Open letter to Conan O’Brien offering job search help

Norm Elrod
Jackson Heights, NY

January 15, 2010

Conan O’Brien
Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien
100 Universal City Plaza
Building 2220
4th floor
Universal City, CA 91608

Dear Conan:

I’m so sorry to learn of your recent job troubles. Employers can be such a pain sometimes. I know from experience, having been laid off four times in the last decade, most recently in October 2008. They never seem to do things right. And the little guy pays for it.

My purpose in reaching out isn’t to belittle employers; they’re already good at making themselves look bad. I’m writing to offer my advice and support in your upcoming unemployment and job search. I’ve been out of work for over a year, applied to hundreds of jobs and networked my way through much of New York City. I know what I’m doing. It’s a difficult job market out there. Decent-paying positions are few and far between, even for those with education and experience. You’ll need expert help to land on your feet.

The first thing to remember is that the pending layoff isn’t your fault. You showed up bright and early to work every day. You were generally funny or interesting or at least amusing to look at. You shot wax replicas of Tom Cruise and The Fonz out of cannons and let company clients, like Bruno, make inappropriate advances. In short, you did your job. NBC is reneging on its end of the deal. This is nothing new; many of my former employers told me my performance was good and my job secure, right up until my layoff. And then they let me go without severance or, once, my last paycheck. Sometimes a situation just isn’t right, and circumstances are beyond your control. Economies tank; television networks program terrible prime-time shows and yield to unfunny has-been celebrities. It happens. Don’t get down about it. A bad attitude won’t help you move forward.

Staying positive may be the hardest part of unemployment, possibly harder than finding a full-time job. I’ll let you know which is worse when I succeed at one of them. The trick, they say, is to start the day strong. Set the alarm for a reasonable hour. I’m guessing your typical day starts around noon. Stick to that. Don’t sleep in, and don’t lay in bed staring at the ceiling wondering if you’ll ever find work again. Get up and get going.

Tackling the day head on will boost your spirits and prepare you to be productive. Keep the same early afternoon ritual… shower, coffee, hair sculpting, Chinese massage, whatever it may be. Those flannel pajamas with pink bunnies and a hole in the crotch may be comfortable, but they’re for lounging around the house. No one in the real world wants to see you in those. Dress for success. You had a dream job, and you will again.

You’ll be commuting down the hall rather than to the studio. Getting a job is your full-time job now. So set aside a little space as an office. This may be hard when sharing a home with a wife and two young kids; I’ve taken over half of the dining room table. But a place to concentrate and work is essential for job search success. Those unemployment checks will stop coming before you know it.

I spent my first few days of unemployment reaching out to contacts. Given the public nature of your employment issues, let’s assume everyone knows you’re in the market. The next step is to sign up for a few of the major job boards… CareerBuilder, HotJobs, Monster. Enter in your resume and click through the pages. See what’s out there for a comedian with network and freelance experience and a degree from Harvard. Then set up some job alerts to ping you with appropriate leads.

A quick search for “talk show host” openings in the Los Angeles area yielded 15 results. There seems to be work as a movie extra. What a coincidence…  I get same sort of listings when looking for marketing jobs. You’re a little gangly and have beady eyes, and competition is fierce for these positions. Given your experience, they might also be a small step back. Sometimes sacrifice is needed to get ahead. But don’t settle just yet. There’s also an opening for a bi-lingual tax preparer and director of catering sales. Both are worth a look, as a part-time change of pace to bring in a little money during the job search. Experts say to allow a month for every $10,000 of annual income you expect to earn. So your unemployment may last for many, many years.

A job search shouldn’t fill every waking hour. You’ll go crazy looking for something that doesn’t seem to want to be found. Find a hobby, a distraction to fill up the days. I started a blog called Jobless and Less about my experiences with unemployment. The idea was to be productive and learn new skills, which I have. You could take to breeding pigeons or scaring children or something. Lots of volunteer organizations need help too. And that’s a good way to network. Regardless, stay active and get out of the house each day. There’s more to life than work, or finding work.

