The business travel world turned upside down in 2020. Careers came to abrupt pauses, leaving professionals wondering when and how they’d again be employed. The Company Dime offered free one-year subscriptions to travel professionals who lost their positions due to the coronavirus and about 570 of you took us up on the offer. To help those with questions about job searches, career opportunities, résumé building and interviewing — and to provide a forum for commiserating, networking and sharing — in April and May 2021, we hosted dozens of attendees on a two-part conference call as well as a Zoom roundtable with five of those displaced. We based the discussions on feedback gathered from a survey of the 570. What follows is part of the output from our 570 project.

Professionals getting back on the road and again attending industry trade shows and events won’t see many familiar faces within the ranks of their peer network. Many of those who were forced into furloughs or endured layoffs due to the pandemic-caused economic collapse have since returned to work. A significant percentage of corporate travel professionals, however, remain on the hunt. 

Corporate travel suffered disproportionate damage from the global pandemic compared with other business sectors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. economy lost 20.5 million jobs in April 2020, with 7.7 million of those coming from leisure and hospitality. That equated to nearly half of the country’s leisure and hospitality jobs.

Last month, 9.3 million Americans were still out of work, compared with 5.7 million before the pandemic began. Leisure and hospitality was still down by 2.5 million jobs, or 15 percent, after adding 292,000 jobs in May, mostly in restaurants and bars, according to BLS. The accommodations segment added 35,000 jobs last month. 

In an industry that prides itself on professional relationships measured in decades, one might forgive the sentiment of thinking about business sector peers as family. Here at The Company Dime, we’ve been curious to learn how those members of our industry family made out since mid-March 2020. We surveyed subscribers displaced by the crisis, a few of whom agreed to share their personal journeys during a video meeting recorded on May 5. 

Their stories exemplify the challenges and emotions many in our industry experienced in the past 15 months. One emotion is jealousy of industries that saw much less disruption. One subscriber wrote, “It’s disheartening to see so many businesses still open in some form or another, where with us, if I call some people in the travel industry, they’re gone, they’re ‘out of office’ or just no one answers.”

A Passion For Travel

As a young woman, Barbara Dirnberger hitchhiked across Canada, eventually completing a five-month-long trip from her native Toronto west across the North American continent to Alaska, then south to California before heading home. “I always had itchy feet,” she laughed. Upon her return, she embarked on a career at her father’s construction company. Though the job was lucrative, she knew in the back of her mind it stirred no passion for her. 

One day out of the blue her grandmother asked why Dirnberger wasn’t doing what she loved: working as a travel agent. That was all the coaxing Dirnberger needed. Soon she embarked upon a decades-long career working at travel agencies, tour companies and airlines including Swissair and Malaysia Airlines. During the next 30 years, she never considered leaving the industry that kept her busy doing “amazing, enjoyable, engaging work.”

Mat Domaradzki grew up traveling extensively throughout the United States and Europe. Polish immigrants to the United States, Domaradzki’s parents were keen on exploring their new home while keeping their European ties. “I was bitten by the travel bug at a young age,” Domaradzki said. He took travel management courses as part of his studies at the University of Southern California and completed a 10-week internship at Korean Airlines (whose CEO was a USC graduate). After an entry-level job with an air freight company, Domaradzki worked at Hilton for nine years, learning everything from food and beverage and brand identity to strategy, marketing and the luxury and lifestyle segments.

Almost by accident, Domaradzki eventually became the travel manager at ConsenSys, engrossed in building a comprehensive travel program for the world’s biggest blockchain company. He quickly found himself all-in. The role fit him like a glove. “I’m a super-detailed person and so was the person who brought me in,” he said. “ConsenSys was essentially a startup company, where it was difficult to tell travelers what to do.”

Mindy Berger never set out to make a career in corporate travel but seized on opportunities. “When I got out of college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and a friend of mine was taking a travel careers course in Houston,” she said. She thought it sounded like fun and enrolled. After Berger completed the class, the instructor offered her a job running a branch office for his small agency. 

She believed her ideal job was in sales and sketched out a career path whereby she would leverage a job in airline reservations to apply for a sales job at the same airline. She quickly learned her plan was flawed: hiring managers wanted candidates with sales experience.

