News & Politics

How I Found a New Job I Love After a Covid Layoff

"I felt like there was so much less of an ability for people to scrutinize my appearance."

Photo courtesy of subject.

Six months (exactly) after being laid off from a nonprofit, 32-year-old Leilah Mooney Joseph became director of communications for Hillel International.

“I have two small kids at home. Initially, I was panic-applying—sending ten to 15 applications every day. I had to give myself a talking-to, to pause and reflect on what I really wanted. What helped me was getting an interview for a job I just didn’t want. After that, I started networking. I’ve been continuously employed since I was 15—I had never faced being unemployed, and it was really hard for me to talk about and get it out of my head that it wasn’t my fault. I think that’s maybe common for women, who often suffer from impostor syndrome.

“For a while, I was not hearing any-thing. Of course, as soon as we tried to go on a Covid-safe vacation, people started getting back to me. It was incredibly taxing to schedule everything. Everything was over Zoom. I did some interviews from our rental house. That made me nervous—like, is the internet going to be okay? I hadn’t packed anything that I thought would look professional. I put on, like, a shorts romper—if I’d stood up, it would have been a problem. You’re moving furniture around, you’re taking pictures off the wall, you’re hoping you don’t do anything that will get your security deposit revoked. This was an old house on the Eastern Shore, so the doors didn’t lock and there were five kids running around screaming, so we had to coordinate with my in-laws to make sure everybody was out of the house at a certain time—except it’s a pandemic, so where can they go? On that interview, one of the things the interviewer said to break the ice was ‘Oh, I love the picture behind you—what’s the story behind it?’ My entire orientation was Pretend you’re not on vacation, and all of sudden in the first two minutes I’m like, ‘Uh, this isn’t my house.’ I remember wondering how that would reflect on me. Luckily, he completely passed it by. But if you’re an overthinker, those are the things you can get in your head about.

“Some of the things that can bring out bias in an interview process were deemphasized. I felt like there was so much less of an ability for people to scrutinize my appearance. Another thing was that people seemed to be sensitive to equity issues in a way they weren’t before. Some folks said, ‘Hey, if you need to pay for childcare in order to do this written exercise, let us know and we’ll reimburse you.’ Or ‘We understand everybody is stretched for time, so if you can’t turn this around by Monday, let us know and you can have more time.’ That kind of signaling I really paid attention to.

“Generally, I’d have the job description printed out. I’d have my résumé on my screen to remember the things I like to brag about. I’d have a bunch of tabs open—their website, social-media feeds, staff bios to keep everyone straight. There were times I’d start interviewing and realize the job wouldn’t work with the level of Covid precaution we were taking. That is a really tough thing to put in a job listing. Mostly, those details come to light in a second or third interview. For example, If the head of the organization was giving a speech at a rally, could you staff him? Those are such difficult questions. There’s not an answer I can give off the cuff: It’s communal decision-making with a bunch of people who are affected.

“Being new, all of that has been nice. I probably spent more time than I otherwise would having get-to-know-you calls that you’d do in groups in the office or more casually in the break room. It’s been so lovely. I was pretty nervous about what it would be like—I think if I was coming into an organization where people felt really burned out, that would probably show. But it hasn’t been like that at all.”

Kristen Hinman
Articles Editor

Kristen Hinman has been editing Washingtonian’s features since 2014. She joined the magazine after editing politics & policy coverage for Bloomberg Businessweek and working as a staff writer for Voice Media Group/Riverfront Times.