Posted by: Kristen Ridley | April 16, 2012

Surviving a job-search

I am currently searching for a job. I have job-searched several times over the past few years. This has been a result of different factors at different times, but it doesn’t really matter why you are job-searching, as anyone who’s gone through it will tell you it isn’t a lot of laughs. Particularly in the current environment, when the economic challenges have increased the number of people who are job-hunting and competition is tougher than it’s ever been. Because I’ve been in this situation several times, including at present, I’ve had people ask me for advice about how to navigate through the experience. People have actually said to me: “You seem to handle it so easily, without stress – how do you do it?!”

After I stop howling with laughter and pick myself up off the floor – apparently, those theatre arts classes from high-school were more successful than I realized if it actually seems like I don’t get stressed! – I am happy to offer those few things I’ve gleaned about the experience with the hope that my lessons learned could be of some small help to others forced to endure this difficult situation. While I am by NO MEANS suggesting that I am an expert on this topic, I have lived through it more than once, and I’m a big believer in more information being a good thing, and sharing whatever you can with anyone who might need it, so I thought I would put my hints on surviving a job-search out there in blog form, in case others might find them helpful too.

1) Stay optimistic and believe in yourself – this is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing I can say about surviving a job-hunt, and it will also be the most challenging. Our society defines people by their job – think about it: one of the first questions we ask people when we are meeting them for the first time is “What do you do?”. So not having a job can easily make you feel worthless – you’re not!!! You absolutely must keep your spirits up and remind yourself constantly that not having a job does not mean you are not a good person with skills and value. Unless you lost your job because you ran a Ponzi scheme and bilked people out of their life savings [and I'm pretty sure nobody reading this post fits that criteria], then the fact that you don’t have a job is just a temporary challenge and does not define who you are. It is depressing and often very demoralizing to be in the job-hunt pool. So being prepared for those feelings and having planned out ways to fight against them and keep your focus is the first, and most important thing you need to have in your job-hunt survival tool kit. Whether that is family and friends, a past mentor, or just a good business book [Dale Carnegie and Steven Covey are two great authors to check out] you have to keep your spirits up and continue believing in yourself. After all, if YOU don’t keep believing in your abilities, how will you convince potential employers to? Below is a quote I like that helps me keep a sense of humour and perspective about the job-search process:

“Sometimes I get the feeling the whole world is against me, but deep down I know that’s not true. Some smaller countries are neutral.” ~Robert Orben

2) Think of the job-search as your current job – after the initial shock of being unemployed passes, it can be difficult to get off the couch, or even get out of bed day-after-day and keep your job search going strong. For me, thinking of the job-search AS my full time job was helpful. So I create a regular routine for myself that includes setting my alarm, getting up at the same time every day and going through a set group of tasks: visiting all the job-search sites to identify and apply for jobs in my field, checking in with all my social media sites and interacting on them, updating my own blog, visiting the blogs I follow, researching companies I might like to work for or those I’ve already applied to, etc. It really helps to stave off the discouragement to have a routine and stick with it regardless of whether today is a good day or a not-so-good one. You will feel that you are accomplishing things even if a job offer doesn’t arrive today. You are working to do all the things that move you towards a job-offer and that is progress.

3) Set goals and work on meeting them – daily, weekly, monthly – particularly if your job-hunt takes a while, having specific goals that you write down and check in with will also help keep your spirits up and help you feel you are accomplishing things. For me the daily goals are those listed in item #2 above. Weekly goals may be things like: make 3-5 new contacts by finding people I know on LinkedIn, or coming up with at least 2 new potential topics for my blog. For monthly, you might want to set a specific number of jobs you want to apply for, or have a set number of networking meetings or phone calls with your existing contacts. You have to decide what works for you. The important thing in my experience is to actually write them down [or type them if you prefer] to make sure that you know what they are and are taking actions to accomplish them. If there’s one thing I have learned from my past job-hunting, it’s that you really never know what single small thing might be the key to finding that next job!