Unfazed, Berger returned to the agency world and began her steady climb: branch manager, general manager, regional manager. 

TMC layoffs

She gained experience in operations by running a call center, in proposals by running bid and bid-avoidance teams, and eventually in client management by building a portfolio of client companies. Working hard and cultivating her professional network paid off when a former supervisor recruited her to work at Travelocity Business, where she rose to vice president of account management with a client portfolio valued at $450 million.

“I have always loved that: the client interaction,” Berger mused. “There are so many components to it — whether it’s the client aspect, the supplier aspect, the technology aspect — and things are constantly evolving.” In 2007, she joined BCD Travel when it acquired Tbiz.

Jack Purdy “grew up” on airplanes. His dad worked as personnel director for Mohawk Airlines, a regional carrier serving the Mid-Atlantic that made history in 1957 as the first airline to hire an African-American flight attendant. The family took advantage of free employee travel and took vacations to places like Bermuda, San Juan and Disney World. Sometimes the younger Purdy got to accompany his father to upstate New York and beyond to recruit flight attendants and pilots. Eyeing a career in hospitality, Purdy hoped to earn a degree in hotel management. Since his college, Susquehanna University in central Pennsylvania, didn’t offer that curriculum, he majored in business instead and upon graduation secured a spot in Marriott’s management training program. Purdy was assigned to Marriott’s staff training program, which included the training of housekeepers and recreation staff. He then moved into the front office and onto operations.

After a few years at Marriott, opportunity came knocking. A family friend at Chautauqua Airlines invited Purdy to interview for a position at the regional carrier, and he made the jump from lodging to air. Through his work in airline inventory management, he formed relationships with the USAir sales organization. That served as a steppingstone to a decades-long sales career at US Airways, Continental and United. “When I got the job offer at Chautauqua Airlines, there was no question whether I would take it,” Purdy said. “From that point forward until today, I’ve been orbiting travel in one way, shape or form.”

Dan Nettuno grew up on the west coast of Florida, dreaming of seeing the world. Enrolled at Georgetown University, he studied foreign services abroad in Australia and Argentina. “I knew I always wanted to travel and loved living overseas, so I’d better find a way … to keep seeing the world,” he said. Hired out of college by Virgin Atlantic, Nettuno immediately fell in love with the travel industry and what he described as “the coolest, most accepting, most diverse, wonderful group of people. These people were not only mentors but incredible people. The industry was everything that I wanted it to be: international, historically accepting.” For 10 years he accumulated experience at airlines, travel management companies and a bank, where he served as a corporate travel manager.

Personal circumstances led Nettuno in the mid-2000s to take over his family’s small business. “I went from Corporate America to running a small auto repair shop in under a month.” The experience taught him a lot about business and sales, including selling used cars. It also cemented his desire to return to corporate travel. First, he followed a few detours and worked for software and tech companies. Finally, after more than a decade away from corporate travel, Nettuno joined CWT in 2018 as a director of business development. He found himself crossing paths with many of the same individuals in the industry he worked with 15 years earlier. “I was back in travel,” he said. “Life was great.”

Shawn Kumar joined the U.S. Peace Corps after graduating from Colorado State University and was posted in Tulcan, Ecuador, near the border with Colombia. Following his service, he traveled extensively throughout South America. “The Peace Corps experience opened my eyes to the rest of the world and how conducting business in other countries differs from the U.S.,” he said. Kumar became curious about other regions; to date, he has visited about 75 countries.

For the first 16 years of his career, Kumar worked in information technology designing websites, performing quality assurance and managing technology development teams and projects. In 2018, he landed a new job as a senior product manager at BCD Travel. Kumar found the travel industry invigorating, challenging and eye-opening. He liked the size and global reach of BCD Travel. “I was really passionate about it and really enjoyed my time there,” he said. 

Then It All Blew Up

In early February 2020 at a “best and final” sales presentation, Nettuno’s vice president at CWT, who had recently returned from a leadership meeting in China, relayed news about a virus there that had the potential to wreak havoc. “We heard an inkling from our VP that there may be some [business] modification, but it wouldn’t be a big deal,” Nettuno said. 

