Suddenly losing her job inspired this marketing pro to start a project to help Chicago's laid-off tech workers find their next gig - and break the shame of layoffs
- When Megan Murphy was laid off from her job at a Chicago-based tech company before Thanksgiving, she created a spreadsheet and slack channel, and invited other job-hunters to join.
- The newly-born Chicago Superstars allows laid-off local tech workers to network, connect with recruiters and find new jobs.
- As waves of layoffs hit the tech industry across the country, crowd-sourced spreadsheets, job seeker databases and online communities like Chicago Superstars have cropped up around the country, pointing to a demand for a space where job-hunters can band together and support each other.
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When Megan Murphy was suddenly laid off from her marketing job at a Chicago-based software company in November - right before the holiday season - she had few resources on which to draw, and no network to call on to find her next gig.
"What does it say about me as an employee that I'm not critical to the organization? My brain was spinning," Murphy told Business Insider.
It didn't take long, though, for inspiration to strike. Taking her cue from a trend that started in Silicon Valley last year in the wake of layoffs at Juul, Zenefits, and Uber, she created a spreadsheet for laid-off workers to circulate their names, positions, companies and LinkedIn profiles. Referrals help people get hired faster than employees who throw their resumes at online job postings, Murphy reasoned.
"Job boards are everywhere," Murphy said. "The power of the community is how we can help you avoid that application-tracking black hole."
Chicago Superstars, as the project came to be known, is one of the latest examples of how the tech industry is banding together for support in a time when mega-companies like Uber and WeWork go through rough patches that see big layoffs.
To help laid-off workers grappling with the emotional toll of suddenly finding themselves without job or purpose, Murphy took the project one step further and added a form that invited applicants to join a chat room in the Slack app and support each other through the process.
"Misery loves company," she joked in a blog post describing the project.
Less than three months after its inception, Chicago Superstars looks entirely different from the initial bare-bones spreadsheet.
A talent database lists the names, experiences, and contact details of 65 Chicago workers. Murphy sends out a weekly newsletter to recruiters, to introduce new additions and resumes on the list. And Murphy's original vision of a "community" for laid-off tech workers on Slack has grown into 13 channels. It may keep growing, as her self-described "passion project" picks up speed.
"It's kind of been coming in waves," Murphy added. "But its been very cool, having it grow so quickly."
Tech workers band together as layoffs shake the industry
Layoffs have racked the tech industry over the past year, as startups like WeWork and Zume have hit significant turbulence and been forced to make job cuts. More than 3,000 people were laid off by SoftBank-backed startups alone over the past two months, Business Insider previously reported.
Job openings have also dwindled in many companies. For instance, Uber's open job postings have shrunk by about 34% over the past year, according to data analytics firm Thinknum, tightening the competition to land a new job in tech.
In Silicon Valley, where in-built startup alumni networks already exist, efforts to help tech workers rebound from layoffs have taken place in the form of crowd-sourced spreadsheets, like that of Uber and Juul. These spreadsheets have been emulated in different forms by projects like Chicago Superstars, as Crunchbase first reported.
And these talent databases have proved massively helpful for companies looking to scale their business. "Companies are still looking to hire aggressively," said Matthew Green, a senior executive at Sales Assembly, a company that helps Chicago's growth-stage startups grow their operations. "They have to hire twenty, or fifty, or even a hundred bodies," so Green helps connect these companies to the members of Chicago Superstars.
The spreadsheet trend spreads
As the spreadsheet trend spreads across the country, devotees to the model have carved out a space for laid-off tech workers to band together and support each other through a difficult time.
In Seattle, Chris Brownridge has built an online jobs site called Silver Linings, that is taking a similar approach to Chicago Superstars. Recruiters can pay $30/month to browse a social network of local talent, while job-seekers pay nothing to participate in its community.
Like Murphy, Brownridge created the site as an outcome of his own personal experiences with tech layoffs - but he came at it as the founder of a startup forced to shut down and lay off all his employees. Although Brownridge passed around a spreadsheet for his employees to join, he felt like it didn't do enough to help resettle laid-off workers, in an idea that proved to be the genesis of Silver Linings.
Both Brownridge and Murphy say, however, that their efforts aren't enough; employers who know that they're about to embark on a round of job cuts need to be upfront about the news to better help their workers.
"There's a bit of a stigma around layoffs... larger companies could do a better job of getting ahead of it," Brownridge said.
And more than anything, Murphy says, the project wants those who lost their jobs to know that they're not alone.
"I feel like getting laid off comes with a lot of shame and uncertainty and fear," Murphy said. "And it doesn't have to be that way."
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