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Melissa Popp

Host: Isaline Muelhauser

Guest: Melissa Popp

Melissa Popp is the Content Strategy Director at RicketyRoo. She works with clients to create engaging and authoritative content that dominates local search results.

In this episode, Melissa shares how she found herself in an unexpected situation when she was laid off from a job she loved due to company-wide downsizing. She wasn't prepared for this sudden change, and the experience left her scrambling for the next opportunity. In her haste and panic, she accepted a job offer that she wasn't entirely sure about. She was thankful for the employment, but as she settled into the role, she realized it wasn't the right fit for her. This experience became a major setback in her career. She discusses how to be prepared for change, how to evaluate the next steps to bounce back aligned with your career goals. We also find out what inspires Melissa and what empowers her to be the brilliant woman she is today.

You can connect with Melissa through her LinkedIn, Twitter/X and RicketyRoo Website.

Episode Transcript

Isaline: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the WTSPodcast. We are on a mission to amplify women's voices. I am Isaline Muelhauser, and I am your host for today's podcast. We welcome someone I'm really happy to see again on a podcast. Welcome, Melissa Popp. 

Melissa: Hello, everybody. 

Isaline: Thank you, Melissa, for joining me today. You are a content strategy director at RicketyRoo, and you work with clients to create engaging and authoritative content that dominates local search results. You are especially good at telling stories, which I love. But today, it's your story that you're sharing. Preparing for this interview, you mentioned that, a few years back, you found yourself in a completely unexpected situation when you were laid off from a job you loved. Tell me more about that. 

Melissa: So, I had been working for an SEO agency for about four years. When I started, I think I was an employee two or three, very small size, but we grew very rapidly. Over that four years, at one point, I think we had close to 10 people and we had moved into a penthouse office in a high-rise building here in Denver. Things were going really, really great. We were looking toward the future and what our growth looks like. 

One day, I came into the office. I always work early. Anybody who knows me knows I typically start my day by about 7 a.m. Usually, I'd get to the office and nobody's there. It's just quiet and peaceful. I can get started with my day. And then, as the hours go on, people would filter it. But then, my boss showed up. It was very unlike her to be in that early. My Spidey senses were kind of tingling. I was like, "Okay, something's going on." At the time, I had no idea I was going to be laid off. There was no indication whatsoever that we were struggling financially or any other operational issues that led to the layoffs. 

I was sitting writing a piece of content and got a Slack message from my boss that was like, "Hey, can you come see me in my office?" Immediately, I was kind of like, "Uh-oh, something is definitely going on." I met with her and immediately told me I was being laid off. She started going into the reasons for the layoff. I looked at her and I told her, "Doesn't really matter. I don't need to know what's going on because I don't work here anymore." I think the conversation lasted maybe about five minutes or so. And then, I pretty much went to my office, grabbed my computer, and left the building. I no longer had a job. I sat outside the building for a couple of minutes trying to figure out what do I even do? Wasn't even thinking about a new job. Like, just emotionally, what could I do? Because it happened so suddenly that I feel like a lot of things in life don't surprise me. This one definitely knocked the wind out of me.

Isaline: How did you bounce back from there from sitting in front of the building? 

Melissa: The first thing I did was call my best friend. I needed to get home. Basically, called her and was like, "Hey, I just got laid off. I lost my job. Can you come get me?" The two of us, she picked me up and we went to a local diner and just kind of sat and talked through things. She's one of my really good go-to friends that is very analytical in nature compared to how emotional and impulsive I can be. She's often my sounding board for things to make sure that just to have a different perspective on a situation I'm facing. 

We talked through things. Had some food. I had money in the savings, so I wasn't at risk of losing my apartment. I was very lucky to have that. I did receive a severance from the job. I still was getting a couple of paychecks and because I was laid off. I was going to qualify for unemployment. So, I had the financial guts were in a row, but really it took a lot longer to figure out, "Okay. What is my next step?" That's where I made probably the biggest mistake of my career in what I chose as my next step. I had part of it figured out within a few hours, but the rest took a lot longer to actually get through. 

Isaline: As I know, your next step is starting another job. But, how can starting another job can be a major mistake? 

Melissa: I know.

Isaline: Because it seems pretty responsible. 

Melissa: Yeah. 

Isaline: Reasonable. 