Of course, it was a big deal. On Feb. 11, the World Health Organization, officially named the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus “Covid-19.” On Feb. 23, Italy locked down 10 towns after a cluster of cases emerged near Milan. Latin America reported its first case on Feb. 26, and the United States reported its first death on Feb. 29. Governments around the world soon began closing borders, imposing curfews and quarantines, limiting the size of public gatherings and closing bars and restaurants. Businesses pulled out of events, stopped traveling and let employees work from home. Hotel reservations were canceled. Airlines slashed capacity and parked planes. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a no-sail order, keeping the entire cruise industry at the dock. The United States on March 12 suspended all travel from Europe.

On April 6, Nettuno joined an internal call and listened as Kurt Ekert, then CEO of CWT, told employees that transactions had ground to a halt. Like so many others, CWT would place employees on furlough. They would qualify for unemployment, and the company would continue covering their health insurance. Nettuno wasn’t overly worried. While unemployment insurance would not provide the income he was used to, it was enough to get him by until everything returned to normal at summer’s end — or so he thought. 

As the weeks and months ticked away, however, there was no end to the pandemic in sight.

Dan Nettuno

Like millions of professionals employed in corporate travel, Nettuno late last year found himself facing three choices: remain employed at reduced hours with no guarantees, go on extended leave for 12 to 18 months or resign his position and receive severance. “Because I wanted to get on with my career, none of the options were good for me except taking severance,” Nettuno said. “It was tough because I really loved the company. They were very transparent, and they’re a very great employer, but it was heartbreaking.”

For Berger, 2020 opened much as 2019 ended: managing roughly 20 midmarket and enterprise clients with her team of program managers. In mid-February, her senior vice president began sounding the alarm about the TMC’s transactions going down, its financials looking bad and the possibility of reductions. Despite a long track record of satisfied clients, bid avoidance and renewals, Berger felt anxious. “I’ll be honest, I did sort of feel like possibly I would be on that list,” she said. “Looking at the team’s portfolios versus my portfolio, I sort of knew that my portfolio might be easier to farm out than their portfolio.”

On March 24, Berger’s boss delivered news now familiar to huge numbers of her industry peers: she was being placed on furlough with health benefits and would qualify for unemployment insurance. “As much as I anticipated it and as much as we had discussed it at the home front, it’s still like a kick in the gut,” she said. “I get it. I understand. It’s got to happen to somebody, but why did it have to be me?” 

Berger’s partner also worked in the travel industry, so they waited for the next shoe to drop. Luckily, it never came down; her spouse survived cuts, and their household maintained an income stream. Berger found herself with plenty of time to think about her lot in life. “Now what am I going to do? What am I cutting out? Do I need to panic about anything?” Her answer was practical: “Okay, I’m going to mow the yard; I’m not going to pay the yard guy.”

Meanwhile, after speaking with still-employed colleagues facing pay cuts and intense pressure to carry on amidst vastly reduced staff, Berger was left feeling ambivalent. Whose situation was worse, hers or those still working? “As I’ve said and continue to say, it’s not easy on either side. It’s not easy for those that lost their jobs and it’s not easy for those that are still working, because the expectation and what they have to do is not sustainable in the least.”

As 2020 began for Domaradzki, ConsenSys decided to build on his earlier work and invest in new tools in meeting assistance and online booking. He was finishing a complete overhaul of travel policies to stop program leakage. “We were ready to try out some cool new tools,” he said. Then travel came to a full stop. 

ConsenSys placed Domaradzki on furlough indefinitely. “They held onto me working a little longer than was necessary,” he concluded. “I was still looking to plan a return to travel a few months in.” He saw a lot of people in the industry getting laid off, including former colleagues at Hilton. ConsenSys began laying off his co-workers. He saw the writing on the wall and started looking for a new job.

Dirnberger in January 2020 split her time between two consulting roles, one as vice president of business development at travel data company Airline Metrics, and the other as national manager of sales and marketing at Discover the World, a sales strategist for clients in the air, cruise, hotel and ground transportation categories. She worked from home 70 percent of her time, maintaining face-to-face relationships with co-workers during the rest.