I know this is a lot to digest, particularly while going through a drawn-out layoff. Reading about it day in and day out, combined with news of the nation’s ongoing employment crisis and my own problems, is pretty discouraging.

You’ve given me a lot over the years. So let me extend my offer one step further. Come hang out at my apartment in NYC, and I’ll mentor you in the ways of unemployment. The job market has changed a lot since you were last unemployed many years ago. With the Internet as the main job search tool, the potential for rejection and disappointment has increased exponentially. Let me help you ease into unemployment and what will likely be a prolonged job search.

New York hasn’t changed much since you left, though my neighborhood of Jackson Heights is pretty far from Rockefeller Center, culturally speaking. There’s plenty of room at my dining room table for another laptop. We can comb the job boards together, proof each other’s resumes and lunch at Subway on $5 footlongs (have to watch the pennies now). We can lift weights and play video games to take out our frustrations. And if the wife kicks you out because you can’t provide for her and the kids anymore, you can crash on my couch. Though consumed with worry, you might have trouble sleeping. Carson Daly can help with that.

So that’s my offer: unemployment advice and tutelage. Think it over and contact me at joblessandless[at]gmail[dot]com if you’re interested. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes pealed for openings that match your skill set. I hope the layoff goes smoothly and they send you off with a nice severance package and cover your COBRA. And keep your sense of humor; they can’t take that. Good luck.

Norm Elrod

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  1. Dalilama wrote:

    Liking this post lots! And you say it takes too long to write these posts sometimes…

    I hope it makes it to his producers somehow and we get to see you spend 5 (highly visible) minutes mentoring yet another unemployed schmo.

    Friday, January 15, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink
  2. dad-in-law wrote:


    Considering all of the exposure you’ve had here and abroad in both the press and on TV, it may be time to write an article on HOW I BECAME A POSTER BOY FOR THE UNEMPLOYED. Submit it to any one of the above nonpaying peopleusers for payed publication.
    Who knows…you might turn all this celebrity into something you can buy food with.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 9:49 am | Permalink
  3. I have found that Monster isn’t very helpful. I think most jobs posted there are fronts for Online university and temp agencies that really don’t have jobs.

    Monday, January 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm | Permalink
  4. Norm wrote:

    I have my doubts about all the job boards and many of the jobs I come across. I just can’t bring myself to give them up entirely. I did find my last job through one. And sometimes recruiters find me through them. I try to use them more for information about the market and the companies hiring.

    Monday, January 18, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink
  5. Dana wrote:

    Love this! I hope you’re writing a book… you’re very good at this thing, really!

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink
  6. Joe OConnell wrote:

    laugh-out-loud funny. Nice one.

    Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 3:54 pm | Permalink
  7. Joanne wrote:

    Love this post. Good advice for Conan — and for us all.

    Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  8. Tina wrote:

    Norm, this letter was excellent! I’m sure at some point Conan will read it and get a laugh if he hasn’t already. I’m really hoping his new writers have read it and are contacting you for future dialog!

    I actually have a, what? OH YES…AN INTERVIEW tomorrow. Very, very exciting. I even bought a new suit today (kept the tags though in case it doesn’t work out!).

    Good luck with your continued search. I’ll let you know how this interview turns out. I must stipulate though, I had an “in” at this company, had my resume submitted and reviewed by the appropriate eyeballs. Had two direct emails with the department manager. I was IN THE MIDDLE of submitting the “official online blahblahblah stuff” and they DELETED THE POSITION!!! hahaha! Yup, and then two days later announced a huge merger. I felt like Charlie Brown counting on Lucy to hold the football. My bad.

    It is now two months later and I’m trying a different route for the same company. I’ve passed the three-hour long skills test (The comma test was based on an archaic AP guide!). I’ve researched sustainable energy. I’ve researched the executives. I drove the route as a dry run today, in one of my old suits (ya know, just for practice!) to make sure I could find the correct parking deck. Fingers crossed.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink
  9. Norm wrote:

    Good luck, Tina. These days we need any luck we can get. I’ll send some good vibes your way tomorrow. This could be the one.

    Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 10:53 pm | Permalink