When you’ve been out of a job for a while, you begin to wonder if you’ll ever work again. Kerin Walsh, a Massachusetts-based tech professional with B.S. and M.A. degrees in electrical engineering, was in her late 40’s and at the top of her game when the bottom fell out of her career.
Walsh always had a good job in her field and wasn’t prepared for such a dramatic turnaround. Out of the office for the first time in years, she wasn’t sure of what steps to take, and seriously considered leaving engineering altogether.
She talked to Dice about the challenges of maintaining her equilibrium while looking for work, and how, after 14 months of unemployment and reconfiguring the way she thought about her job search, she found a formula that put her back on track.
How did you lose your job?
I had been with that particular employer for 14 years and was working as a hardware engineer. In the fall of 2009, the work that we were doing got transferred over to our Japanese office and our entire group was laid off. I wasn’t expecting it. There were no signs that this was going to happen and it was a real shock.
What were your biggest concerns when you thought about what was ahead of you?
First: I wondered if I’d be able to find a job. Second: if I found a job, would I be able to make a salary comparable to what I was making before? I wondered if I would be happy doing what I was doing. I was also concerned about age discrimination and with over 20 years of experience, I had been commanding a pretty nice salary.
Did you have a course of action?
I started out on the traditional path that most people likely do. I relied on the Internet. I went on the career websites and I put my résumé out there. After a few months of putting my résumé into the online black hole, I figured out that it wasn’t the right way to go. I did get some feedback, though, and a few people called me. I had a few phone interviews and a few face-to-face interviews but I could tell it wasn’t working. I might have lucked out and found something by only doing it that way but I had to come up with another solution.
When the online route didn’t work, how did you turn it around?
Everybody had told me that networking was the way to go. I contacted former colleagues of mine who worked at various companies. I asked if they were looking for engineers and just tried to connect with them. If they weren’t looking for someone, I asked if they knew someone who was.
I also sat down with a friend who’s a headhunter. He mostly serviced software engineers but he worked with me and we re-crafted my résumé. We talked about my being positive in interviews. He really stressed using my network and contacting my colleagues.
Once you began to network and updated your résumé, did the experience improve?
I realized I still wasn’t going into interviews with a lot of confidence, and the longer I was out, the further away I was from being comfortable. After six, eight, 10 months, your skills get a little rusty and even the jargon, the vocabulary of talking to somebody about technical things gets harder. I wasn’t immersed in that work every day and I felt a bit unprepared. That was the most difficult part of the whole process.
That must have been discouraging.
It was. After about eight to 10 months, I started thinking about possibly pursuing another field and maybe getting my certification and teaching science. But I knew that would be a lengthy process and I’d still have to look for another job. Instead, I started doing some math tutoring on the side to keep active and do something other than looking for an engineering position 24/7. I was trying to figure out what my next step should be.
Did taking your mind off the job search and doing something else help any?
Well, once I started doing the tutoring, something came across my plate which ended up turning into the work I’ve been doing for the last four years.
Somebody who I had worked with at my previous employer put me in touch with someone at the company I work at now. I went in for an interview but the job I interviewed for never ended up becoming a real position. At the time, I had interviewed with another person in that same group and a little later on that’s who hired me for a different job.
It was networking. I didn’t find it on the Internet. I didn’t find it on my own. I found it through a personal connection.
Is what you’re doing now a good fit?
I’m glad that I didn’t leave engineering. I work for a computer company and I’m a hardware engineer. Out of all the jobs that I’ve had—and I’ve worked for maybe four companies over the last 25 years—this is the one I find the most rewarding. It’s challenging and the people are fabulous. I’m very fortunate.
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