4) Stay connected and visible – use the many tools available now that make it tremendously easy to be visible and make sure people know who you are and what you have to offer. LinkedIn is the main business related site that I find to be helpful, but I also use Twitter as a way to stay on top of trends, make contacts with people and be aware of news – both in my field and generally in recruiting, and with companies I’m interested in. If nothing else, by visiting these sites regularly, you will fill some of those hours each day that seem to stretch out interminably before you. The bonus is, if you use the sites effectively you really are doing work towards your job-search at the same time as you are making contacts and staying informed. Finally, go looking for blogs that might be of interest to you. There are tons that relate to recruiting and job-hunting, but you can also often find blogs written by companies. If any of those companies are places you might want to apply to, following their posts can be valuable when and if you get an interview, by demonstrating that you are genuinely interested in their business, and that’s one of the best ways to get hired.

5) Create a support system and use it – further to #1, you are going to have bad days, and when you do, the worst thing you can to is to go hide in your room. You must force yourself – especially on the rough days – to seek out support and encouragement. Gone are the days when people believe that you being unemployed is a stigma, or something to be embarrassed about. The economic difficulties happening world-wide over the past few years show no signs of disappearing anytime soon, and the result of that is most people have either been out of work, or know someone who has, so people understand that your situation is probably not one you created or could have done anything about. As a result, my experience is that people are extremely supportive and willing to help in any way they can. But you need to let those people around you know that you would appreciate some help. Ask if they know anyone in your field they could provide an introduction to, or set up a networking meeting for you, or just to keep an eye out for any jobs in your area and to let you know if they come across anything. At the very least, identify those people really close to you who are willing to let you vent on the bad days, or who can meet you for coffee to just talk about something other than your job-hunt occasionally.  Whatever you do, DON’T hibernate. Even when you don’t feel very social – heck, ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel very social! – you need to get out and interact with people. Trust me – it helps!

6) Consider volunteering – depending on the type of work you do, you may want to consider donating your skills to a charitable organization while you continue looking for paid work. This not only allows you to keep your skills fresh and up-to-date, it shows potential employers that you want to work, and are willing and able to be out there even if you don’t currently have a compensated job. There are a number of employers who value volunteering by their employees quite highly, so it looks good on a resume. And there are so many not-for-profits out there, who can’t afford to pay people but need help, that it isn’t that difficult to find one that fits you. Just think about any organization that has helped any friends or family members and start there. Check their website – most not-for-profits have a section that provides information about volunteering. The extra benefit is that you will feel very good about the impact you make through volunteering with a worthy cause, and also very fortunate about your own situation – job-search notwithstanding – in comparison to the challenges faced by those served by the organization. There’s really no down-side to this suggestion and so much up-side! I’ve been volunteering regularly for more than 10 years, and it is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

7) Make your health a priority – this is another thing that people tend to forget about or ignore when struggling with unemployment and dealing with job-searching, but it is very important. It’s human nature to deal with stress, frustration and depression by eating comfort food that isn’t good for us and lying on the couch with the remote in a death-grip. Trust me – I have dived into my fair share of tubs of Ben & Jerry’s during tough times so I know how tempting it can be! But especially during times when you are already managing the stress of the job-search, maintaining a healthy life-style is even more critical. You need a strong foundation to keep going through challenging times, so eating good healthy food, and staying active help more than you realize. Even if you just commit to going for a daily walk and including fruits and vegetables at every meal, you will feel better and handle the stresses more effectively. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference, and, as the L’Oreal commercials like to say: “We’re worth it!” ;-)

8) Find distractions that help you manage stress with joy – with all the other suggestions I’ve offered, consider this one the bonus tip. Everything else is focused toward your job-search, but this is the one where you can, and should occasionally forget all about it and de-compress with something that just brings you comfort or enjoyment. For me, those things are music and books – and I get both of them for free. I’ve built a pretty comprehensive selection of music on my iPod, so when I just need to not think about resumes, cover letters, or my top 3 skills for awhile, I plug it in and go for a long walk. Or, I go to the library and get a book for free that takes me to faraway, or even fictional places and let’s me go along for the ride with the characters in that book on adventures I would never have in real life. Sometimes a complete break is just what you need to build up your fortitude and hit the job-search refreshed, renewed and raring to go. Give yourself permission for that on a regular basis. Balance is an important part of successfully managing the job-search process for the long haul.

