A few months ago in April 2023, I shared that I was laid off from my job. My first job right out of university. It was definitely one of the biggest personal crisis I had to deal with in my entire 24 years of life. It was a first time experience and while I didn’t know how I would eventually walk out of it, I knew that there was an uphill battle ahead of me.
I remember a joke that was shared with me a few years ago while I was still a student. “When you don’t have a job/internship while you are still a student, it is called holiday. Next time, when you become a working adult, it will be called unemployment”.
Well, maybe not that funny. But so true of a statement.
After I was suddenly made redundant, I found myself losing motivation in doing anything else not related to dealing with the personal crisis. For weeks, every day I was pre-occupied with trying to focus on doing only tasks that I thought would help me tackle head on with the crisis. I lost interest in doing morning exercises, running or going out of my house. Other than occasional catch ups with my ex-colleagues and family meals outings over the weekends, I would sit at my desk everyday practising leetcode, taking short courses on Educative.io and memorising concepts needed for interviews. Every day, I scrolled job postings on LinkedIn and Blind. I created job profiles on multiple websites like Vanhack, workatastartup.com. I sent connection requests to strangers, reached out to acquaintances and ex-colleagues I met during my internship to request for job referrals. Like a hunter desperate for her first hunt, I went through the profiles of many individuals and companies on LinkedIn. I applied to several hundreds of jobs in Singapore, China, Australia, US and UK. I worked with numerous headhunters to submit my application to companies.
Most of the time, I would receive automated rejection emails or no replies.
For those companies that called me to interview with them, I would find myself being rejected with the reasons given, “we are looking for people with more experience”, “not a good fit” blah blah. Competition was really tough. As a junior engineer with exactly only 1 year 9 months of full time work experience under my belt, I was not attractive to many companies. I realised that during an economic downturn, usually companies will be looking to hire mid or senior level engineers so that they didn’t have to spend time training them. Most of the companies were looking to hire people with more years of experiences and my application paled in comparison to my competitors.
For example, I applied to many companies like AirWx, Alpha**b C*****l, Weekend *****, Aga**, As***, Square*, B***nce, G*****s and C**pper, Kite*****, Pe****. But I was rejected after the initial recruiter interview for these companies. Actually, prior to this, I always had the impression that nobody would fail at the recruiter interview. Usually, if they picked up my resume and invited me to have a non technical initial chat with the HR or recruiter, it should mean that I have the experience they were looking for and hence I could expect myself to be progressed to the next round. Specifically, for 2 of the companies I mentioned above, I was referred by my ex NUS classmates. However, I turned out to be wrong. It was really a big disappointment for me to get rejected at the first stage. I could understand why I got rejected if it was because I didn’t know how to solve a technical question. However, I could not understand how I got rejected at the initial interview. It really made me doubt myself and my speaking skills. Maybe I was not able to articulate or express my experiences well and these companies decided not to progress me to the technical rounds interviews. After these rejections, I had to watch youtube videos to re-learn how to speak properly and present myself better. I tried to improve myself by speaking slowly and “with more authority”. I also prepared a script that I could refer to while introducing myself and was careful not to insert negative words like “retrenched” when I was asked why I was looking for a new role. A sentence I like to use to explain is to just say “my previous company underwent restructuring, hence I am now looking for a new role”.
The companies that I managed to progress through the technical rounds were B****dance, JP* Leon***, Equi***, Par***r, ***let, Ra*****, Square***** Cap****, W***, *****72, SC*, Shop****, Xiao**, Headland ****, ***apse, Th***s, G**, and maybe others that I have forgotten.
For each of these companies, I had to either do their several hour-long screening coding test, go through several rounds of interviews or even visit the office personally for onsite interviews. It was Really Really Tiring and Demoralising. Especially in the initial weeks when I kept getting rejections or recruiters telling me that the position had closed after I spent time doing their coding test or interview. Everyday I was busy with interview preparation, doing my best to perform well at those interviews, yet I kept getting bad news. I definitely doubted my abilities and I wondered what were the next steps I could take. At one point, I even considered studying a Master Degree and switching industry as I could not see light out of the dark tunnel that I was in. Hours of scrolling through job postings and seeing the salary offered had convinced me that I won’t be able to accumulate much wealth if I remained as a mediocre software engineer. I wanted to upskill myself. I was not feeling positive about myself. I thought that if I could not get a job now, it was a perfect time for me to learn new skills and reenter the job market when the economy was better. Of course, studying a Master degree is costly and I also needed time to prepare for my university application (such as getting recommendation letters or studying GRE test). I thought that it would be my last resort if I was still unemployed after three months.
The past few months was really an anxious and gruelling time for me. Everyday every hour, I would check my emails or phone desperately for the results of my interviews. My heart would beat faster than normal whenever I scan through text messages and emails.