Then, on March 16, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau closed the country’s borders to non-citizens. Almost overnight, business plummeted. Her cruise line marketing campaigns came to a halt. Travel agents turned their attention almost entirely to bringing travelers home and reclaiming unused tickets. Once everyone returned to their home countries, airlines began parking aircraft. “I lost work and lost income,” Dirnberger said. “There were no more billable hours.”

Barbara Dirnberger

Before the end of last June, Dirnberger, who bills her time as an independent consultant, reduced her fees in an attempt to retain clients. “You know when something is on life support and you’re just trying to keep it going,” she said. She quickly learned “to make do with very little.” Based on her experience from the Great Recession of 2008, she assumed corporate travel would take years to recover. 

In February 2020, Purdy attended United Airlines’ annual directors conference in Chicago as rumors circulated about Covid-19 entering the United States. “There was an amazing sense of optimism” with United president Scott Kirby taking over as CEO from Oscar Munoz, Purdy said. “All the great plans for United in 2020 were presented at that conference. Despite looming concern of the coronavirus, it was a very upbeat and motivating meeting.”

That changed within two weeks. Purdy postponed a March meeting in Orlando for the entire East Coast sales team. Then he canceled a trip to New York City to interview job candidates, “because I knew a hiring freeze was coming.” His SVP of sales warned his team that United could be facing staff reductions by as much as 30 percent. “I hung up from that call and that’s when my head was on a swivel,” Purdy said. “I recognized at that point that I might be vulnerable because my region included non-hub markets. I knew my marketplace wasn’t mission-critical to the survival of the company.” Purdy’s SVP let him know in late June that his region was being eliminated.

In early July, United notified 36,000 employees, or 45 percent of its U.S. workforce, that their jobs were at risk after federal payroll aid expired at the end of September. That included the elimination of Purdy’s sales region. “It was not a surprise to me that my region was eliminated, given its geographical contours,” Purdy said. “Nonetheless, I was extremely disappointed. I’d never lost a position ever in my life. I was one of the few airline guys who was never dislocated.” Although his job at United wouldn’t end until the end of September, Purdy immediately began developing a transition plan to make sure his exit would not create a hardship for his team or customers. 

When the pandemic closed borders and parked aircraft in mid-March, Kumar saw his future all over the media. “I’m a newshound,” he said. “I was watching the news on the travel industry with all the flights canceled and I knew this wasn’t going to end well for BCD. When we started cutting our budgets, I had growing concern that people and budgets would be cut.” He concluded that business travel was not going to be the same.

His fears were confirmed later that month when his manager broke the news of widespread furloughs. “I immediately went into home improvement projects,” Kumar said. “I needed to tune out the whole thing for a little while.”

Upon reflection, he decided the furlough was not entirely negative. It provided him the time to reinvent himself. “You cannot do that when you are working,” Kumar said. “This gave me a new beginning to redo my learning, look back at some of the mistakes I made, how can I change. When you have that kind of time to reflect and learn and redo yourself, it’s a really good gift to have.”

Job Seekers Vs. The HR Robots

Like millions of workers sidelined by the global pandemic, newly unemployed business travel professionals engaged in activity they hadn’t undertaken in a very long time — looking for work. Given long tenures in corporate travel, many had less experience job hunting than those in other industries. You don’t typically find people in the technology industry with 25 or 30 years of service like you do in corporate travel, observed Nettuno, who has worked in each industry for more than 10 years.

Recognizing the personal importance of structure, Nettuno quickly settled into a regular daily routine. He didn’t spend entire days job searching but built his schedule around a few hours of searching per day, usually one session in the morning and another in the afternoon. In between, he exercised, worked in the garden and read a great deal to remain current on industry news and events. He attended webinars regularly and remained active in the Global Business Travel Association and Travel And Meetings Society. Seeking employment only two years after being hired by CWT, Nettuno’s résumé and LinkedIn profile required little updating, but he thought his interviewing skills could use some sharpening, so he turned to a professional service for training.