Melissa: Yeah, it does. We all have rent, we all have bills, we have to put food on the table. So, during my conversation about the layoff, I was told that one of our former clients at the agency had an opening for a content position. They had already talked to them about the layoffs, so they knew I was going to be available. I had previously worked with this company at the agency doing their content strategy and helping with their link building efforts. So, I was already familiar with the brand, the marketing that they were doing, all that stuff. I get home from this lunch with my friend. I think I was in my apartment for maybe 15, 20 minutes when I got a call from this other company. They're like, "Hey, can you send over your resume? Let's schedule an interview. Let's talk." I'm like, "Okay." Question mark; I'm still in the shock of processing. This probably all happened within a four or five-hour period of time. I told them I would send them the resume and then we could schedule something. At the time, I think a lot of it was the panic of having lost my job and thinking toward the future. 

I was like, "Okay, that's an opportunity that's just being handed to me. I can pursue it and see what happens." But then, I also was like, "I want to look at other jobs. What's closer to home? What's remote?" Those sorts of things. Over the next couple of weeks, I started applying for jobs. It had been a very long time since I've had to do that. Nowadays, in our industry, there's a lot more people competing for the same jobs. There's so many more diverse skill sets coming into each of these positions that I'm applying. I probably applied to 30, 35 jobs and just wasn't hearing anything. No rejection, no offer to interview, nothing. 

Probably by about week, the end of week two, I started panicking. I hadn't set the interview with the other company yet because they were still working out what the position would be. It's just this panic of like, "Okay. Well, what if I can't find a job? What if it takes me six-plus months to find this job?" 

So, I reached out to the other company, got the interview scheduled. I already knew the CEOs of the company, had conversation with them all the time. It's a very informal type interview, and I was basically handed the job. It came with a significant pay cut. I lost all my benefits at the agency going into this job, and I went from being an employee to a contractor. I've done contract work before. So, very familiar with it. I've done it full-time. Those weren't concerns. The pay cut sucked. Pay cuts always suck. But, at that point, I accepted the job because of the panic and fear I had about not being able to potentially find another job. Over time, the role started out as a content strategist role. And then, eventually evolved. Maybe I should say devolved into a link-building role, which is not what I wanted to do. 

And so, I spent the next year building links, all sorts of methods and techniques. I am very good at link building, but I hate doing it. It is not what I want to be doing. Over time with the role, I asked for multiple raises and was denied. My contract to hire was only supposed to be three months, and it ended up being, I believe, seven or eight months. Financially, I was ruined because of it. I was expecting to become an employee, get benefits covered, and get a significant pay raise that never came. It was very clear, over the year, I was at this role that this was going to always stay an entry-level role. At the agency I was at, I was a director level. With the pay cut also was a significant emotion, all because I was scared that I wouldn't be able to find a new job.

Isaline: Let's take a minute. Because I'm really impressed about the story you're sharing. Because being laid off from a job is like a rejection and that there are lots of emotions to navigate. Can we take a minute to just to discuss what kind of -- you mentioned fear. What kind of emotion were you feeling, and did you do something to process them? Or, were you sort of straight into the job and not really taking care of that side of the layoff?

Melissa: I definitely threw myself into finding a new job. Anybody who knows me in my life knows that instead of dealing with my emotions as a human being, I throw myself into projects, into a video game, into just about anything else other than dealing with my emotions. I am getting better at it through therapy and self-work. But, at the time I threw myself into finding a new job, getting used to the new role, and diving into just kind of what my new day-to-day looked like, leading up to starting a new job, definitely a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear, a lot of catastrophizing of, "What if I can't find a job in a year? Am I going to be homeless? Am I going to have to move back in with my parents?" Things like that. 

But, once I started the job, that was it. I went through this kind of stages of fear, anxiety, a little bit of anger. Once I got into the job, that was it, and that's what I focused on. And so, it wasn't until I started at RicketyRoo that I actually really started diving into how the layoff made me feel, how I felt about the people I worked with, that led to that layoff and kind of processing. You talked about how some of our self-worth can be tied to layoffs, and suddenly being rejected in ways that we all face in life different types of rejection. When we feel we're good at something to be laid off, that rejection leads to imposter syndrome, which is something I still fight with every day. Doing much better with that as well. Thanks to mentorship, my support system, the team at RicketyRoo. I work with the greatest people in the world who constantly lift one another up. It took me a long time to actually dive into the feelings and process and work through and learn from the experience.

Isaline: What happened between the moment that you were at that job that wasn't suitable to the moment where you now have a job where you feel empowered and good? Did you have a wake-up moment? Or, at some point, someone told you, "Look, this is not working." What made you change and realize that you needed to move on?

