Last month I was laid off. It was strictly a money thing and several other people were let go at the same time. The good news is I feel pretty good about the progress I made helping revive College Confidential. There's more to do, obviously, but I laid a good foundation that should make it easier for my replacement.
This is an account of my job search. I believe my experience is unique and I've been blessed with a particularly easy transition. I have accepted a new position which I will discuss in the future. For now, I'm just writing about the process of finding work as a community manager.
Applying for unemployment
The day I learned I was losing my job, I started an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. Halfway through online form, I entered my termination date and discovered you can't start the process until your last day. So I saved my application. For reasons I don't understand, the system discards unfinished applications on Saturday, which was awkward since I started mine on Friday.
Because the states are managing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), there is more pressure on the system than normal. Whenever I call the phone number to get help with my claim, the recording emphasizes the Employment Development Department (EDD) has brought on more resources to handle the increase in claims. That may be so, but often my call is dropped just after I navigate their menu. And you can't skip the announcements, so it takes several minutes to get to that point.
The reason I needed to call was because you need an EDD number to log into the UI website. How do you get an EDD number? In theory, it comes in the mail after you make a claim. I didn't get that, but I did get a letter titled "REQUEST FOR IDENTITY VERIFICATION". The letter didn't include my EDD number, but it did list a Social Security Number (SSN)1 that started with 990. That's not my SSN.
When I called the number for verifying my identity2 I was able to get through to a human who explained the SSN wasn't really an SSN. Turns out EDD suspected my claim to be fraudulent3 so they suspended my real SSN and issued me a new one. The guy I talked to figured it out because these fake SSNs always start with 99. He spent a few minutes checking to be sure I'd already verified my identity online4
Then he told me I just needed to check the website for more updates. Before he hung up, I asked if I could get my EDD number so I wouldn't need to keep calling. Thankfully he was able to help me out with that. Now I can see my status:
That's underwhelming. But now that I'm logged in, I can send a question electronically!5 Here's the automated response:
To: JONATHAN L ERICSON
Question Topic: Filed a Claim, No Response
Question: I started a claim on March 12, but I abandoned it when I discovered you can't start a claim before the termination date. March 19 was my last day on the job, so I filed a claim that day. It's been more than 10 days, so I'm wondering if there's something else I need to do.
Thank you for submitting a question. Your reference number is #C123456789. You will receive a response in your UI Online Inbox in 5-7 days.
Employment Development Department
State of California
Fortunately, I don't need the money right now. My wife is working full time and I'll be back to work soon. If I needed the cash to pay bills, I suppose I'd keep calling until I got through to someone. It's dehumanizing though. Basically the system seems designed to prevent people from using it.
Meanwhile, I decided to find a job. The obvious start is my LinkedIn profile. I get the occasional message already from recruiters asking whether I'm interested in a community manager job. So I set my status to say I was open to a new job with a title and salary. I also set up a job search to email me new community manager jobs. These seemed to come in three varieties:
- Really more like a social media manager position.
- Community manager for a brand's presence on Reddit. Seriously.
- Property manager for home owner's associations (HOA). There's even a certification for that job.
Then I noticed my search was limited to the LA area. There were also a few community manager positions for digital games and technology companies in the area. When I changed the location to the US and picked the filter for remote jobs, I got much better results. If nothing else, it eliminated the HOA jobs.
I also used Stack Overflow Jobs. Again, I updated my status to be actively searching and looked as the listings. Since I'm not a programmer anymore, I suppose I shouldn't have expected anyone to message me about a job. So I was not disappointed.
Due to the pandemic, more companies are discovering the value of online communities. So there's something of a gold rush to help companies build and manage communities. One of the better resources is the Community Club, which has a job board. Even better is their chat which includes a "jobs" channel where people give an elevator pitch for community manager positions. It's really handy to be able to ask questions about the listings.
I didn't use it myself, but CMX has a job board too. They also have a space for chat, host conferences, offer training and even publish a survey for CMs. FeverBee is another company aimed at training community managers. They have a thread on their forum for posting jobs, but it's not hugely active.
The trouble with job listings is they kinda all run together. And I'm sure from an employer's perspective résumés have the same problem. Everything looks great when you cherry pick your best attributes. Everything also looks the same. So I'm left with irrational filters such as:
- Oh! I've heard of this company.
- Ugh. They list MySQL experience as a requirement. No thanks.
- "We work hard and play hard." Hmmmmm...
