of some of the best employees, I wanted to make sure that if I left, I left for the right reasons for me and not b/c of the surrounding hysteria. If I was going to “jump ship,” I wanted it to be for the next, better thing in my career and not just as an escape. Second, I was working to wrap up a couple of projects, which was important to me as a person and as a professional. I wanted to leave the company and my group in good shape, like ” I wrapped this up and now I can hand it over clean.” But also, I wanted to be able to say to my next employer, “hey, I did this, I did this from beginning to end.” And so I stayed knowing that my time was limited.

For some time, a colleague and I had noticed the VP of our department in meetings with the HR Director. We wondered what it could be about and in retrospect I think they had been preparing for some time for this decision. Nearing the end of Q2, my team and I were being worked to the bone and I suspect that this was done to squeeze every last drop of work out of me before they let me go. In this regard, I feel a little used, but from a business perspective, I suppose this is understandable.

Tuesday night of the new quarter, I checked my email and noticed that the VP of my team had put a one-on-one on my calendar. Already, I was alarmed. It was rare for me to meet with her and I knew that there were a limited number of things that this could be about. On Wednesday, I checked in with a teammate to see if a similar meeting had been put on her calendar and she said no. I knew something was up.

I walked in to the meeting and immediately, I knew it was bad. My VP was set up in the conference room very formally. She had what I later realized was her “script” laid out and she was calm and ready to go. She started talking about how the company had made bets that had not panned out and I just knew. I just knew. Then the HR Director walked in and it was game over. What happens at this point is your body goes into survival mode. I couldn’t tell you what the VP said to me b/c it really is all a blur. My brain had already fast forwarded to the end of the book. All I knew was that I was being let go and that I needed to remain in control. Don’t cry. Control your face. Survive this humiliation and get the eff out of there.

At the end of the meeting, I was given my separation papers and told that it would be best if I didn’t say anything (as the HR Director put it, there would be “an event” happening that day and it would be best if the affected were first notified. Also, they didn’t want hysteria to “spread like wildfire”) and take the rest of the day off. I gathered my things and left. Another team member was let go immediately after I was. My team was alerted an hour later. The CEO informed the rest of the company via email after lunch.

The termination was quick. Notified on Wednesday that Friday would be my last day. I didn’t go into the office too much not because of the humiliation but because I didn’t want to have to explain to everyone how I was feeling. I think other people felt worse than I was feeling in the moment. I liken it to something like survivor’s guilt. Feeling exhausted but truthfully a bit relieved, I just wanted to end things on the highest note possible given the situation and prepare for the next thing in life.

I’ve spent the past week kind of looking but sleeping a ton and generally being lazy. I had lunch with a former colleague who told me about a possible opportunity at her current workplace. Later I sent her my resume and apologized for seeming blah during our lunch. I actually am eager to hear if there might be a fit at her company. And she wrote back saying I needed to cut myself some slack. This is a bigger deal than I am acknowledging and it is normal to need some time to get over it all. So hopefully this week will do it: allowed me to recover from the shock, from the sadness and next week I will feel more energized and more aggressively tackle this whole “looking for a new job” thing.

Seminal post!

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I started this blog last fall– when I had an idea of the name I wanted, had the time to select a design and had some interest in writing. Then the holidays passed and life got busy again. I was writing for my company blog and that proved pretty satisfying.

Zoom ahead six months to last Wednesday when I was summoned to a small conference room and told that my services were no longer needed despite 1.5 years of hard work. It was a cost-cutting measure so nothing personal or performance based. And it’s not like I didn’t see it coming: the company has not been doing well and myself and the other marketing person let go were probably two of the pricier employees on the team and who weren’t directly responsible for a single line of business.

So one week after my 35th birthday, I am again unemployed and feeling like for every one step I take in life, I manage to stumble behind a few. It’s frustrating but I know that, like all the times before, I have to pick myself up and get myself back on track. In this vein, this seems like possibly the right time to get this blog started. And therefore I have.