Thursday, June 11, 2009

8 Ways to Keep Your Hopes Up While Looking for Your Next Job

There are plenty of sad ironies around this current era of layoffs and job losses. It’s hard to just focus on one without feeling woefully inadequate about not covering all the bases. But for the purposes of this article, this is the irony of the day: Being without work gives you an awful lot of free time to brood, perchance to freak out. Just when you need most to be active and in the company of productive people, you’re on your own. And that’s, quite frankly, crazy-making.

Since exuding simmering desperation can guarantee that you won’t get a job offer, so holding onto your sanity is probably the most important discipline you can practice right now. This, in itself, is an essential skill. Here’s how you do it:

Remember that the children are watching. This is a powerful opportunity to teach your children how to handle modern uncertainty. You may be the first in your family to have been laid off (or maybe not) but you most certainly won’t be the last – and it’s a fair bet that at least one of your children will be laid off at least once in their lives. This is your chance to teach through your own behavior the power of positive thinking, a hopeful and calm outlook, and the importance of always remembering that intrinsic human value has nothing to do with your job or how much money you make. When it happens to them as adults, they’ll look back on these times and remember with admiration how amazingly gracefully you handled this crisis in your own career. And then copy you.

Break a stress habit.
Who doesn’t have a stress habit? I’ll cop to mine: It’s those little fruit candies, hard on the outside and chewy in the center. It’s hard to break a stress habit when you’re knee-deep in the actual circumstances of that stress. If your stress habit was job-related, guess what! You don’t have a job anymore. So now’s the time to break that habit. At least something good will come from this down time, and you’ll have given yourself something to be proud of.

Start a health habit. Got time? Go for a walk. Got a lot of time? Go for a lot of walks. You know why.

Call your former coworkers.
If you’ve been laid off, you may have discovered that as far as your former coworkers are concerned, you might as well have been abducted by aliens. Why haven’t your coworkers called to extend their sympathies, find out what happened and why, and join you in general righteous outrage? Reason: They don’t have a clue what to say. And maybe they’re a little fearful that it might happen to them (which it might, regardless of whether or not you keep in touch with them). It’s not fair, I know, but it’s up to you to make the first move.

When you’ve settled down emotionally and can be pretty sure you won’t get caught up in the turmoil of business that has long since gone on without you (no one’s paying you to care anymore, so don’t), give them a call. And get together for lunch or drinks after work. Show them that you’re just fine.

Layoffs are short (even though it doesn’t feel that way when you’re in the middle of one) and careers are long. You’ll be seeing these people again and again throughout your professional lives. So now’s the time to set the tone that you’re fine, there’s nothing for them to feel bad or guilty about (unless, of course, there is, but then that’s their problem, not yours), and that you’re still a good time at a party.

Rewrite your story. It’s possible to speak honestly about your layoff situation to potential employers. And you can even frame your story in such a way that you look really good – not expendable. San Diego-based executive coach, Duncan Mathison, explains the full process in Rebound: A Proven Plan For Starting Over After Job Loss. It’s too long to describe here, so simply take reassurance in knowing that there is a tried-and-true formula you can copy and practice. It takes two minutes to introduce yourself and tell your job saga on the most powerful, empowering way. Just writing your job story according to this formula is an especially powerful step in reminding yourself that you’re still an extremely valuable professional who had the misfortune of being tapped as a departee by a very regretful employer.

Get out of the house.
In her book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about “the artist’s date,” which is an excursion out of the house (away from the easel, computer, unringing landline) and into the world of enjoyment, adventure, tactile experiences, just plain old fresh air. You can only stare at online job boards just so long. You can only make a certain number of cold calls to potential employers just so long. You can only be in your PJs just so long. Get out! Go to a farmer’s market, take a hike (a laid-off friend of mine hiked the Appalachian Trail. Now that’s what I call going for a walk), go dancing. Go to a museum. Rest your eyes and heart and soul on something lovely and uplifting. Regularly. Like a date. With yourself.

Say no thanks to stupid advice. An engineer friend of mine knew that his job was going to be eliminated. And he took this as an opportunity to switch professions altogether, hopping the fence into the HR career path. Problem: he was already 15 years into his professional life, and he wasn’t so keen on starting at the bottom rung of a brand new profession. But half the people he talked to said, “No…you have to start from scratch and work your way up again.” Stupid advice. He listened very nicely, worked his network like a master, and made the hop – at director level.

Keep the faith. Whatever your religious beliefs are – or aren’t – whatever you do, don’t lose faith that it will truly all work out. I asked my engineer friend the other day, “How did you keep your cool during all this time of waiting and frustration?” He said, “I knew that the right opportunity was on its way to me and it was just a matter of holding out for it.”

Did he just sit on his hands and wait for the Good Luck Fairy to bop him on his head with the Perfect Job Wand? No. He worked like a fiend researching all sorts of job opportunities and companies, and even turning a few job offers down, because they weren’t the right fit. But he also held in his heart and head that as hard as he was working to find the right job, that right job was on its way to him. And that they would meet somewhere along the way. Which is exactly what they did.

This time will pass. But the enduring lesson is that true job security lies only between our ears. Which is why it’s all the more important to keep your wits about you. Keep it together. People are counting on you.