Domaradzki knew he would have to keep himself relevant. He attended webinars regularly and remained active in TAMS and GBTA, where he was a member of the Accommodations Committee and Ladders mentoring program. Initially, he explored work as a part-time travel manager, but quickly realized that when there’s no travel, even part-time travel management work is nearly impossible to come by. He took advice from a friend who said the way to survive unemployment was to maintain a 9-to-5 schedule — following up on commitments, engaging in professional development, reading and attending events. “It was good advice, and I try to follow it by setting up my calendar, even if I don’t have a job to go to,” Domaradzki said.

Mat Domaradzki

He explored job opportunities in financial tech; his previous job at ConsenSys put him in contact with many professionals in that sector. However, he found it difficult to transfer his skills and experience as a corporate travel manager to that industry. “I tried — and I knew people who worked in those companies, and they made introductions — but unfortunately never got too far,” he said.

After leaving United in October, Purdy took some time off before launching his job search. He believed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act introduced in Congress would include funds for airlines to hire back employees in his predicament. His hopes for a federal rescue were dashed when the bill became entangled in a political imbroglio that delayed its passage until late December. When Congress finalized the legislation, it excluded employees like Purdy, who had accepted early retirement.

In late January 2021, he became fully engrossed in his job search. He secured a placement service, began regularly visiting job boards and reached out to his professional network. Anticipating a long, difficult road toward securing another airline job, he targeted other industries for which he assumed his skills were readily transferable. He quickly became frustrated with the lack of interest in his history of sales success. He concluded that potential employers perceived his level of experience as being expensive without offering direct experience selling their products or services. 

“I think it’s less a statement about the airline industry and more a statement about my age and my level of experience,” Purdy said. “I’m very confident that the skills I used to manage my team in corporate sales are useful outside of the travel industry, but at my demographic it ends up being a hard business case to convince people.”

Purdy had to battle the applicant tracking systems that many human resources departments use to identify top candidates applying for jobs online. As a one-time hiring manager himself, he was familiar with their use. An ATS might filter out 990 of 1,000 résumés submitted electronically, he observed. “When I apply for a job, I research the company. I craft a meaningful cover letter. I even adjust my résumé. I put a lot of work into it,” he said. “To think that it’s just getting brushed aside by some robot — it’s just disheartening.”

Purdy recounted an evening when he spent three hours completing his online application for an opening that he felt perfectly qualified to fill. An hour later, as he was getting ready to go to bed, he discovered that he already received a response from the company. The message said that after reviewing his résumé, the company decided to pursue other, more qualified candidates. “You talk about a heart-wrenching, heartbreaking, aggravating, annoying experience — it was that,” he said. “Now I laugh about it. But at midnight that night I wasn’t laughing.”

After taking a few days to contemplate her new unemployed status, Berger dove headfirst into her job search. Reading the news left Berger pessimistic about corporate travel bouncing back any time soon. She set her sights on finding a position outside of travel. She launched her job hunt with a complete revision of her résumé to remove its emphasis on the travel industry and instead focus on her skill set and knowledge of client management and customer success. She also joined executive networking groups, reached out to recruiters, forged new connections and revisited old ones — both outside and inside of travel. She spent hours trying to identify hiring managers for positions she wished to apply for, and then to build connections to them. These goals often proved elusive. 

The hunt for a new career turned out to be a marathon. Competition for openings was fierce. With so many talented professionals out of work, companies seemed to raise qualifications for positions above what was needed to perform them well, Berger said. Suddenly, hiring managers were requiring a master’s degree in Business Administration for positions that had never before required them. She felt she was out of the running before she ever applied. 

Shawn Kumar

“Sometimes you get knocked down. You get those rejection letters. You start questioning some of your own self-worth,” she said. “The good news is I have a tremendous support system of family, friends, peers and co-workers that are very supportive, and I’m thankful for that.”

After spending a few weeks catching up on home improvement projects, Kumar was ready to begin the hunt for his next job. He relied primarily on LinkedIn (subscribing to its premium service), identified companies where he thought he’d like to work and built connections to employees there. He experimented with activating the “open to work” LinkedIn indicator, but saw no early results and “didn’t want to appear desperate.” Like many others, his first priority was updating his résumé. He was adamant about tapping the services of a professional recruiter to get it right. His recruiter used keyword phrases taken from job descriptions similar to the ones for roles Kumar was targeting in product marketing. “Once I did that, things started happening quickly,” he said. 