Melissa: Once I had been rejected for the raise I pitched at this job, I realized that there was no growth opportunity and that they did not care to see me in a higher-level role, despite the value I could have brought. And, once the role of that job shifted from a content position to a link-building position, I was done. I mean, link builders are very important to what we do in our industry, but I want to pay someone else to do that. I do not want to ever do it myself again. And so, the combination of those two things really made me realize, "Okay, I got to start looking for a job while I'm here." And so, that's what I did. I worked during the day, would come home, apply to jobs, all across the board. What's funny is I think I applied, that round, I probably applied to 60, 70 jobs. I got one interview here in Denver at the Nature and Science Museum, which was a really cool position. Unfortunately, because of COVID, they cut hiring the position, so it didn't move forward, which was a shame because that would be kind of like a nerdy dream job for me. 

Then, one day, I was at work and I happened to be on Twitter because that's where I live socially. I saw Blake Denman from RicketyRoo post that he was looking for a link-building specialist. Now, I wasn't trying to jump into another link-building position. But, at this point, I honestly would have worked any job and actually considered getting a retail job or something of that nature just to get me out of where I was. So, I saw him post this on Twitter. I DM'd him and I was like, "Hey, here's my situation. I hate this job. What you all are doing at RicketyRoo is pretty awesome. You're pretty awesome. This is what I want to do. Is there the potential that I start here and we find a way to get me to what I want to be doing with content?" 

The next thing I knew I had my interview with him. I was offered a job. I put in my two weeks' notice. What was incredible about my two weeks' notice is, at that point, everybody knew how unhappy I was at the job, and they knew that I was meant for better things. So, I left that job on great terms. They were very generous to me and kind of my send-off, everybody was sad to see me leave. But, they knew I was ready for bigger and better things. And so, I got my job at RicketyRoo. For all of you out there listening, scared about putting yourselves out there, take your chance. Because I cannot believe that I get to tell everybody that I got a job from a Twitter DM and not any other traditional method that you normally try to get a job for. 

Isaline: Congrats for taking the time to sort of mentally go back there and trying to process the feelings and have the lessons. Can we touch now about the lessons? Going back, is there something you would do differently? Is there such a thing as being prepared for layoff? 

Melissa: I don't think you could ever truly be prepared for the moment of your layoff. Having gone through it, and what I've learned from the experience. But, I think we can always be prepared for some sort of change in where we're working or how we're working. I think the biggest takeaway for me from this whole experience definitely is that I need to constantly be refining my website, my resume, looking at LinkedIn recommendations, and just references from other people as well. There are people in my network who don't use LinkedIn, but I have a reference letter from them. 

Now, what I do is, for instance, when I earned my director title at RicketyRoo, one of the first things I did after that was go and make sure my LinkedIn profile was updated. I updated my resume because it's just I'm not going anywhere, but having these things updated means that I don't have to update them in an unfortunate situation where I'm laid off or let go in an emotional state, in a panic state. It's already ready for you. That's my key takeaway is these things take just a couple of minutes to go in and update. Staying on top of that definitely will prepare you for what comes after a layoff. That really was my biggest takeaway is that I could be happy wherever I'm at, but you never quite know where the company is at or what might be going on behind the scenes. So, keeping that in mind as we work, I think is key mentally to prepare for something bad happening at work.

Isaline: You also mentioned how having goals and a career plan in place is important. Can you tell me more about that? 

Melissa: Definitely. Most companies out there don't necessarily help you set your career path or trajectory. There are companies out there who will invest the time, but I think they're much smaller than where most of us are at. So, from that experience, too, I decided that something I want to spend time on throughout the year, not just once a year, is to look at what are my career goals, how am I doing getting to meet those goals, and what might come next. One of the things that has come out of that is it gives me some really clear milestones to work towards throughout the year. Not only do I get to celebrate when I make them, but also it helps me guide what the next set of milestones will be. 

A lot of people wait for someone else to set their goals for them, or they wait for their boss to get involved and talk through what their goals should be. From this experience, I definitely realized, "You know what? I operate at a director level. I have the experience for it. I've been this for over 20 years. There is no reason I should ever have to accept anything less than that title." And so, realizing how setting these goals can be so important to me has also built my confidence. It has made me put myself out there more, and it continuously gives me something to strive for, whether it's my work goals or things I'm doing with my side hustle or elsewhere. 