- What does it mean that the seniority level is "Associate"? I bet they don't pay well.
As you can see, I'm looking for ways to exclude jobs more than include them. At this stage in my career, I know what I'm good at and where I might struggle. As my pastor explained years ago, we go through stages in life:
- The "Yes" years when we need to say yes to things even if they don't seem like a good fit.
- The "No" years when we need to start focusing in on what we are good at.
- The years of mastery when we pass on what we've learned though experience to the next generation.
So when Aarthi asked if I was interested in a career change to become a community manager, I said "yes" (eventually). I still need to say "yes" sometimes to things I want to say "no" to, but more and more I'm focusing in on my God-given talent for building healthy community. When I look at job listings, I'm watching for the rare position that will bring me closer to mastery.
Really getting leads
Truth is, I didn't get where I am by browsing job listings. No, I owe my career to friends and family who guided me to opportunities I wouldn't have found on my own. An internship my dad told me about led to a programmer job at JPL which led to a community manager job at Stack Overflow. A close friend from college helped me discover a role at College Confidential. And the moment I announced I'm a free agent, I got an overwhelming number of leads from people I've worked with over the years. If you were one of them, I can't tell you how much that means to me. Thank you.
People talk about their network, but that's not the way I think about it. I mean, it's a way to think about the collection of people who care about you and your success. Since communities are fractal, I don't have a problem calling the many people in my corner "my community". If you have one, it makes all the difference.
Résumés and curriculum vitae
Résumés6 are how job seekers pay back recruiters for job listings. You gotta assume they have hundreds of résumés for each job they want to fill and their #1 goal is to cut that down to a handful of people they will have time to contact for the initial screening interview. That means you should tailor your résumé for the jobs you are applying to. For instance, if the listing asks for a certain type of experience, make sure you list whatever comes closest to that requirement. This is one of the easiest ways to filter out résumés.7
When I wrote my first résumé,8 I struggled to fill out a single page. I had to list my lawn mowing and babysitting jobs along with my high school graduation date. At this point I have tons of experience and most of it is irrelevant to whatever job I'm applying for. In fact I wrote two résumés this time: one that emphasized my community management skills and the other that brought out my technical experience.
It helped that every now and then I add accomplishments to my CV on Stack Overflow. That way I could just copy stuff I'd already written (and likely would have forgotten) years ago and edit for whatever job I'm aiming for. Community managers take on all sorts of tasks, so you never know when something you've done will be relevant.
Finally, be sure to share your résumé with friends and family before sending it out. I had fantastic input from many people who helped me sell myself. Whether it's false modesty or a blind spot to your own abilities, this tends to be difficult without some external perspective. Once again, a big thanks to everyone who helped me.
Recruiters tend to prefer audio phone calls, in my experience. You can learn a lot about a company's attitude to toward remote work by whether other interviews are conducted on a video call or not. It doesn't even matter if the video is on. One person I interviewed with turned off his camera because he was walking his dog. That's a good sign for a healthy remote culture.
Interviews ought to be comfortable conversations. When I've been on the hiring side, I go out of my way to give the candidate a chance to get comfortable. Small talk and softball questions to start. When I'm being interviewed, I can get a pretty good idea of how it went by whether the conversation felt natural and interactive. Answering questions correctly isn't nearly as important for community management since there aren't exactly clear answers.
Next time: My new job as a developer advocate.
If you have a question about your UI claim, you can contact the EDD online, by mail, or by phone. The fastest way to contact the EDD is by submitting a question below. Some topics are informational only while other topics will allow you to submit a question and receive a response. You may submit two questions per day.
The "fastest way to contact the EDD" takes "5-7 days" as it turns out.
Amusingly it's labeled
SSN No.which I assume was a redundant use of "number". Kinda like "ATM machine". ↩
It's (866) 401-2849, if you are curious. ↩
I didn't ask why, but I assume it's related to the claim I started the week before my termination date. ↩
The contact form helpfully notes: ↩
Or should I say "Resumes"? Can't decide if the accents communicate "playful" or "pretentious"? ↩
Even easier: automated résumé scan software. This is another reason applying via a job listing isn't ideal. Much better to skip this step by getting a direct referral. ↩
I used WordPerfect for that résumé. Later I switched to Plain Old Documentation which I converted to LaTeX using Pod::LaTeX so that I could make a PDF. This time, I wrote my résumé in Markdown. Converting to PDF isn't hard with Pandoc. With all of these I focus on content rather then get bogged down with formatting. ↩