Kumar started his job search within the travel industry, but later broadened it. “I wanted to still be in travel, whether that be leisure, another business travel company, short-term rental,” he said. “Business travel just didn’t seem like an industry of growth anymore.”

Soon he found opportunities in the tech sector that excited him, including invitations to interview at Amazon and Facebook. He had multiple interviews but didn’t get hired at those companies. Over time, as he continued to apply for jobs and land interviews, he said he experienced the “Groundhog Day” phenomenon, a reference to the film in which Bill Murray’s character gets stuck in a time loop and must relive the same day. “You interview, you go through all the rounds, you get to the third round or fourth round and you don’t get the job — and you have to start over again with another company,” Kumar explained.

He learned that practicing for interviews was critical to mastering “the way you articulate things, the way you talk about yourself, the way you talk about your work.” He took advantage of an online service offering interview coaching. 

Dirnberger began applying for positions posted on jobs sites including LinkedIn and Indeed. She targeted only positions that aligned perfectly with her skills and experience. She identified companies that were revamping their corporate travel departments. She created several variations of her résumé based on the targeted roles — sales expert, marketing expert, operations expert. For each customized résumé, she added keywords from the descriptions of similar roles advertised on job sites. She spent three to five hours completing each job application. That included researching the company, aligning her résumé to specific advertised positions and writing cover letters. “You have to set aside hours,” she said, “but not too much of them, because it can suck up your day.”

Like many of her peers, Dirnberger worked hard to identify the hiring manager behind each job posting. “It’s so hard to physically meet people right now; you’re totally reliant on the Internet,” she said. “It’s algorithms and bots and key search words of your résumé, and a thousand résumés going in.” Her efforts applying online did not yield a single interview. Companies began recruiting remotely; the number of job applicants for each posted position went up dramatically. After about a month, Dirnberger abandoned her online job search and focused on networking. She checked in regularly with previous employers, connected with previous supplier partners and maintained relationships with previous corporate accounts.

Dirnberger eventually pursued work outside of the travel industry. One effort targeted what seemed an obvious growth industry at the time: viral contact tracing. She completed an online course offered by Johns Hopkins University and reached out to local, provincial and federal governments seeking contact tracing work. She came up empty. Another strategy, leveraging volunteer experience, was more successful. She picked up some work from Charity Village, an organization that provides career resources to employees and volunteers, and recruitment services to over 170,000 charities and nonprofits across Canada. 

Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Nettuno badly wanted to remain in corporate travel. He obsessively reviewed job postings and checked in with his network. In what he described as an incredible stroke of luck, American Express Global Business Travel posted a job opening in its consulting group. “They made a strategic decision to invest in the business and build these ancillary revenues that weren’t tied to transactions, and consulting was the way to do that,” Nettuno said. He survived the lengthy interview process and got an offer. However, it didn’t immediately produce a job and paycheck. 

“Negotiations went on for months because GBT didn’t have extra money, they didn’t have positions open, people were on furlough there as well,” he said. He began to question whether he would ever start his new job at GBT. “Imagine the roller coaster,” he said. “I had to use everything I had, which was every sales skill, every connection, to create a real need for them to want me.”

Mindy Berger

As May wound down, Berger found herself in the late stages of the interview process for a position at a corporate TMC. She successfully navigated three rounds of interviews and awaited a fourth but wasn’t ready to feel confident, lest she set herself up for disappointment. “I’m certainly not putting all of my eggs in one basket,” she said. “I am continuing to look, because there are no guarantees in this life.”

Dirnberger saw signs of industry recovery in the fall of 2020. That November, she saw promising signs for outsourced data analysis and cruise RFPs. Airlines began reviewing their systems, including those for revenue management. Her two previous contract clients began throwing work her way and she stopped searching for jobs outside the travel industry. “I see many, many more jobs posted now,” she said, “and that’s so encouraging.”

