Life’s like that, isn’t it?
As I mentioned here and here and here and especially here, I’ve been searching for a new job ever since finding out on May 4th that I would be laid off from my job effective September 30th. I’d had my share of ups and downs in that job, but overall I had very little to complain about. I had great relationships with my boss, my peers and the CEO, I really respected the company’s products, and I had a strong team underneath me. But the new owners decided to drastically reduce the company’s footprint in Asia.
[Side note: It turns out that the amount of the legal minimum redundancy payment in Hong Kong was set in 1968 and not updated since then. So after 4-1/2 years with the company, I received less than one month’s salary as my severance payment.]
Searching for a new job became my job. I decided to focus on Hong Kong and I came close a couple of times.
But when September 30th rolled around, I still hadn’t found anything. I figured I had two strikes against me – my age (I’m over 60) and my lack of business-fluent Cantonese and Mandarin. My wife and I discussed it and I decided to take something of a gamble – go to the U.S. and search for a job there.
My reasoning was that in the U.S. no one would care that I only spoke English (or American, if you prefer). I hoped that my age wouldn’t be as much of a factor if I was open to contract positions as well as “permanent” roles. And it also occurred to me that Trump’s immigration policies, which meant fewer H1B visas, might mean that companies would be crying out for contractors who were also American citizens.
Initially I tried to do the U.S. search from Hong Kong and Manila. I set up a U.S. phone number (via Skype), started calling people and sending out a version of my resume with the U.S. number and a U.S. address. But I got nowhere. The few recruiters who would talk to me all told me the same thing – that my job search would be much more effective if I was physically in the U.S. (I know, but it is just not in my nature to out-and-out lie, to say “I’m in New York now!” Maybe I should have tried that but I didn’t.)
I decided to go to Dallas because it’s a rapidly growing area with a lot of tech jobs combined with a lower cost of living. My research showed that getting a hotel room with a kitchen in the Dallas area is about half the cost of a similar setup in New York or California. I also have one very good friend in Dallas and family relatively nearby, in Austin. So at the end of October, I went to Dallas.
They say a job search at the executive level normally averages about 6 months. I spent hours every day trying to accelerate that. Going through company websites, applying for jobs online, calling recruiters, working my network – I tried every method I could think of to get things moving.
After just a couple of weeks I felt as if I was making more progress than I had made in five previous months of searching in Hong Kong. I had interviews at two companies that I was excited about. Both positions seemed like strong fits and I thought the interviews went really well. I was also getting a lot of calls from recruiters, some of whom were pitching jobs that seemed to have a lot of potential. No one was putting a contract in front of me but I felt as if things were moving ahead well.
I took a side trip down to Austin for a few days, where I got to spend time with my family there, met a few people I’d worked with in the past whom I had never met in person, and had some seriously fabulous meals. I also got to spend time with a former boss (the co-founder of a start-up I’d worked for almost 20 years ago). He gave me a tour of Austin’s amazing Capital Factory and we discussed a business idea I had.
And then, something completely unexpected happened. I received a message on LinkedIn from the CEO of a company (I’ll call it “X”) I used to work for, asking me if I was interested in returning. I wasn’t sure if I was, but I figured it had to at least be worth a conversation.
It took several days for us to connect on the phone. That’s when I found out that the job he had in mind was based in Manila, not Hong Kong. It was also going to be at a slightly lower level than the position I’d previously held with X – although I didn’t get too fussed about that given that the company had grown by a factor of 3 or 4 since I’d left and the job duties themselves were focused around areas where I know I perform well.
Over the course of the next ten days, I continued my U.S. job search full steam ahead. I also spoke to several other people who worked at X, all expressing enthusiasm and a real need for me to return. Finally I received an email with an offer, but it was lower than I was expecting, and not by a trivial amount. So I held off on booking any flights back to Asia.
Days passed. I could not get the CEO on the phone to further negotiate the offer, and I wasn’t about to attempt it by email.
Thanksgiving was approaching. December was just around the corner and to me that didn’t mean Christmas or Hanukkah, it meant at least a couple of weeks during which there would be no phone calls, no interviews and definitely no hiring.
And then, the CEO of X called me. We had a long conversation and towards the end I brought up the salary issue. I wasn’t certain if he would be open to any negotiation but, to my surprise, within a few hours of our call he came back to me and offered exactly the amount that I had in mind. And so, I accepted the offer and returned to Manila.
This does mean I have at least one nightmare to sort out – commuting in Manila. I’ve never had to do a daily commute in Manila before. This job will require me being in the office five days a week. There is no public transportation anywhere near where I live and getting an Uber driver to pick up from my house is a crap shoot. I sold my car two months ago so I’ll be looking to get another one as soon as possible.
That being said, I am extremely grateful to have found a new job within just a couple of months of being out of work. When you are my age, it’s not a trivial thing at all. Not to forget that when you’re a foreigner in the Philippines, finding a job that pays on a western scale is next to impossible.
The icing on the cake, if you will, is that a company I once worked for asked me to return. They’ve seen my work and believe I can deliver for them again. This morning I signed the contract and will start the new job next week.
So, what can I share with others who may be in a similar situation?
The sad fact is that while most forms of discrimination are eroding and disappearing, age discrimination is not one of them. It may be illegal in some countries, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen every day. You have to accept that it exists but you can’t let it defeat you. You can’t let it give you a negative attitude.
I strongly believe that negative posts on social media – in particular LinkedIn – reflect poorly on the poster. Most people don’t want to hire someone who appears angry or appears to have a negative attitude.
Don’t just post on LinkedIn. You have to interact with others in order to get others to interact with you. Like posts. Comment on posts. Be active. It only takes 30 minutes a day.
Build your network and actively participate in relevant social media before you need it. Got a job? Great! Work your network now. If you wait until you are out of work, that will be too late. Remember that most jobs, especially executive level positions, get filled via personal recommendations and referrals.
Remember that your CV/resume is a sales tool. It’s a marketing tool. Its job is not to get you a job. Its job is to get you the interview. Make sure it includes accomplishments and not just responsibilities. Make sure it explains the value that you can bring to any potential employer. Make it about what you can do for them.
And most important, never give up!