Make It Work: How To Tackle The Job Search Without Losing Your Shit

Losing your job sucks. There’s no two ways around it. It’s a really shitty feeling to go into work one Wednesday, sit down at your desk, answer three emails and then be summarily dismissed. Regardless of whether you were fired or let go, it still stings. After you leave the office for the last time, carrying the contents of your cubicle in a box, you wander the streets, unsure of what to do with yourself. You are sure that every person you pass knows that you’re unlovable, unwanted by your former employer, worthless. This is not true. You were simply released from the shackles of one job and are now free to explore other avenues. This can be a time of excitement and change, if you choose. I have been unemployed an awful lot. The first time was a nightmare, the second time was a little better, and the third was long, but ultimately rewarding. I’ve learned some valuable lessons about the job search along the way. 1. Treat your job search like a full time job.

So, you have a lot of free time now. Flopping around your home like Sad Mellie from “Scandal” is acceptable for about a week, but once you’ve gotten that all out of your system, you have to buckle down and get to the dispiriting but necessary work of finding a new job. Every time I have lost my job and found myself with a lot of free time, I have been vigilant about looking for other work, waking up every morning at 9 and sitting in front of my computer, refreshing and emailing everyone I know. You have to treat the job search like a full time job because it will impose some normalcy and routine into your every day existence. If you can still Gchat your friends during working hours while writing cover letters, it makes you feel a little more normal.  And, if you live in a competitive job market, it’s good to stay on top of it.

2. If you have a bad day — or a really good one — take a break.

One day, three different prospective employers will respond to your application, and three others will call you and schedule interviews, making you feel terribly wanted, very busy and super duper important. On the other hand, sometimes, three days will stretch by in an endless haze of constant inbox refreshing and no news of anything but past due student loan payments and that cable bill you’ve been ignoring because you’re not really sure it’s going to be possible to pay it. The highs and lows of being unemployed are more deeply felt without the emotional and financial safety net provided by steady, full-time employment.

It’s okay to feel these feelings, but also give yourself a break. If you had one of those days where it feels like you’re unstoppable, then revel in that for a little bit. If you’ve already cried once today, and it’s only noon, maybe take the afternoon off and go for a walk, get a coffee, and do something that stops you from wallowing in misery. The thing to understand about all of these days stretching ahead of you is that they are blocks of free time, time that you will miss once you have a job again. Don’t cast the hard work of looking for work aside completely — remember, it’s your current full-time job — but it’s more than okay to take an afternoon off every once and awhile to practice self-care. Remember that the work you are doing to find new work is important, but recognize that a day spent flipping through the just released paperbacks at a bookstore is sometimes necessary for the soul so you can go back to writing cover letters until the sun goes down the next day.

3. Cast the net wide.

I think it’s nice to think about every bout of unemployment as a chance to change your life for the better. If you didn’t like your job before, you now have the chance to find a job you’ll enjoy more. Take a two-pronged attack, just like you did when you were applying for college. Some jobs you apply for should be a reach — jobs that are indirectly related to your skill set, perhaps in a different field. You are selling yourself short if you only apply for jobs you’re 100 percent qualified for. Are you capable of learning new skills quickly on the job? Of course you are! Women often underestimate themselves in this arena, while men are more likely to apply for jobs regardless of how qualified they may be. Take a cue from the dudes and apply for jobs that interest you, even if you don’t have as much experience as they may be asking for, and position yourself as a quick study with a passion for the work at hand.

But also apply for as many safety jobs — i.e. jobs you are infinitely qualified for — as you can, because chances are, you’ll get an interview, and, if you’re lucky, an offer. A safety job lets you pay your bills, have money again, and it’s a good fallback. It’s always nice to have something in your back pocket. But, again, don’t limit yourself to just those jobs that you know you can do. This is a good chance to look at what you have done and what you want to do in the future. See if there are any overlaps — sit down and draw a Venn diagram if you need to. Figure out what you want from your life, your career, and yourself. Go get it.

4. Find someone to talk to if you’re feeling down.

A job search that lasts for three months or less is a dream. A job search that lasts for six months or more is worrisome. A job search that stretches on past a year is enough to break a soul down, brick by brick. You can talk to your friends about this for only so long before they will tire of your constant complaining. You can help it, but it feels like you can’t, because it is the only thing you’re thinking about. If you think that you’re becoming insufferable and need to bounce ideas, vent or complain to someone that will actually help, do yourself a favor and find a therapist who will accept patients on a sliding scale. You will feel 100 percent better the minute you unleash everything onto a professional who has no vested interest in you except to make you feel normal and confident again.

5. Stay positive.

It’s hard to stay positive when every day feels like you will never work again. But, remember that you most likely will. Keep your head up and know that you will find a new job. Reluctantly embrace the unexpected.