Don't Let Unemployment Slow You Down

7 Tips for Keeping Up Your Momentum in a Difficult Job Market

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Adrienne Waldo
Adrienne Waldo
The first company I worked for after college went under in February, so I can say from experience that being unemployed sucks. I had no money, no security and no health insurance. I had to defer my student loans, and that charming idea I had about paying off my credit card and starting a savings account seemed like a distant memory. I was going stir-crazy from all the time I was spending at home alone, and I was starting to have these outrageous thoughts that I might never have a job and that my only purposes in life would be cleaning and grocery shopping.

I knew I couldn't let that happen -- I'm just not wired that way. So I got busy. Here are some things I did to stay in the game while I was unemployed.

1. I got online. I realized pretty fast that I was going to have to do a lot more online than refreshing every three seconds (don't get me wrong; I was doing that, too). I built a website, started a blog, used Twitter ferociously and created profiles on countless social networks. It's gotten so bad that I'll think I'm going to a social network for the first time, only to find out I already have login information and a profile. But the fact is, you never know where your future employer is going to find you. Don't leave it to chance.

2. I freelanced. I used to say (only half joking) that I worked more when I was unemployed than I did when I had a job. I was getting up every morning and forcing myself to get dressed and start work by 9 a.m. at the latest, and I often didn't stop until 10 or 11 p.m. Self-motivation is hard at first, but it pays off. To anyone who's unemployed, I would highly recommend freelancing. You're building your resume, meeting great contacts and making money -- plus you're showing your future employer that you have an amazing work ethic and know how to take initiative.

3. I never said no to an opportunity. Once I started blogging, tweeting and asking around on LinkedIn and Facebook, some truly entertaining offers started rolling in. I agreed to work for companies for free or very little money, and I went back to working some of my former internships. But my favorite experience happened toward the beginning of my unemployment. A company now called The Ability Project had discovered my blog and wanted me to speak at a conference the next day. The idea made me extremely anxious, but it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up, so, despite my better judgment, I said yes. It went great, and they wound up being a fantastic resource for me.

4. I didn't rely on the job boards. When I finally got a job, it was because a friend told me about a company he described as "the only firm worth working for." So I sent them an e-mail out of the blue, and, as it turned out, they were preparing an ad for a new marketing position but hadn't posted it yet. By taking that initiative, I got in the door ahead of the hundreds of applications they got the next day when they posted the job. Granted, that was a stroke of luck, but it's important to remember that the jobs posted online get hundreds or even thousands of responses. Identify some companies you really love and send them your resume, even if they haven't indicated that they're hiring.

5. I left the apartment. Working alone in my home office (aka my kitchen table) every day was depressing, so I found some friends who were unemployed, and we would work together at coffee shops. Even if friends weren't available, I would try to get out to a coffee shop at least a couple of times a week. Those trips out of the apartment kept me sane.

6. I exercised. No, that's not true. I didn't. But you should. I hear it works wonders.

7. I saved money. I'm a spender. When I'm employed, I live paycheck to paycheck because I love spending the money I've earned. It makes for a high quality of life but a very low bank statement. It was hard, and I mean really hard, to save money, but I did it. Something about the possibility that I might not have a paycheck the next month made saving suddenly seem more vital. Some things I cut out that saved me a ton were haircuts, clothes shopping, food (not really, but it's questionable as to whether the stuff I was eating was really food), manicures/pedicures and things like that. Make a list of the things you can and can't live without. If you land a big freelance client or reach a goal, treat yourself to something you cut out. You can also limit the amount of times you go out to eat each month and explore options for free entertainment -- parks, museums, readings, etc. By the time I got a job, I was on a roll, and a lot of my saving techniques carried over.

Being unemployed is not easy, but as long as you make an effort to stay productive and keep your mind open to new opportunities, you'll be just fine -- you might even come out stronger.

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