After two and a half months, I can say that my head has now emerged from the mass of grey clouds that I was previously engulfed in. I have gotten a satisfactory job offer which is comparable to the pay that I was drawing at my previous job. I think that I am just really glad that a company has decided to take a chance on me and give me the opportunity to join and contribute. I really treasure this offer and I know that I am lucky to be able to find this job. While I was applying to many many companies, many of them had told me that my previous pay in my previous company was too high for them to pay me the same, given my years of experience. Most of them offered me salaries that were 3–4k below my previous monthly salary. I had been really disappointed and braced my mind to take a pay cut in my next job. Hence, I am really appreciative of my next role. However, I still cannot shake off the fear that I won’t be laid off again. Sadly, I think that this fear will always remain at the back of my mind throughout my entire career.
Right now, I am just waiting for the background checks to complete before starting my new role. Meanwhile, I am spending time to get back to putting my life in order. I think that after getting laid off, I did not take proper care of myself. I had been so focus on securing a job offer that I lost motivation in doing anything else. I was just a robot with one goal in mind and neglected everything else. Right now, I want to get back to running more and more regularly and read books (more specifically read up on finance related topics). I also plan to spend time to work on projects, because during my job search, I realised that having projects on my resume might have helped me be more competitive in my job hunt and they help make up for my lack of experience. At the same time, just in case, I am wrapping up some other interviews I have with some companies. Oh, and I need to replace the battery of my Garmin watch and perhaps buy a pair of new running shoes as my current shoes have holes at the front.
In the past few months of my unemployment, my family had been supportive of me. They constantly gave me encouragement and my parents never pressured me at all. They told me to take my time and not to stress myself too much. My sister also helped to reach out to her ex-colleagues to refer me or give advice. Even my brother will occasionally tell me what he thinks and try to give me advice. I consider myself lucky.
Overall, the market is really bad right now. There’s lots of competition and it’s difficult for anyone with not much experience to secure a new job. Many companies have frozen hiring or carrying out layoffs (just today, there’s news of Grab layoffs). I sincerely hope that the economy will get better soon and I can start my new role without any obstacle. I foresee stress in my new role, but I am also looking forward to it.
I would like to end this post with some job hunting tips.
- Enlisting the help of a headhunter can be really helpful. Sometimes they can tell you what are some common questions asked by some companies (perhaps shared by previous candidates). Hence, there is value in working with a headhunter to find your job as they can offer you good tips and advice you may never get from applying by yourself.
- Just keep applying and trying and trying. It’s a numbers game. I noticed that a single job post on LinkedIn can attract hundreds and thousands of applicants. It can get discouraging. We just need to remember to tailor our resume to the job as best as we can, make sure we are the first few in hitting that apply button and spread our net as wide as we can by applying to as many jobs as possible. Perhaps, if you can think of any company in your head, you can just directly go to their website and apply. For job positions not listed on LinkedIn or Indeed, it usually means that not many people will know of them hence there is a higher probability that your application will be picked up if you apply to them. Another thing to keep in mind is that some of the online job posts might be ghost posts. Companies are not really hiring and are merely posting job posts just to gauge the market. See more: https://www.wsj.com/articles/that-plum-job-listing-may-just-be-a-ghost-3aafc794 Thus, don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear back from most of your applications.
- Never give up and believe that you can do it. Once you get your first offer, good things will start coming to you. For me, I kept facing rejections in the initial months of applying. Strangely, after I received my first offer, offers from other companies started following. It was like the world had started to shift towards my personal favour. Perhaps I had reached the stage where I had accumulated some experience and started to “master” the game of interviewing. Perhaps lady luck had finally decided to shine on me.
- Keep learning. Watch short tutorials and improve your knowledge so that you can add things to your resume. You can also do projects.
- If you find your resume not getting picked up, try to insert keywords that might be of interest to the recruiter sieving through thousands of resume. For example, under the knowledge section in my resume, I added “concurrency”. To be honest, I don’t have any work experience in this. However, after I was laid off, I did some studying on concurrency and multithreading on educative.io and also practised some leetcode questions. Adding this keyword helped me to get my resume to be picked up for a role that required such domain knowledge. I found out as the recruiter told me that the keyword “concurrency” on my resume was a key reason why he decided to give me a shot.
- Asking for referrals is better than submitting your resume through the portal like everyone else.
- Record down the questions that were asked. If you were not able to answer those questions during the interviews, go and find out the answers to them afterwards. Who knows? You might face the same question in another interview for another company. After attending multiple interviews, I noticed that some companies asked similar questions.
Here is a short passage summarising my feelings during unemployment.
I feel like a dried up grape drained of all my energy and motivation to keep on going. It feels so tiring. Countless of rejections and rejections. No. No. No. Not the right fit. Even though I try so hard, I struggle to find a job. What’s the point. And while I sit here at home, I’m becoming poor and fat. Please, somebody. Give me a chance. I promise I will do my best. I just want a job to fill my time and to fill my pockets with dollars.