From shame to sharing, one man’s 16-month journey through unemployment in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.
At age 53, John Brownrigg suddenly found himself unemployed. His gamble in the real-estate development world had failed as the company that wooed him with the promise of equity in the corporation suffered dearly in the real-estate meltdown. It left Brownrigg, MBA ’84, looking for work in an industry that was shedding jobs, not adding them.
Embarrassed by his job loss, Brownrigg at first kept a low-profile. But weeks turned into months. Frustration grew. And Brownrigg, with two children in middle school and at least another decade of work before retirement, decided to broaden his networks. He needed to find people who had jobs to offer, or knew people who knew people who were hiring.
So he became a blogger who wrote about his job search.
He began with the McCombs Alumni Network blog, which solicited commentaries from alumni who were out of work. His blog comments at McCombs caught the attention of an editor at The Wall Street Journal, which had mounted its own online feature, “Laid off and Looking.” She asked him to contribute, and Brownrigg went national with his insights into the world of job-seeking in the 21st century, joining 28 other unemployed MBAs who weighed in on their plight.
It took him 17 months, but Brownrigg is now among 20 of those contributors who have landed jobs.
Brownrigg was hired in February as associate director of facilities for Medpace, a Cincinnatti-based company that conducts clinical trials of new drugs for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. There, he’s in charge of the company’s real-estate operation, which includes construction of a new building and development of the company’s 29-acre property.
How did you get the job?
It was a referral from a good friend, who is a real-estate broker. He knew of the position, which was never listed. I sent in my résumé and was among those interviewed. And then it finally happened. It was my time to find something.
Did you have a good feeling after that Medpace interview?
During the process, which included about 20 job interviews, I learned to level out my emotions. I tried not to get too excited for this one. But I’d heard it was a growing company, I’d done my research, and I liked what I saw. One big plus was that I wasn’t going to have to relocate. While I was willing to move, I only found one company willing to pay for relocation.
Did you have trouble coming up with ideas for the blog?
I had plenty of time to think them up, and it was an interesting diversion. Around the holidays, for example, not having a job can be depressing, so I wrote one blog on being thankful for what I had.
Did any employers read your blog and contact you?
It never happened. That was one of the reasons I started writing for the McCombs blog. I was thinking I’d love to get back to Austin. I was hoping for some connections, and I got a few tips from the McCombs blog. I followed up on them, but nothing ever happened.
Did you list your blog on your résumé?
Maybe I should have. It seemed like the recruiters were encouraging me not to mention it. I mentioned it in some interviews. I’d talk about my communications skills and my ability to communicate with upper management, and I’d mention The Wall Street Journal. It didn’t seem to be a big factor.
Did you learn anything about yourself through the blog?
It helped me realize I wasn’t alone, that there were others out there, either in better or worse situations. As I reflected on my situation, the blog helped me describe what I was feeling last summer, when I was home with the kids and it was a great opportunity to spend quality time with them. But I was grumpy because I didn’t have a job. On the flipside, from the comments made by readers, I saw that it helped them as well.
Was your blog edited?
My editor was good. But she took out the stuff that I thought was funny, like when I compared job hunting to the mishaps on FailBlog.org. The Wall Street Journal blog changed daily, and there was no set time when I had to respond. Occasionally she would write and ask if I had anything and tell me it was my turn again.
Was it therapeutic?
I liked to have a deadline, so it was good when I needed to submit the column by 5 p.m. When you are unemployed, there’s no set time frame. You apply for jobs, and unless you have an interview, with a set date, you wait. You miss the sense of urgency.
The wait must be frustrating.
A job is posted, you send in a résumé, you get no feedback, and you don’t know if you are close to getting the job. There was satisfaction with the blog. I posted a column, and people would immediately respond.
Did unemployment take its psychological toll?
It’s a loss you have to deal with. My father died at the same time. So there was denial for a while, and then you accept it, you are bitter and then you try to move forward.
Did you second-guess yourself?
I should have known better. In hindsight, I felt I should have stayed at my previous job at Cincinnatti Children’s Hospital, where I was in charge of real estate. It was a secure job, I could have been there forever. But then I got an offer from a real estate development company, with the promise of equity and all that blue-sky stuff. So I took the job, just as the real estate market imploded and the projects I was working on went away. It was the perfect storm.
