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Ramit’s Inbox: An email from a very confused guy who can’t find a job

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Here’s an email exchange I just had with a guy who lost his job and isn’t sure what to do next. There is a lot of good info here, and you’re going to learn about planning ahead and not making the same career moves everybody else does.

chess and blood

Note that this guy writes emails that are 10x too long (which is probably part of the problem), and my extremely brief replies were sent from my iPhone. I’m including all of it so you see how your emails to others are received, but I bolded the important parts so you didn’t commit suicide with an xacto knife to the eyeball.

Ryan writes:

“I graduated from XXX of XXX in December of 2005, and in less than 3 years was making 6 figures as a Software contractor in XXX at XXX. When I started at XXX in July of 2008, they told me I’d be there for 2 to 5 years. By October, the buyout of XXX was announced by XXX, and at that time the bottom fell out of the financial sector and subsequently the job market in XXX. (XXX and XXX were the two biggest employers of tech people in the area, and both were positively clobbered by the recession.) I was let go in December, but had managed to bank living expenses for about a year. (Being someone who once had 12.5k in credit card debt, I was thrilled to be in this position.)

In the past 5 months, I’ve kept in touch with as many recruiters as possible (roughly 3 dozen), who I call on a regular basis only to hear “I’ve got nothing.” Also in that time, I’ve had a whopping two interviews—one contract, one perm—and I got neither gig. I’ve found that when the candidates far outnumber the jobs, there will always be someone with a more complete skillset than you, and that person will get the job unless you are willing to make next to nothing.

What I’m trying to say is that the job situation here is dire. Meanwhile, I’ve burned through half of my savings, and this is starting to annoy me. (It wouldn’t, as much, if there was light at the end of the tunnel.) I’ve ruled out the possibility of moving thus far because I genuinely like living here, but I am increasingly resigned to the inevitability that I will have to.

As someone who has been involved in a technology startup, do you have any advice for someone in my situation?

I am single and have a car payment and a rent payment. My expenses are roughly 2 grand a month. At what point should I take a job just to take one, to protect not only my savings, but my future employability? (Granted, this particular gap in my resumé will be a very easy story for me to tell during an interview, but that doesn’t mean it looks good.) Is it worth it, at this point, for me to move across the country? How stable is the job market out there?

Thanks in advance for any advice you have to offer, and simply for taking the time to read this e-mail. And forgive me for rambling.”

– Ryan

My response:

“Well, what specifically are you doing to improve your job situation?”

Note that I usually find a one-line answer to long, rambling emails forces people to confront the horrifying realization that their email has drifted off into a pointless, circuitous morass of irrelevance.


“I spent much of the last several months expanding my network. The job culture here is very much recruiter-driven, especially on the contract side, but increasingly on the perm side as smaller companies have been swallowed by larger ones. I mentioned in my earlier e-mail that I keep in touch with like 3 dozen recruiters on a regular basis, which is about 30 more than I was keeping in touch with before my last gig. I have pretty good coverage of the XXX-area job market through these resources, at least when it comes to Java gigs, but have come up empty when it comes to actual jobs. The only things I’ve gained from this experience was more minutes on my phone bill.

Even though I preferred to stay a contractor I did not rule out perm jobs knowing how shitty the economy is right now. I had an interview with a company two weeks ago that went great but found out today that I did not get the position. My recruiter asked if there was anything I could’ve done better, and they said no. Ultimately they went with somebody with a wider skillset. Namely, this guy was a pro at UNIX scripting, and I was not.

In a job market where there are 50x more candidates than jobs available, perhaps the best way to get a job is to have every skill-set imaginable. I realize now that I should’ve spent more time over the last several months expanding my skill-set, or perhaps starting a business of my own.

Now, knowing that I could benefit from doing that, I have 6 months before I run out of money, with no guarentee that the jobs in XXX will ever come back. Under normal economic conditions, 6 months is a long time. In the current climate, it’s almost time to become desperate.”

My 2-line response:

“I would go where the jobs are. And stop depending on recruiters. If you act like every other job candidate, you will get treated like them too. Use personal networking and improve your skills.”

Key takeaways

All jokes aside, Ryan now realizes some really key lessons:

  • Build skills before you need them

  • Networking is not a dirty word — make personal relationships before you need them
  • If your emails to a random blogger are really, really long, your resume and cover letter are probably equally verbose and almost certainly play a role in recruiters ignoring you

One of the most important differences between rich people and non-rich people: Rich people plan for things before they need them, while others are caught treading water when something bad happens. To Ryan’s HUGE credit, he planned ahead with an enormous buffer of savings that’s allowing him to figure this out. That alone is remarkable. But from a career perspective, think about how to apply this to your life.

