The Low Point: What Happens When Your Career Hits Rock Bottom and How to Turn it Around

In your career, you will have highs and lows. My all-time low came in 2003. I had just graduated from Emory’s Goizueta Business School with my MBA, but that didn’t translate into a great job at graduation.

I came out of school into a tough job market that was recovering after the “dotcom” bust. The traditional MBA-type companies were no longer doing “strategic hiring” and a high percentage of my classmates graduated without jobs.

Going to a top b-school in Atlanta, I thought I might be able to score a position at one of the big companies in town – Coke, Home Depot, Delta, Georgia Pacific, etc. No luck. Emory’s business school is actually named after former Coke CEO Roberto Goizueta, but that didn’t seem to help me or my classmates get a job there.

Not Your Typical Post-MBA Job

So, we had to get creative with our job searches. We had to look beyond the traditional MBA jobs. I ended up getting a job with a startup that made floor mats with college football logos. Not your typical post-MBA job, but I felt lucky to be getting a paycheck. Many of my classmates were graduating with nothing.

It’s a good lesson for people considering going back to school for an MBA. There is no guarantee that you’ll get the job you want after graduation. Actually, there’s no guarantee you’ll get any job after graduation. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go back to school. You just have to go in with your eyes wide open and recognize the risks.

After a few months working at this startup selling floor mats, I realized that it wasn’t the job for me. I really wanted to go back up to New York where I lived before business school. I knew I couldn’t realistically interview for jobs in NY while working in Atlanta. So, I decided to quit my job to focus on a full-time job search.

Unemployed

For the first time in my life, I was unemployed. At first, I wasn’t worried at all. I thought I would find a job quickly. I had a good network in New York and there are so many agencies in the city, I figured I’d have a job within a few weeks.

I “temporarily” moved in with my parents in New Jersey so I could live rent-free while I found my next gig. It was January 2004 and I was hard at work on my job search. Most days I took the train into Manhattan for interviews and networking.

While I had a great sense of urgency, the people and companies I was meeting with did not. I got close on a few opportunities only to see them fade away.

A Frustrating Time

It was an incredibly frustrating time for me. And before I knew it, three months had gone by and I still didn’t have a job. I remember watching reruns of Seinfeld one night and there was a scene when Jerry and Elaine were encouraging George to go introduce himself to an attractive woman sitting alone at the counter at Monk’s Cafe. George responded, “Bald men, with no jobs, and no money, who live with their parents, don’t approach strange women.” You can watch the clip below.

George had just described me perfectly! Geez, I felt like such a loser.

Actually, I did have a girlfriend at the time. She would constantly encourage me. But, I could tell that she was growing concerned about my lack of job prospects. I don’t think she was that interested in dating an unemployed guy.

Turning 30

When I turned 30 in March 2004, she took me to New York for the weekend and threw me a party. For many people, a milestone birthday like “30” is a great memory. But, for me, it was pretty much a nightmare. I didn’t want to see any friends because I felt like such a loser without a job. But, I went out and pretended to have fun while I was dying on the inside.

Finally Getting a Job

After the party, I made a decision: I was going to get a job. I doubled my efforts. I reached out to anyone who would talk to me. I went back to the companies where I worked before business school and tracked down all my old colleagues, many of whom I hadn’t spoken with in several years.

Sometimes it’s all a matter of timing. I randomly sent a note to a woman who worked in HR at an agency where I used to work. As luck would have it, she had moved to a new company and they were actively hiring. She put me in touch with the right people and I got the job.

I have to say, it wasn’t exactly the job I was looking for. But, it was the right level and the right compensation based on my experience. I started in May. So, it had taken a little over 4 months to find a job. It felt more like 4 years, but I was just happy to be employed again.

Lessons Learned

The whole experience taught me a few good lessons that have stuck with me over time:

1)  Stay Positive: When you don’t have a job, it’s very easy to start feeling sorry for yourself. I remember a few days during my search when it was hard to get out of bed in the morning. But, you have stay positive. Remember, you will eventually get a job. It just might take a bit longer than you were expecting. But, it you’re negative, your prospective employers will pick up on that in the interviews. It may prevent you from getting the job you want.

2)  Always Be Networking: The best way to get a job is through a personal referral. That’s why you have to constantly build and maintain your professional network. Don’t wait until you need a job to do your networking. The time to do it is when you have a job. I recommend trying to do some kind of networking activity at least once a week. Attend an event or have lunch/coffee with a colleague. The better your network, the easier it will be to find your next gig.

3)  Work Every Angle: When you’re looking for a job, you have to cast a wide net. Don’t just sit home and apply for jobs online. You have to hustle. Talk to your network. Talk to recruiters. Talk to the guy sitting next to you at Starbucks. You never know where a hot lead will come from. If you’re looking for a job and your calendar is not packed with meetings, you are probably not doing enough.

4)  Don’t Be Desperate: During my job search, I had a company make me a total low-ball offer. Even though I was eager to get to work, I passed on it. I’m sure I would have done great in the role and I probably would have enjoyed the job. But, there was just a disconnect between my value and the value that this company was assigning to me. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t take the role. It would have been bad to start a job already frustrated with my compensation and title. That frustration would only grow over time and potentially affect performance.

5)  Help Other People Find a Job: Over the past ten years, I’ve built a pretty good network in the Atlanta marketing community. So, now I have a lot of people who come to me when they’re looking for their next job and I’m always willing to help out if I can. In return, I know that they will try to help me when I’m ready to find my next adventure.

Like I said at the beginning of this article, your career will have highs and lows. It’s important that when you hit that low point, to always remember that it is only temporary. The great thing about hitting rock bottom is that there’s really only one way to go from there… UP.

What have you learned from the low point in your career? Let me know in the comments below.

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