Starting over, again
It’s been more than three years since I finished my PhD. Almost three years since I last posted here. And just over three years since I entered the post-ac job world. But I feel like I’m back where I started: I’ve left a job that felt familiar and now I’m unemployed in a city where I don’t have much of a network.
I spent exactly three years at the company where I was hired in October 2013. About six months in, and after discussing it with some trusted colleagues, I decided it was the right time to tell my manager that my SO and I were planning to move to the UK at some point in the next couple of years (time TBD, depending on when my SO decided to leave his postdoc and also make the leap from academia to industry).
I was super apprehensive, worried that my manager’s reaction would be, “Thanks for the heads-up—now I know to start looking for your replacement.” But he didn’t: He was very receptive and said that he was happy to help me start laying the groundwork for an international transfer. My role wasn’t one that could be done overseas, but since I’d come highly recommended, would have a very visible record of good work, and was in a good position to network, I should be all set when the time came.
The time came: July 2016. I started applying to UK-based jobs in October 2015. Over the following year, I applied to eight roles in all different areas of the company.
I was rejected for every single one.
Some people rejected me outright on the basis of my resume. Others put me through the full, grueling complement of interviews. But the feedback, when I got it, was consistent: I was a great candidate, and they would happily recommend me for another role, but I was not suitable for this one because I didn’t have (enough) direct experience.
It’s discouraging to be told this at any time; but it’s a special kind of discouraging to be told this at your own company, where you’ve assembled a solid record of work and come with trusted references. Any time I so much as applied for a job, I’d ask my former and current managers to drop the hiring manager a note on my behalf (something they were very willing to do, especially as, in many cases, they knew the hiring managers very well). But it didn’t matter.
The one thing I was able to work out, thanks to all that networking, was keeping my salary for an additional three months, from August to October, while working out of the UK to cover for someone on parental leave. When I still didn’t have a permanent role after those three months, I was offered the option to stay on as a contract worker until the end of the year. It would have meant a salary cut and loss of benefits, but it would have been something, and I could have continued looking for a permanent role.
But I decided it was time to cut my losses and go. I’d spent a demoralizing twelve months applying to every position I could conceivably be suited to, and I’d had enough rejection for one year. I was mentally exhausted from working so hard on so many applications, building relationships with all the right people, trying to prove myself in the temporary role I was in, and keeping myself optimistic and confident so that I came across well in conversations and interviews.
Coming to terms with this was a process. I’d felt so sure that my company would find something for me—I was in a role with a lot of visibility; I had a clear record of important contributions I could point to; I worked directly with people at all levels all over the company; and I had important, well respected people singing my praises. (Plus, there was the economic argument: It’s cheaper to keep an existing employee than it is to hire someone new!) Friends had all sorts of stories about people they knew having a tough time transferring, but it all working out in the end (and I saw it happen to a few of my coworkers, too).
But here’s the truth: None of the jobs I applied to was anything I was really passionate about. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have been thrilled to have one of them, or that I wouldn’t have done a kick-ass job if I’d been given the chance. But when I imagine, “What if I’d been offered X role?” I don’t feel like I’ve missed the opportunity of a lifetime. I just miss having the salary, stability, and benefits that my company had been providing. That’s no small thing—but it was important for me to identify that as the real source of my anxiety.
And that realization made it possible for me to come to terms with the unemployment that I had been utterly dreading. I now have the chance to find a role that I’m excited about. And I can leave behind the company that didn’t value me enough to keep me.
So, technically, I’ve been unemployed for almost two and a half months. But I’m only really counting from January 1: I decided to take a break for November and December, not worry about a job, and just get to know my new country. (Something I’m incredibly lucky to be able to do, thanks to my savings and an SO who makes enough to cover us both for awhile.) Between lazy days at home, day trips to new places, and long walks around town, it has been a luxurious couple of months. (Though I confess that, in a fit of restless anxiety, I did apply to a couple of jobs that I happened to notice on LinkedIn [no response]).
Now it’s the new year, and it’s time for true job-search mode. Just like I was doing three and a half years ago. Here come the cover letters, resumes (ahem, CVs), and awkward attempts at network-building. Fingers crossed that this time won’t take quite so long.