The coronavirus pandemic has had an immense impact on the economy and workforce, triggering a recession and leading to 52 million people in the U.S. filing for unemployment in just an 18-week span, leading up to July 18, 2020.
Every unemployment filing, furlough, and closed business reflects a personal experience. As the statistics pile up, we’re committed to sharing stories of how COVID-19 continues to shape people’s lives and livelihoods—how they’ve coped, what they’ve learned during the crisis, and how they’re moving forward.
Pasadena, California-based Cassie Baca, 23, graduated college in 2019 with a passion for sports, sports media, and sales. She found her ideal first gig in September with Elevate Sports Ventures, where she was a ticket sales and experience manager for the XFL. Just six months into her career, COVID-19 hit.
When the league canceled its season on March 20, 2020, Elevate initially furloughed its employees in early April. However, after the XFL eventually suspended operations and laid off most of its staff that same month, Elevate let go of its 50+ workers across the league’s eight U.S. markets by the end of May.
Since then, Cassie has been looking for a new job. The Balance caught up with Cassie over the phone in July, several weeks into her job search. Her answers have been edited for length.
What was your professional life like prior to the pandemic?
The office was over near Beverly Hills. I was able to stay home [with my parents] but the commute was rough. I actually won’t complain about it anymore because sometimes I miss it. But, I was really enjoying the job.
I was very fortunate to be in the position that I was in because it wasn’t required for you to have previous sales experience, which I didn’t. I ended up just meeting my boss at a networking event, and we hit it off. He was incredible and we’re still in touch now.
I was really having a lot of fun with office life. It was a lot of fun, just connecting with coworkers and fans. Looking back on it, I was only there for six months, but it felt like I had been there for so much longer, just with how tight-knit everyone was and how much I enjoyed it. I miss it for sure, but I would say—looking back—I took it for granted. I mean, who would’ve seen this coming at any point?
What were your job expectations once the pandemic hit? How did you view your job security? Were there signs?
I had obviously seen what was happening before it first started entering the country. Then, I saw that it was slowly coming in, and I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.” Then, the cases started going up. I had been talking to friends and hearing that they were now starting to work from home. The thought actually went through my head that “Oh, this will all pass before we end up getting to work from home. That’s what I mean by taking it for granted at the time, saying, “Where is our work from home?”
I started expecting it would pass before then. Then, our XFL event was one of the first sports events to be affected. We were told our next game was going to be away and there weren’t going to be any fans. When they had finally sent us to start working from home, which was in early March, they told us that if you’re not comfortable coming in anymore, just go ahead and take your stuff home, take everything home because we don’t know how long this is going to be. I didn’t think anything of it, and then, our away game got canceled altogether.
I was just under the impression that we were going to be working from home for a long time, but then things started getting weird. We were told [the XFL] was going to be giving fans’ deposits for the next season back. Then, I thought this isn’t looking too good. It came to a halt actually from one day to the next. It was a Thursday when we had a meeting and our president [said] everything’s fine, don’t worry, just keep at it. Then the very next day, Vince McMahon and the XFL president held a call, and told everyone that the league was going to be suspended. So we immediately thought, suspended, so is it coming back? Then, they just said as of today, everyone is laid off and they ended the call.
How was it filing for unemployment?
I filed for unemployment that Friday, the day of the call. I think I was pretty smart in doing that because everybody who waited until the weekend or a couple of days longer did not have as smooth a process as I did. Everyone I’ve talked to has had a crazy and different experience with unemployment, but I did it that same day.
About a month later, in May, we got our official laid-off notice from Elevate. However, the company contacted us once afterward with an official checking-in phone call and then it was up to us to stay in contact. Obviously, I had a lot more momentum at the beginning [of the pandemic]. But as we all realized how long this was going to last, it almost felt like, what’s the point of the job search because it felt hopeless for some time once the entire sports industry became frozen, and it was clear that hiring was frozen, too. However, to this day, I still keep in touch regularly with my boss—who was also laid off—and one other person who is still employed by Elevate on a different project.