Just one last quote I’d like to share, that gives me a boost on the difficult days. I hope it does the same for you:

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.” ~Anne Lamotte

Those are the tactics I’ve used successfully used in my job-search experiences. How about you? I would love for others to share any ways they have managed the job-search process. We should stick together and help one another as much as possible. So please feel free to chime in with a comment and add to the job-search hints list. Thanks and good luck to all of us currently job-searching! May the perfect job be right around to corner for all of us.

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Responses

  1. Hi Kristen,

    What a well thought out essay on looking for a job. I always admire people who give back as they try to help themselves.

    Here’s my few thoughts.

    9) Don’t network like dieting. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RTtiGVHiuVg

    10) Associate yourself with people who will treat you like a real human being, not a “job-seeker.” I started a group called RHB Nation that is based on character, not occupation. RHBs may be able to open a door for you Kristen; please see this and feel free to contact me.

    http://realhumanbeing.org/2010/09/the-rhb-way-to-network-for-a-job-or-a-client/

    Thank you Donna Papacosta for showing me your link.

    Dave

  2. Great post, Kristen. Very inspiring.

  3. Dave – thanks for your kind words and your additions to the list.

    I especially love your #10. This is something that is often missing due to the imbalance of power between the people who have the jobs, and the people who want the jobs. I find though, that the balance does shift over time, and candidates will remember those recruiters and HR managers who treated them with respect when the environment shifts to favour the job-seekers rather than the employers. So it really is the best approach to treat people with respect and understanding at all times. You just never know when that choice will turn out to be to your own benefit.

  4. Eileen – thanks, as always, for your support and for reading the posts. I appreciate your visiting! :-)

  5. As an Executive Career Management Professional I read numerous blogs and articles written about this intriguing topic. Very rarely am I enticed to read the full article as I have been today. I am thrilled that you have been authentic and honest in approach, clarifying and unravelling the hurdles of such a stressful time. You have authored a true reflection on what it is to be stranded often on an island, left bewildered and puzzled. Life in career transition is tough, but there are ways to swiftly get back on track.

    Thank you Kristen

  6. Martin: thank you so much for your kind words on this post, which are most sincerely appreciated.

  7. What a valuable post for people in the same situation — and as you say, there are many through no fault of their own. I like to think of the process of going through various interviews as “you have to kiss a lot of frogs to meet the handsome prince.” If an interview doesn’t end up in an offer for that dream job, it is at least good practice at getting comfortable answering tricky questions, or discovering what is is you really want in a job and an employer. All useful preparation for when you find that perfect job. Good luck!

  8. Thanks for commenting, Sue! And you’re right, I strongly believe that every experience provides something valuable, even if it doesn’t end with an offer, and even if I don’t necessarily know immediately what the lesson was. You just have to keep moving forward and stay positive.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. You offer wonderful tips!
    I am making a career transition from freelance communications consultant to pastor or professor. Having been self-employed for so many years, I actually have limited knowledge about job searching even at my (mature) age because I’ve hardly ever looked for full-time employment. So I found your upbeat post very helpful. I like the way you think – and write!

    I have one question/idea: do you ever reward yourself for meeting your goals, having a productive job-search day, or for just surviving one of your bad days? Would that be helpful? For example, a walk could be a reward, however I agree with you, breaks and exercise are important elements of self-care at this stressful time. I guess I’m trying to think if there’s anything that would help motivate and celebrate progress at the same time. Then again, perhaps a reward is silly (afterall, we must make these efforts)? :-) What do you suggest?

    Best wishes Kristen!

    Thanks to Sue Horner for pointing me here.

  10. Jennifer: first thank you sincerely for your wonderful comment! Everyone who blogs lives for comments, and one as honest and kind as yours is SO appreciated!!

    As far as rewards go, I’m all for them! I think the nature of the reward has to be individual, as what will help to inspire and encourage someone is very unique and personal. For me, nature is the best reward, which is why I mention walking in the post.

    I also find it helpful to create your own little support group of those people who will be there for you, and help get you past the tough days by reminding you of how strong you are, and that you CAN do it!

    Let me add in my support as you make your own transition Jennifer! I wish you much success as you continue your journey to what comes next.


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