Human Collateral: After a Layoff, Keeping Pace for the Long Haul

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Sure, losing your job stinks. But being without a job for a long stretch has its own unique challenges.

After the first few weeks of shock and adrenaline, job seekers tend to turn sluggish, having maxed out their contacts, grown weary of the job board / resume send / hear nothing routine. Financial and family stresses set in, as does boredom, lethargy and sometimes depression.

"Momentum is key because looking for a job is a job and needs to be viewed as such. Diddling around a few hours a day at sending out resumes, or sitting at a computer and just cruising just won't work," says Clay Parsons, a Seattle based career coach. Things really start to fall apart when the lack of job hits one's self-image. "We often measure ourselves by whether or not we're professionally successful. The longer you're unemployed, the more that perpetuates itself and it can be rather traumatic."

It's important to set up a plan to stave off a snowball of bad feelings and bad habits. Here's some things to think about.

1. Consider finding another career, a contract job, or a lower paying work just to get cash flow coming into your bank account, says Jim Jim Villwock, owner of career coaching firm Job Doctors International. "Then you can focus on developing your plan to get where you really want to go and develop the skills to get there."

Marie, who asked that her last name not be used and has been looking for a banking job since losing her position as a senior vice president of risk management a year ago in Los Angeles, says work she might have previously considered below her skill and education level has been liberating. "Although I'm temporarily a server at a friend's restaurant and doing a little under-the-table bookkeeping for $9 per hour, I'm going to stay optimistic that there will be a good opportunity soon, and that all these bumps in the road are just preparation for the amazing job I'm going to have, or brilliant new business that I will start," she says.

2. Roberta Chinsky Matuson, a job search mentor and president of Northampton, Mass. based Human Resource Solutions, suggests that job seekers block out just two-hour chunks on their calendars every other day, which they should devote solely to job searching. "This way they have permission to relax or take care of those distractions that seem to get in the way of their good intentions during those time slots that are not blocked out," Matuson says. The unemployed tend to operate on fear and guilt of having too much time, and can drag out two hours of work into 40-plus hours, she says.

Instead, fill the rest of your time with errands, self-care like regular exercise and quality time with friends and family. "That way you can take time doing things that are important to you without guilt, while being flexible should someone call you unexpectedly asking for a phone interview," she says.

3. Form or join a group. This might be a support or accountability group with other job seekers who understand your situation, or a professional group of employed people who can serve as a networking vehicle. The important thing is to get out of the house regularly, develop relationships and get consistent - and positive - feedback from others, says Atlanta career coach Gail Geary. "When you're isolated, you're no longer objective about yourself and that's when you can no longer make good decisions," Geary says. "Staying home and making your own contacts is what leads to depression." A strong connection with a group can help you realize that mental health issues have become a problem, she says.

Volunteering, being part of a sports or hobby related club or religious organization can fill this need, too.

Milind Kamat, who lost his job as a software developer at Bank of America in Albany more than a year ago has found that he needs support outside of his core group of friends who, "think I'm going crazy - they're reaction is that I should just get a job, as if there is a job on a tree that I could just go out and pluck," he says. "My biggest challenge now is feeling that I don't know who I can trust."

4. Set small goals for yourself every day. While getting a high-paying, intellectually stimulating career-booster may be the ultimate end-game, smaller objectives like making a new contact, getting an in at a certain organization, or launching a new marketing initiative should be celebrated, Clay Parsons says.

"The key is to give yourself some specific goals and objectives to achieve, push yourself to achieve them, and reward yourself in some way when they are complete," he says. "Doing the same thing all the time like surfing the Internet for hours and hours is a recipe for disaster. Action, like meeting someone to network at a local Starbucks will counter that feeling of hopelessness and make you feel much better about what you are doing and yourself."

Emma Johnson is a New York based journalist who writes about money, business and finance for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Forbes, MSN Money and others. Reach her at

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