As the second summer of the global pandemic approached, Domaradzki accepted part-time work from startup companies developing products for business travel. It helped pay the bills and felt like a good step forward while he continued the search for a full-time position. “I’ve lived in limbo before and survived and came out stronger on the other end,” he said. “I’ve been charged with, and have been found guilty of, being a very optimistic person. So, I’m sure that I, and the people I know in this industry, are going to come out on the other end just fine when things come back.”

Convinced that airlines eventually would staff up again once vaccinations rolled out and transactions recovered, Purdy decided to explore interim opportunities to carry him over. He found them in two places. First, he invested his time and capital in his son’s online retail business, which sells fishing supplies to avid anglers. That business has proven very successful and continues to expand, he said. Second, he secured a real estate license and launched his own business under an agency relationship with Coldwell Banker. “I’m highly interested in that business and have been for a very long time,” Purdy said. There are few businesses with as low a cost of entry as real estate, he said, so it’s low risk. He can put in as much or little time as he wants. He remains extremely optimistic that the travel industry will begin its recovery in September.

In May, after more than a year of cycling through the Groundhog Day loop, Kumar finally received an offer as the inaugural product marketing director at a Bay Area startup specializing in machine learning and artificial intelligence. He attributed his ultimate breakthrough in landing a new job to the realization that the hiring manager wasn’t just an interviewer, but the person he would be working with every day. He worked hard during interviews to build a human connection to his future supervisor. “They want to get along, they want to like you,” Kumar said. “You need to connect and get along with that person. If you can add humor into the interview, that helps. It really does.”

Lessons Learned

While none of the corporate travel professionals who shared their personal stories with The Company Dime would wish to relive their pandemic experiences, the challenges of the past 15 months provided each with hard-won lessons that will remain with them.

The pandemic provided Dirnberger with deeper self-knowledge that left her feeling confident. Sustaining optimism during a prolonged job search is a huge challenge, she said, and most people weathering the experience find themselves occasionally languishing. “You lose energy and drive. Everyone is fighting this,” she said. “You need the discipline to get up and have a plan every day, even if it’s just for a few hours, even if it’s not work-related.” Her big takeaway is that part of her strength lies in her self-discipline. “I always knew I had it, but now I recognize how important it is and how grateful I am that I do have it.”

Jack Purdy

Purdy’s core lesson from the pandemic is the value of positivity, something he calls a force multiplier. Keeping optimistic allowed him to have a good day even when he learned his sales region was cut. “Worry about the things you can control. Enjoy life,” he said. “I’m going to be okay, I’m going to find my next dream job. It may take a while, it might happen tomorrow, I don’t know. I’m going to begin working for that. I have a plan. I’m not going to be looking for any sympathy or any charity through this process. I can figure this out on my own, and I will.”

Kumar said his pandemic journey taught him to broaden his goals and explore what he truly wanted. “I wasn’t just looking for a job, I was also considering other things too,” he said. “I was considering becoming a consultant. I was considering maybe getting a real estate license, living in Mexico.” He also learned that achieving his full potential required facing down some fear. “You’ve got to put your neck out, you’ve got to take a risk, you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone.” 

Berger said her greatest lesson from the pandemic was the importance of striking a balance between her personal and professional lives. “The thing I learned about myself is that I put too much emphasis on work, that my life revolved around work,” she said. “I defined myself by my work. That was my identity. I won’t do that again. I want to enjoy my work. I want to be passionate about it — but there’s more to life.”

Domaradzki said his experiences in the past 15 months taught him the importance of keeping a routine and staying busy to avoid the distractions of unproductive activities. He’s convinced that he should have created a contingency plan in the event of job loss, regularly devoting time to growing and maintaining his professional network, for example. “Even if you do everything you can while looking for a new job while unemployed — from keeping a strict job searching schedule to continuing to network and actively involve yourself in your desired industry — a long stretch of unemployment can be quite taxing emotionally and mentally,” he said.

Nettuno said the pandemic taught him it was okay to accept less money for a job he loved. “This whole journey for me in so many ways has been a journey of faith — not in the traditional sense, but faith in myself,” he said. After spending more than a decade pursuing jobs outside the travel industry, the pandemic made his joyful return short-lived. He was tempted to go chase a paycheck outside the industry again, but ultimately realized what he wanted.

“It was all about passion,” he said, “and all roads led back to travel.”

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