* * *

Book tour details: Remember, I’m on book tour for I Will Teach You To Be Rich in a bunch of cities over the next couple weeks. Sign up to meet me here and follow the tour at

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  1. Good stuff. I’m a fan of short, to-the-point emails.

  2. Excuse my touchyness, but you hit a nerve.

    “One of the most important differences between rich people and non-rich people: Rich people plan for things before they need them, while others are caught treading water when something bad happens.”

    Bullshit. Poorly informed, confirmed by nothing more than having the idea in the first place bullshit. The simple fact is that rich people have a buffer that the poor don’t, a buffer that keeps them above the catch-22 threshold where debt leads to charges leads to debt. You don’t need to be a personal finance manager with hundreds of clients and a good track record to see this, although the fact that I am means I speak from at least some small amount of authority.

    Across my desk have flowed hundreds of examples of poor people not being able to escape debt despite monumental effort and doing everything right, and rich people who escape the debt trap despite barely even noticing as they piss money down the drain chasing dying markets, merely because investments I’ve practically forced them to make at gunpoint have saved their asses before they hit the bottom.

  3. @grunties:

    “rich people have a buffer that the poor don’t”

    Could it be true that the buffer is a result of them planning for things before they need them, which is Ramit’s point?

    “merely because investments I’ve practically forced them to make at gunpoint have saved their asses”

    So in a way they did plan for things, even though it was largely due to their personal financial manager’s (you) wise counsel?

  4. A post or story can be more interesting and readable if XXXs are replaced by fictitious names.

  5. Build skills before you need them – this is a great idea and I am going to work on it – starting RIGHT NOW.
    Thank you for this great article. 🙂

  6. @Henry: “Could it be true that the buffer is a result of them planning for things before they need them, which is Ramit’s point?”

    It could, and indeed it is… but only in the vast minority of cases. The point, however, is that no amount of planning will help if you’re poor, unless you have luck to go with it. (Please, nobody start the “make your own luck” chant)

    “So in a way they did plan for things…”

    Given the amount of cajoling it usually takes, I’d say it was incredibly generous to call it planning in any shape or form. Even coming to someone in my profession in the first place barely qualifies as planning – If you plotted the balance between hopes-of-gain and fear-of-loss against the income of my clients, you’d have the most perfectly straight line you’ve ever seen.

    PS: Before anyone suggests the obvious:Yes, I know, I’m changing career as we speak.

  7. Ramit, I think your book has gone to your head and the smugness is starting to show. Instead of wasting my time crying about how his emails are too long, how about you provide some valuable insight or just ignore his email altogether? Lines like “HOLY SHIT STILL WAY TOO LONG” are unprofessional and rude. Further, it shows that you don’t value your time at all since you spent the effort read this seemingly burdensome email exchange.

  8. Give this guy some credit. He saved a whole year’s worth of expenses. He made a pretty strong effort to solve his problem. He is trying to provide lots of information.

    Normally I actually like Ramit’s drill sergeant/sarcastic style because when you’re trying to get your crap together you don’t need to be molly coddled but this is one time I don’t think it’s constructive to carry it quite that far. I could remove two lines from the post and improve its quality 100% while emphasizing an important message.

    Namely get rid of:



    “If your emails to a random blogger are really, really long, your resume and cover letter are probably equally verbose and almost certainly play a role in recruiters ignoring you”

  9. The economy is terrible at the movement so his chances of finding a job are going to be really hard. Focusing on improving skills and networking at this point is probably not the best plan. I’d focus more on aggressively finding a job before my savings ran out.

    But the good news is that he has experience in his field. I would focus on doing the following things.

    1. Stop relying on recruiters and start applying for jobs. If you’re unemployed you’ve got 8 hours a day that you can send out resumes to companies. I’ll admit going through the traditional job application process is tedious and often unfruitful, but I’ve had more luck with it than I’ve had with recruiters.

    2. Consider doing freelance work. There are plenty of software/coding/it freelance websites out there to help you. It won’t be a steady income but it will help offset some of your expenses.

    3. Consider moving slightly outside your field. You’ve got computer skills so maybe you could set up/troubleshoot computers for people in your local community. Again, just as a way to help bring in some more income.

    I hope that helped.