Looking for a job involves a wide range of responsibilities: preparing a resume, looking at ads, contacting employers, calling and visiting friends and acquaintances, follow ups, interviews. While none of us ever plan to be out of work for very long, it can be very useful to immediately start documenting your activities and your feelings to provide a road map of where you have been and where you want to go. It helps to have a central location for recording your daily actions so you don't miss anything important or forget a critical deadline. It is also reassuring to have somewhere to go when you're feeling blue and too lethargic to go anywhere or do anything you consider "productive."
Start a job search diary right now. Even if you have been unemployed for some time, start one anyway because a late start is better than never doing it at all.
Take a plain old exercise book and title it: Job Search Diary. Find a spot to keep it where it will always be close at hand when you need it, probably several times a day.
If you are newly jobless, start out by recording your feelings. Writing out (keep it simple, it's not the great American novel) what you are thinking, in black and white sentences, helps to sort out your jumbled emotions, clear your mind, and reach a better understanding of your inner self. Jot down your anger, your fears, what you expect, what you secretly dread. Pouring out your soul will release a lot of the inner tension you're feeling and soothe your nerves.
This record is for you - no one else will ever see it - so you can be brutally honest. If you fear you are a loser who will never amount to anything, write it out. If you think you're really a good, competent worker but your old boss was a jerk or the company sucked, put it down.
If you have been out of work for a while, make your initial entries a recap of what has been happening in your life since you lost your job. Trace the sequence of events and see if you can remember how you felt at different times. There were probably times when you were overwhelmed and stressed out: record when you felt that way and, if you can recall, what activities you were engaged in when those feelings appeared. There were also probably times when you felt hopeful or elated. Record that too and what events were connected with such emotions.
Use your diary as a place to plan what you want to do. List all activities that you are going to perform that will get you back to work. You might initially plan on updating your resume and reading the classifieds to gauge the state of the labor market. If you are further along in the job search, you might list some networking targets or identify some employers where follow up on earlier contacts might be beneficial. Frequently, throughout the day, record what you did, who you talked to, how you felt.
This is going to become your Special Place where you have a record of your journey from the badlands of unemployment to the green fields of regular work. Visit it often to keep updating your plans, record your smallest successes and failures, and unload your emotional baggage.
When you can't bear the thought of one more telephone call leading to one more rejection; when you can't find the energy to get dressed up to visit an agency or cold-call an employer; when you can't stand the sight of another misleading ad or internet job site; then reach for the comfort of your journal. Read over what you have written and see the changing moods of your long pilgrimage. See if you can identify a pattern. What were you doing when you felt despondent and alone? What were you doing when you felt upbeat and positive about the future? Concentrate on your own specific actions, not merely your reaction to outside events. If you can find a thread relating what you do to how you feel, you have found a valuable key for managing your hunt for work. You now know what to do to feel pretty good and what not to do to avoid a recurrence of despair.
Maintain your diary throughout your job search and it will become an increasingly rich source of information about you and your inner self. It will challenge you to get active and it will comfort you when you just want to curl up into a ball and turn your back on life.
When your final exultant entry is made - I got a job! - find a quiet time to completely read through all the entries to give yourself a full appreciation of how far you have come and how hard you have worked for your eventual success. Give yourself a mental pat on the back for hanging in there and never accepting defeat.
Then close it up and lock it away in a safe place. If you ever find yourself jobless again (and it happens to many of us over and over), take it out. Reread it for the insights you will gain, and the mistakes you'll be able to avoid, in your next (probably shorter) job search campaign.
Virginia Bola operated a rehabilitation company for 20 years, developing innovative job search techniques for disabled workers, while serving as a respected Vocational Expert in Administrative, Civil and Workers' Compensation Courts. Author of an interactive and emotionally supportive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge, she can be reached at http://www.unemploymentblues.com