Thanks to Excel spreadsheets, Byron Wilson can track his fruitless job search by the numbers.
1,207: Letters to recruiters, 250 of which came back as undeliverable, because when no one is hiring, headhunters go out of business.
$575.53: Paid to Dun & Bradstreet for a hyper-specific list of firms that could use Wilson's 25 years of corporate-finance experience.
1,689: Letters sent to CEOs.
$200: Refund from D&B after Wilson complained about lousy leads.
1,656 and counting: Networking e-mails to fellow alumni from the University of Notre Dame and Columbia University's MBA program. (He's working through the alphabet, 50 e-mails a day. He got to me, a K, two weeks ago.)
$3,000: Unemployment benefits remaining in Wilson's account.
0: Interviews the 52-year-old Yardley man has landed since Smith Barney laid him off in August.
I get my fair share of odd correspondence, but Wilson is the first person to ask me for help finding a corporate exec's job.
My employer is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, I wrote back, but may I tell your story?
Out of curiosity - or desperation - Wilson let me observe the science and drudgery of his hunt.
"I start every day by 9," said the accountant-turned-reinsurance-vice-president-turned-investment-adviser. "I have an office, but I like to work at the kitchen table so I can listen to CNBC."
Wilson's résumé spans two pages in 10-point text. His accomplishments are foreign to me - "developed, structured and negotiated complex buy-side mezzanine stage private placement investment transactions" - but sound impressive.
"I help companies make financial decisions and build a competitive advantage" was how he described his skills when I asked for clarity.
Wilson began his career as a Big Four certified public accountant, then spent 15 years at a reinsurance company before taking a buyout in 2002.
"They had good packages," he recalled. "I got 75 weeks' pay."
Wilson found another job but later, seeking independence, left to do consulting and joined Smith Barney as an investment adviser.
"It was risky. I took a pay cut."
That was 2007. In 2008, the stock market collapsed. When Wilson was laid off, he received no severance or outplacement services.
"I walked away with unemployment: $560 every two weeks. And it's almost gone."
A furious pursuit
You have to spend money to make money, but Wilson's $3,000 job search is as much as he can spare. His wife is a doctor, but the couple have two daughters at costly colleges (Wellesley, Bryn Mawr) and a son at Abington Friends.
Wilson's three-pronged approach - recruiters, CEOs, feverish e-networking - has netted both frustration and gallows humor.
"I got a call from two insurance companies asking me if I wanted to be an underwriter," he shared, alarmed by the notion of returning to the bottom after being at the top.
One stranger sent motivational advice: It's not you. It's the market.
Most awkward? When Wilson's job search leads to others out of work. I overheard one such call as I sat on his couch. He listened attentively, but seemed painfully aware that time spent away from the job search is time lost.
"I belong to the Financial Executives Networking Group, but most of the people attending chapter meetings are unemployed," he said. "It's better to be talking to people who have jobs than those who don't."
Wilson trudges on. Last week, he paid his 19-year-old $20 to send even more networking e-mails.
"I have to fight through depression," he said. "I know I'm good."
When I asked if he has a drop-dead date before changing strategy or standards, Wilson tensed up.
"We stopped at a Sonic last week, and my wife said I should apply to be a night manager."
He wasn't insulted, but he wasn't excited, either.
"I've never run a hamburger stand. Why would they hire me?"