01/02/2012 12:02 EST | Updated 03/02/2012 05:12 EST

The Beginner's Guide to Job Hunting

People think they need to go directly from one job to the next, but in my experience we all need a little decompression. Have a staycation, go to the movies in the afternoon, sleep in, and get over the fact that you left or lost your job. Grieve a little. It's natural.


I know some of you are heading into the new year with a steely resolution that this is the absolute last year you're going to be working that job you hate. I feel for you guys. New Year's resolutions often revolve around how much better our lives are going to be once we magically develop willpower sometime between Christmas Day (so full!) and New Year's Day (so hungover!).

Job satisfaction often plays a major part in fantasizing about your new, perfect next year. Some of you are heading back to jobs you like, but due to economic circumstances at an inaccessible corporate level, cronyism between the boss and his newly-graduated, unemployed nephew, or some other extenuating circumstance that's going to make your awesome job a crummy job, you're going to find yourself looking for work.

First of all, congratulations on your new opportunity! I have some advice for you. I feel especially beholden to you if you quit after some girl on the Internet gave you unsolicited advice, but many people end up jobless for lots of reasons, so I hope I can help y'all out. This is coming from my perspective as a 20-something professional late bloomer, so it may not feel especially relevant if you're an accomplished/later-life type, but maybe you'll find something in here that makes unemployment smart a little less.

Don't panic. Like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxysays, just don't. Panic for one afternoon -- maybe the afternoon you give your notice or get your pink slip. Knock off work an hour early, call your friends, and make them join you for pre-dinner drinks. Complain loudly about your workplace and rehash the story at least three times. That will make it easier to tell your parents, partner, or roommate the next day.

If you're quitting, have a game plan. Smart kids know that having three months' worth of living expenses in the bank is a savvy move and in this economy it might be wise to have an extra three socked away. I'm saying rent, food, and travel for six months -- if you're accustomed to purchasing lavish handbags on a regular basis, you are going to be sad when you first step foot inside the discount grocery store where you now shop.

If at all possible, have another gig lined up, but don't be too hard on yourself if that's not possible, either because you needed to leave suddenly or because you're being asked to go. Once you're out, take time to regroup. People think they need to go directly from one job to the next, but in my experience we all need a little decompression. Have a staycation, go to the movies in the afternoon, sleep in, and get over the fact that you left or lost your job. Grieve a little. It's natural.

All right, so you've got your money in the bank, you've taken a week to feel your feelings and now you're back out there, ready to conquer the world (or at least your electoral district). Here are a few helpful things to remember:

Network like crazy. When I got hired for my current job, my boss told me that she had gotten more than 400 responses for the position. Internet postings and want ads have high response rates. Don't count on being able to cold-call companies or getting calls back regarding resumes you send out. Look at who you know, especially people who are doing things you're interested in. Take them out for coffee. Pick their brains. Put it out there that you're looking. Ask your friend who works in HR to look at your resume, or take it to an employment centre and have it professionally critiqued. Short-term work will likely surface first. Take it. You'll enjoy the money, and it will give you an answer when your new potential boss asks you what you've been doing since you left your last job.

Make a schedule. I checked a dozen different online job boards throughout the week and sent plenty of inquiries. This was overwhelming, so I broke it out into two different tasks: Finding jobs and applying for jobs. First, flag everything you might be qualified for or interested in. Click on all possible jobs. Then -- and this is the important part -- take a break. Go for a walk, bake some muffins, call your other unemployed friends and see if they're free to go buy discount groceries. Close your laptop and clear your mind. When you come back, you return with a fresh set of eyes. Maybe, on second thought, you're not qualified, or you think it might be boring, or you hate that company. That's cool. Set a minimum number of jobs you want to apply for in a day or week and make those count.

Get out of the house. Being between jobs can be isolating -- your friends are working and you're broke so you can't go out anyway. Job hunting is hard and kitties on YouTube are enticing... The next thing you know, you've fallen asleep with your computer on your chest and you've slept until you wake up hungry. Let's just agree that's not the goal here. Getting out of the house has many names: Working out, meeting friends, running errands, volunteering, going to church, getting creative, and so on. Staying in touch with the rest of the world is imperative to staying sane. It emphasizes the same sleep patterns, job tasks and to-do lists as those who are gainfully employed and it keeps you in good practice for when you land something. Like networking, tell your friends and family that getting out of the house is one of your priorities and use the buddy system to make sure you're seeing people regularly. If you've got unemployed friends, check in with them and make sure they're getting out.

Use resources like the library, university or college job training, employment centres, and more. Most municipalities have some kind of system in place for those who are looking for jobs and they can help you. Some offer free courses, job placements or help defray costs. It can feel a little demoralizing to ask for that kind of help, but the feedback you get can be very supportive.

Take every interview. If you send resumes and cover letters into the void every week, you might hear back from one or two a month. Use those interviews to practice your skills. Are you punctual? Dressed professionally? Did you bring your references? Have you Googled yourself lately to see what kind of incriminating stuff pops up? You might think this is basic, but nailing it on the little things helps solidify you as a good potential employee. Use each interview as a chance to showcase your talents, to practice talking about your skills, and to be immersed in the working world.

However, don't feel obligated to take every job that's offered to you: Wait for something good. Right before I got my current position, I interviewed at a cafe. I could have done it in my sleep and they offered me the job on the spot. I turned them down, even though I was hungry. Working in a cafe like I had done for years made me feel like I was going backwards -- I couldn't do it and I knew that if I took it, I would quit. If you take a job you know you're not going to enjoy, that's fine -- just understand that you'll eventually quit, or become bored enough that you get fired, so you'll be looking all over again. Maybe not now, as Bogie says, but soon. Invest in your future by taking jobs that you can enjoy for the long haul.

Don't forget to breathe. It's scary out there, but something will come. If you're not getting any bites, refresh your contacts and cast your net a little wider. Take short-term jobs. Ask for help. Stay positive, but feel free to express frustration. Get more training. Pray, if it helps. Volunteer -- sometimes unpaid jobs can turn into a paycheque. Always believe that you're worth hiring -- fake it, if you need to. Get plenty of sleep and plenty of fresh air. And never, never, never give up. You will find something.