Losing that job must have been tough.
You are humbled. You don’t have a job. You don’t have anywhere to go, and at times it seemed like nobody appreciated the value I could add. You get more worried. How is this happening to me? Is it my age? My career coach even asked me if I was overweight, which I am not. I was grasping at straws.
What was your strategy?
I needed to get over it. I needed to apply for jobs I was qualified for. So I’d read the job descriptions, learn about the companies. I’d use words from the job description in my cover letter.
How did online job postings change your approach?
Today, computer software programs do the initial review, using something called an applicant tracking system, which goes through your résumé, compares it to the job description and scores you on how it correlates. So for each job, I’d go back to my résumé and use words from the job description in context.
Did you use LinkedIn?
Lots of professionals use it, and it lets you see who is looking at your profile. Nobody seems to be asking for references anymore, so when they look at your LinkedIn profile, they can see your reference there. It’s also a way to check out the people who are interviewing you. You may know someone they know, or you may find an internal contact in that company.
You are in your mid-50s. How did you deal with the age issue?
The reality is that I’ve got plenty of years of schooling left for my kids, who are 10 and 14, so I need to keep working. People in our age group are more motivated to stick around. I value stability. I’ve learned what that’s worth. I’d tell them: “You take care of me, I’ll take care of you.”
What’s your advice to people out of work?
Just keep plugging along. You’ve got to light many fires, and keeping talking to people. You can’t give up.
By David McKay Wilson
Mishaps During the Hiring Process
An excerpt from LAID OFF AND LOOKING, posted Jan. 27, 2010
By John Brownrigg
Recently, I have dealt with a few failing job prospects, where yet another “perfect fit” didn’t work out. I met a company’s internal recruiter at an airport, where he was going to rent a car and drive me to the office for my interview. When the rental car personnel ran his company credit card through the machine, it was rejected. Assuming a malfunction, she called the numbers in, but the card was still rejected. I’m not sure why I didn’t turn and run, but I stepped in and used my credit card to rent the car. The hiring manager seemed perplexed at my story, and the interview did not go well. The recruiter disappeared by the next day, the hiring manager reluctantly took a couple of calls but then also disappeared, my expenses were never paid, and I didn’t get the job.
Another time, I found a position on a website. I read vigilantly through the job description and requirements. I met every requirement so I boldly hit the Apply Now button and began. I spent 20 minutes streamlining my resume to match the job description, and writing a clever cover letter. The application site was one of those “all about me” narcissistic sites where you download your resume, but it then enters your information onto their forms. Of course, it got jumbled; I had to re-enter all of my resume information onto their forms. This took an additional 20 minutes. Another five minutes to complete the diversity information and everything was good to go. The next screen was their response — it said something like “you did not meet the requirements for this position, your application will no longer be considered.” My candidacy lasted less than one second. Even though I was impressed with their efficiency, I called the company to follow-up. I was told that there was an additional requirement, which was not mentioned in the Web posting, and which I did not meet. I thanked them for their time (the phone call plus one second) and suggested that they divulge the secret requirement a little sooner in the process next time. This mishap set a record for the minimum possible time of rejection.
A third time, the HR guy met me at the front desk — I was 10 minutes early, he was 30 minutes late — and escorted me to his office, where he was just starting his lunch. While digging into his Big Mac, he started to describe the job in “his own words.” Struggling to focus, I began to realize that the job he was describing was not the job for which I had applied. I admitted my confusion and clarified the two positions. He was surprised at the error and scurried out of his office to find out what happened. Unfortunately, he ran into the hiring manager who had been waiting for me to start the interview. The HR guy didn’t bother to mention the mix-up; instead he introduced me to the manager and hastily left the scene. I told the manager of the problem, but the two positions had some similarities so we went ahead with the interview anyway. I didn’t get the job I interviewed for, and I didn’t get the job I applied for. It was like being jilted at the altar by a girl I didn’t even know and I had never asked to marry me, while my real love also said no. A truly huge mishap.