Job hunting during a pandemic: How laid-off tech workers are faring

April 14, 2020, 1:00 PM UTC

Six months ago, Alexander Muhr graduated from a data science bootcamp and quickly landed a job at Skillz, a marketplace for mobile games. The company was “bullish” about its future and there was talk about an initial public offering in the future.

But Muhr’s excitement about his future with the San Francisco company was quickly foiled when he along with 20 of his colleagues were laid off last week amid the coronavirus pandemic. Yet despite the upheaval, Muhr said other companies have already contacted him about working for them, leaving him optimistic about his job search.

“The market is definitely being impacted by the current circumstances,” said Muhr, who was a senior analyst at Skillz. “That said … I have been contacted by a number of recruiters.”

Despite thousands of layoffs in Silicon Valley in recent weeks and corporate hiring freezes, many of the tech workers who’ve lost work say they’re managing to get job interviews. They consider it a hopeful sign that some tech companies continue to recruit and that, at least for now, the tech job market still has some bright spots.

Of course, interviews don’t necessarily mean that job candidates will be hired. And since the downturn is expected to last for some time, the tech industry’s cost cutting could deepen in the coming weeks and months, meaning that more layoffs and hiring freezes may be in the cards.

As it is, unemployment claims have skyrocketed. Last week, 6.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits in the U.S. on top of the 6.9 million that filed the previous week. Just in California, the heart of the nation’s tech industry, more than 1 million people have filed for unemployment since mid-March.

Adding to the tech industry’s woes is that bigger companies are now starting to slash jobs. Yelp recently said it would lay off or furlough 2,000 employees while online ticket seller Evenbrite said it would cut about 450.

But when the coronavirus crisis hit the U.S., it was startups that were the first to feel the squeeze. They feared being unable to raise more funding and an inevitable decline in their revenue.

Companies that cut jobs include Airbnb-backed Lyric and Sonder, both of which offer hotel-like apartments for rent; Away, a luggage company; and business travel booking company TripActions.

Soon after tech companies started cutting jobs, a number of websites popped up that let companies post the names and contact information of workers they had laid off. In that way, recruiters could easily find them.

In just a few days, One Soft Landing, one of those hiring boards, had lists of laid off employees from more than 30 companies. And many of those workers are being actively sought out, particularly by large employers, which haven’t been as quick to slash costs, according to One Soft Landing founder Max Kolysh.

Emily Kramer, co-founder of Help Wanted, another hiring board, said many of the laid off employees using her service are from human resources and recruiting departments—typically the first functions that companies cut. But sales staff, marketers, and engineers are also on her list.

For laid off engineers and product managers, finding new jobs is easier, Kramer said. Those roles are often essential to the core operations at tech companies and are therefore more likely to be ripe for hiring.

“There are some companies still doing really well, if not better,” Kramer said, referring to businesses like video conferencing service Zoom, which has been booming since the outbreak because of more people working from home and needing to meet with their colleagues and clients. “So those recruiters seem to really be jumping on it.”

Amazon and grocery delivery service Instacart are among the bigger companies hiring. So is business software giant Salesforce, which plans to hire 2,200 employees, prioritizing its employees’ family and friends who have lost their jobs due to coronavirus-related cuts. Meanwhile, Google says it plans to fill hundreds of openings listed on its website. And this year, Facebook said it wants to hire 10,000 for product and tech functions.

Jonathan Cardasis, a mobile engineer who was laid off from Lyric, based in San Francisco, said he hasn’t had much trouble finding open positions and has already been interviewed by a dozen startups, half of which contacted him first. To increase his chances of finding work, Cardasis said he’s also been scouring job boards on Reddit, LinkedIn, and Google.

“Startups are worried about who they hire or when they can raise their next round,” he said. “But there are still core roles they need to fill.” 

While that’s true for engineers, employees trying to find roles in communications, marketing, and human resources aren’t having as much luck. One laid off Bay Area tech employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said because of the slowdown, he’s considering leaving startups altogether and returning to a former career in journalism, even though that industry is also suffering amid the pandemic. 

“It’s been pretty brutal,” he said. “it seems to me that every company has put hiring plans on hold.”

But despite the current circumstances and possible long-term changes, some laid off employees say they’re not deterred from the industry. 

“When you work for a startup, you have to know this could blow up any second,” Cardasis said. “It could be gone the next day or be the next Google.”

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