One of the things I've done at RicketyRoo, for my team, is we have regular goal setting, check-ins, and brainstorming sessions. I work with my team to not only build their own goals that they're comfortable reaching but making sure they have the support to get there. That's something not only I work on for myself, but that I've also integrated into my team's process for success.

Isaline: I hear you. It's like taking a step back from the daily job to assess where you are at in your career journey and what's next, and then you can more intentionally plan for the next step, right? 

Melissa: Exactly. Continuing to work towards those goals just keeps your confidence level up as you see yourself progressing and learning and growing. I think having that confidence helps prepare you for potentially losing your job. 

Isaline: Looking back now with a mind more restful and with more maturity, what would you advise to your younger self? 

Melissa: The biggest regret and mistake I made in this whole process was rushing into the new job. Because of that fear and anxiety, I spoke about. If I could go back and shake my younger self out of it, I would tell her, "You're smarter than you realize. You're worth more than you realize. And, a job is lucky to have you." I think those three things really are what I would tell my younger self. I would tell anybody, in this sort of situation, because we often in those states of fear, make decisions that backfire. And, this totally backfired for me. This set my career back. It set my confidence back. Who knows where I might be today if I had waited it out and looked for the right job, instead of just accepting the job that came first. And so, I would shake a little bit of sense in a younger Melissa at this point, based on what I learned. 

Isaline: But, when we are in this emotional state, it's difficult to access the rational parts of our brain, which is able to take decisions. I think it's so hard when you're right in this situation to take the right decisions in the unknown, with the feelings. My words don't come very easily because I'm very impressed with what you're sharing and how you're able to reflect on what's happened. 

Melissa: Yeah. I've grown a lot since then and not just because of the situation, but because of the work I've been doing at RicketyRoo, the relationships I've built, mentorship. This podcast won't encompass all of the growth that came from this situation, but that should be encouragement to anybody listening. Because I really believe that every situation in life, good and bad, you're meant to learn something from it. Sometimes, you don't learn right away. It takes years to learn. And, that's totally what happened to me in this situation. It took a long time for me to overcome the situation, but also learn and grow from it. I think that we can take that from any situation we run into in life, a layoff, to anything else. 

Isaline: What would you say to someone in a similar situation today whose feeling all of this emotion? What could we possibly say to help them feel better? Because we can't go and shake them off properly. But, is there something suitable that we could say now that would be helpful?

Melissa: The first thing I would say is that you are better off without that job. In the moment, it's not going to feel that way, you're going to be scared about all sorts of other things that are out of your control. But, there is a reason why you shouldn't be at that job anymore. It may seem like they have the power in the situation, they're the ones who did this to you. But, at the end of the day, you were going to go on to bigger and better things. It might take a while. It's going to be a struggle, but you will get there. 

Your attitude and how you approach your layoff is what's going to get you through that. You want to surround yourself with a great support system; your friends, your family, coworkers, still keep in touch. You want to build your network. Talk to everybody. Even people who might not be in your industry, never know who they might know. That they can talk to you on your behalf to get your foot in the door. But, you will land on your feet and you will make it through. At the end of the day, you're not the only one who's ever been through a layoff. It happens in every industry, and people every day overcome it, and you can, too.

Isaline: Ooh, I have chicken skin. Thank you, Melissa. I've heard you and it felt good. I can't possibly say anything else after that. Maybe one good place to start if you are in this situation and need help, reach out through the community, Women in Tech SEO. We have these Slack channels and we can help. You're not definitely not alone. If you're not yet in the Women in Tech SEO community, it's open and free for all women in the SEO industry, regardless of your level of experience in SEO. If you're just interested in SEO, it's okay. Just join the community. 

Thank you, Melissa. Thank you for sharing such an important experience and part of your life. I've also been laid off in my life. And so, again, I'm very impressed that you are able to share it and willing to share what's happened and your emotions. So, thank you. Thank you for doing that today. 

Melissa: Well, thank you for having me. And, generally, for anybody out there that's been laid off, please feel free to reach out to me. I'm happy to support, answer questions, just be a shoulder to lean on. I've been there. I don't want other people to feel like they're alone in this. So, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter through the Women in Tech SEO group, email, anything like that. I'd be happy to help where I can. 

Isaline: Thank you so much, everyone, for listening. Of course, we will share all the links that Melissa just mentioned in the description of the podcast, so we have you covered. I'm looking forward to hear you in the next podcast, everyone. Thank you again, Melissa. Bye, everyone.