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Job Magician Surviving Unemployment:
A 10-Step Program
 

Unemployment is excruciatingly painful to most people. The uncertainty weighs heavily.

Will I have to move?

Will my next job be as good?

How is the job market? How is the job market for someone with my skills?

Am I too old? Too young?

These questions get bigger in your mind, in part because you’re alone. And, once again, you don’t know what is coming around the next bend.

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I’m a consultant, which means that I’m periodically unemployed. I’m usually pretty busy, but there are times when I finish all my projects (a search assignment lasts a few months, so there isn’t ongoing work in my business). During these times, I have to go out and develop new projects. Yes, I’m very familiar with having to drum up new jobs, and having no guarantee of where my next meal will come from.

Am I truly unemployed during these times? No, because business development (the consultant’s fancy word for finding a job) is part of my job. And if you’re unemployed, finding a job is now your full-time job.

Yes, you can keep your sanity and remain effective during this period.  Here are a few tips:

  • Set up an office (but stay out of the basement). You need a dedicated place from which to run your job search, rather than your dining room table. It’ll make you feel like you’re going to work every day. If you have an extra bedroom, convert it into an office.  A room with a window is much better than using the basement. You’ll feel more upbeat and less closed in if you can see people wandering through town or see trees in the yard. If your former employer is providing outplacement, use their office whenever you can. People with outplacement are most effective if they go to the outplacement office every day, just like they were going to work. See our article, The Perfect Virtual Appearance for a Job Hunter for more on how to make yourself appear professional when you’re job hunting.
  • Keep regular hours. Work at your job hunt just like you’re working. Some people will sleep until noon, take an hour for lunch, and then at 1:00 PM be done for the day. There’s nothing wrong with scheduling some time off mid-day to give yourself a break. In fact, you’ll be better off if you do. With no one to establish structure in your day, you have to be careful that you don’t become slothful and hide under the covers.
  • Establish measurable targets and goals ... and celebrate small victories. Your ultimate goal is to find that perfect new job. Your job search will be much more successful, however, if you establish incremental goals – stair steps that will lead you to that ultimate goal. Establish a daily number of phone calls you’ll make and how many letters you’ll get out in a day, and how many meetings and interviews you’ll set up this week, and then go after these goals like your life depends on it. Then celebrate the small victories – you should feel great if you actually spoke to your target number of ten people that day or set up three networking meetings this week. Celebrate these because they are true achievements, and necessary steps towards getting a new job. The big goal will come if you do all of these little things.
  • Proceed as if all your leads will go away. It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re unemployed. You’ll have an interview, feel really good, and then they’ll say no.  Or you won’t hear at all. Feeling OK through all of this requires a two-pronged approach.  First, you need to feel optimistic about the leads you have.  At the same time, you need to proceed as if they will all go away. Too many people slow down their search once they think they have something in hand. Job opportunities are too slippery, and you’ll feel miserable when the bird-in-the-bush slips away unless you have four other prospects.  Continue with wild abandon until you have a signed offer letter in hand.   
  • Don’t live on the internet. Yes, the internet is necessary for doing research on companies and using Linked In can help you make some connections, but spending all day probing internet job boards (want ads fill only 12% of jobs) is a recipe for making you get up feeling rotten and go to bed feeling rotten.  Not only is your job hunt unlikely to be successful, but you need the contact with humans to make yourself feel better and to actually have a productive job hunt.  Physiologists and psychologists will tell you that reading in that hunched-over position that you are in when you read a computer screen has been clinically proven to be a mood depressant. The internet is tempting – there is no end of cool things on the ‘net – but do your best to keep the internet in its place. 
Be careful with internet whining boards.  There are numerous job hunter message boards where job hunters give other job hunters advice. You can get some good advice on these boards, especially if they have sensible moderators providing answers  If you spend too much time on these, however, you'll get depressed as you hear depressed job hunters whine about how bad the job market is or how mean their old boss was. Those who post the most are those with plenty of time – people who have been unemployed the longest – and these people are not good sources for job hunting tips (one guy who incessantly haunts the message board on one of the major job boards, giving out dubious advice daily to job hunters, commented in one of his posts about how he also suffered from major depression). And then there are the comments sections after news articles , filled with people filled with anger and insantiy. Let these people take out their frustrations on someone other than you – you need to avoid energy drains.
  • Find a support group.  There are real live support groups located throughout the country.  At Boston’s Wednesday Is Networking Day  (WIND), you’ll get together with a large group of unemployed execs who share contacts.  If you stand up and ask who knows someone to help you get in front of Brigham & Women’s Hospital or Raytheon, someone in the group will be able to help. There are groups in smaller cities (Unemployed Resources Network [URN – Rochester, New York] as well as the major cities, and if you don’t have one in your town, you can put one together yourself (and doing so would be a good networking experience that may lead you to a job). ExecuNet runs networking meetings throughout the country.  These groups usually have online user groups as backups, but are generally far better than those you’ll find connected with the whining groups connected with Monster or your local newspaper, which are not generally populated by senior executives.  (I’m compiling a list of these groups to publish elsewhere on this board, so please email me of any good networking/job hunter groups that you join.)
  • See people.  You’ve just moved from an environment where too many people wanted your time. Now you won’t see anyone but your family during the day unless you make the effort to be around people. To make sure you don’t become a hermit (and for your own sanity), you’ll have to take special effort to see people.  Little things like buying your newspaper at the local store will help, but you should also add some new activities that get you out more.  What they are is unimportant – if you like playing in the local polka band, go for it.  But being around other people will be a big diversion.   
  • Get out of the house. When I’m in a rut, I throw my laptop in my car, park on a dirt road next to a stream, and work for a few hours from there. The distractions of a home office and the internet are gone, and the change in environment spurs creativity. I’ve also found that my cold calls to prospective clients are most effective when I stop while on the go and call a half a dozen people. Come up with an alternate place to work.  It could be your second home, your mother-in-law’s house, the local library, or your car.  You’ll find that you’ll be more productive at home and in your alternative office if you do so.   
  • Exercise.  Daily exercise will not only make you healthier and make you look better, but will also give you a mental break.  In addition, exercise releases endorphins and enkephalines in the brain that will improve your mood. Because you’re flying solo during your day job (finding work), try to exercise with other people rather than go for long walks alone – go to the YMCA or golf club or consider some team sports like softball or pick up basketball.
  • Consider a diet or other self-improvement program. The job hunting world is one in which you probably feel you have little control. You can control other aspects of your life, however. If you need to lose weight, now is the time to do it. Or to stop drinking.  Learn that foreign language you’ve always wanted to learn. Finish your MBA. You’ll feel better about yourself.

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And regardless of your results, don't stop.  If you think it's hopeless, read this story:

Don't Ever Quit:  An Uplifting Finding a Good Job after Four Years of Unemployment Story.

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