This webinar was moderated by Davis Erin Anderson, Assistant Director for Programs and Partnerships at METRO Library Council. Panelists include Maurini Strub, Director of Performance and User Engagement at The University of Rochester and Tony Zanders, Founder and CEO of Skilltype.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with many challenges, including job insecurity. Navigating budget cuts, institutions and organizations are looking to downsize their staff. Many of us have faced the reality of being furloughed or laid off and dealing with the uncertainty of looking for new work and not knowing where that’ll come from. Maurini Strub and Tony Zanders spent an hour with us to discuss strategies and creative solutions to combat this, using their personal experience of dealing with these hardships.

Zanders was let go from a position in Silicon Valley during the financial crisis of 2008. There were little to no job postings; many places were letting go of staff. The energy then was similar to our current moment. “It did force me to think about opportunities and options that I never would have considered before…it did force me to change my gaze and direction into considering other careers,” Zanders said. He acknowledged that it was one of the most stressful times in his adult life, especially given that he was living at the time in one of the most expensive cities in the United States.

Strub graduated from school in a state with two library programs and a saturated library market. She knew early on that she would most likely have to move away from her home of twenty years to start a new position. Upon graduation, she moved to Louisville, Kentucky; even though she met many kind people, she found that being away from her friends and family was isolating. Further into her career, Strub was partially furloughed. Even though she saw it coming, she reports that it was a painful experience. “It’s hard not to take it personally and it’s hard not to feel a form of rejection or feel a form of discard despite what anyone is saying,” Strub said. She emphasized that it took some work and deep conversations with friends and mentors to get out of a negative headspace. Strub says one of the best pieces of advice she received from friends was to be honest with your network about what’s going on. “You tend to want to conceal and not talk about it… People can’t help you, direct you or open up their networks if you don’t actually talk about it,” Strub said. Understandably, overcoming the shame or strong emotions one feels during a time of job uncertainty is one of the most difficult parts.

Financial issues are, of course, among the first things to come to mind when confronting a layoff or furlough. The loss of a paycheck could jeopardize your lifestyle, health, and the ability to put food on the table. To mitigate the impact of this, in preparation for a coming layoff, Strub created a profile for unemployment insurance. When she was furloughed, she officially filed and then followed up with phone calls. Strub recommends approaching with a strategy of calling between 10am and 12pm or 2pm and 4pm to work around the high volume of applications being received. She suggested that applicants expect auditing because there has been more fraud as a result of an influx of claims. Strub says that, within a week of filing for unemployment, she received her first check and simultaneously  stopped all discretionary spending. 

On the topic of government support, Zanders added that when you’re reporting to the state what progress you’ve made on the job hunt, it’s tempting to apply to any and every job even if you’re not interested in or qualified for that job. “I would resist the temptation to do that because the applicant tracking systems at these organizations remember you… Treat each application thoughtfully, just like you normally would because you might need that interaction to help you in a future situation,” Zanders says.

It’s easy to get into the mentality during this time that tells you that you need to make a lateral move. “One of the pieces of advice I got was not to just look at lateral moves, but maybe I could make a case for making an upward move earlier than my mental timeline,” Strub says. Allowing yourself to be open to that is important. Zanders echoed this and said that networking up can also be beneficial. “Generally, people want to be helpful and they also like their egos stroked; so (usually) you can ask someone for help that is aspirationally where you want to be and generally that goes over well. It’s asking them for help but also asking them how you can be helpful. I’ve found success with this” Zanders said. 

We hope this conversation helps with the challenging times we know that many are facing. We thank our wonderful panelists for taking the time to share their insights and wisdom with us.

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