How has the job search been going?
In the beginning, I was doing informational calls with different sales directors from each XFL team in the LA area, but my hope fizzled out after a while. I’ve jumped from that, trying to keep in touch with the few [sales directors] I was able to speak with. There are a bunch of free online courses everywhere, so I’ve been dipping into those. Actually, this president of TeamWork Online—it’s a website where all the sports teams post their job listings—introduced me to my boss from the XFL. She reached out to me and had a job opening. We talked about it but her office is in Cleveland, which didn’t make the decision that easy.
She’s an incredible connection and we crossed paths for a reason. I did agree to see how that job was going to play out. We talked about me starting from home and only when it’s safe, trying to make the move out there. I was actually going to accept that soon after, but then the MLB came out and said their minor league is probably not going to be played. That has an effect on this lady directly, so she put that job on pause.
What have been the biggest challenges in your search?
The biggest challenge is the most obvious: no one is hiring. Sports teams are struggling to hold on to their current staff. I’m so fortunate with the job I landed first because the connections that I made while there have allowed for it to be super-easy [to network and connect]. When I find someone at a team to contact, there is already somebody that I know who can introduce me to them. Again, I did lose hope because I felt, after a while, it was weird having all these phone calls and not really knowing what the next step was. So I’m trying to get out of my comfort zone there, maybe just reaching out and checking in on someone’s family.
But again, that’s the biggest issue, just that nobody’s hiring. The sports industry is frozen, specifically what I’m doing in sales. And while sports are coming back, there are not any fans. There’s a big sigh of relief that the sports are coming back, but I’m like, wait a minute, I have no one to sell to.
How are you managing your time and dealing with any stress or anxiety as you continue your job search?
I’m really into working out, but that did take a backburner with the job. With the commute, I was waking up at 6am and getting home at 8pm. Especially once we were in-season, working overtime was crazy. Before we were sent to work from home, I had joined a gym. Of course, I joined right before they had to close as well.
I’m still home with my parents, so I enjoy that aspect of being home from college now. I get to work out with my dad again. It’s the little things like that. I was gone for four years, so this doesn’t feel too torturous to me. I almost feel like I get to make up for lost time. I will say my sleep schedule isn’t the greatest. But as far as everything else, it’s pretty routine. I get up, I work out with my dad. He works the night shift, so we’ll get a workout in before he heads out.
Other than that, I try to do something a little productive each day, whether it’s reading [or] tuning into one of those classes I mentioned. Right now, the current work that the lady from Teamwork Online sent me has actually been keeping me busy.
What have you learned from navigating the pandemic? How has this changed your perspective on your career?
The biggest thing I learned is, again, you can’t take anything for granted. It’s so cliche but you never know what’s around the corner. First of all, I’d like to preface this by saying that I’m happy and stoked that everyday I wake up and my family’s healthy. That’s number one for me. You read and watch the news, and people are losing people all over the place. You can’t really complain about anything if you’re fortunate enough to not be in that situation. That’s what’s kept me positive. I’m not itching to go out to restaurants and run around in public. As long as we’re healthy, I’m sane and I’m positive. That’s the biggest thing for me.
As far as a job, just to put myself in a realistic position, I’ve told myself that I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t get a job until 2021. That’s just because trying to enter sales is an even more limited market for me than just entering back into the sports industry.
I’m just in this place where if the industry I want to go into isn’t moving, what am I supposed to do? There’s a lot more that I could be doing, but I’m sitting down, taking a seat and seeing how it plays out. I do need to make sure that I’m working enough to the point where I am networking so that when everything opens up, I’m not competing with everyone who’s trying to find a job as well as the class that just graduated. I have to be one step ahead and to me, that one step is at least someone can remember my name and say, “Hey, we had a conversation.”
Want to share your Career Perspective? Tell us your story by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.