Notes on job-hunting: Energy is everything.

12 March 2006

Covered in the first and second installments:
Rule #1. It’s not over until you win.
Rule #2. Get help.
Rule #3. Fight cynicism at every turn.
Rule #4. Improve something.

Rule #5. Build up your energy. Resisting cynicism and pursuing constant improvement require energy, a commodity often in short supply when you’re out of work. Losing a job puts most people in the awkward position of needing to do something they don’t do well–look for work–at the same time that they must deal with the emotional fallout from getting fired or laid off. Even if you walked out of your old job with a spring in your step, and even if you walked out by your own choice, it’s hard to keep a sunny outlook after a week or a month without the reliable income and daily routine that come with a steady job.

So what do you do to build up your energy when you don’t feel like it? Don’t be ashamed to start with something small. Energy breeds energy, and if a walk around the block peps you up, do it. A well-timed cup of coffee can help. When you’re down, any healthy little step up is welcome. If you can manage one tiny, positive step each hour of the day, by all means do it. Enough of these will give you the juice to do something bigger. Make the big phone call of the day. Clean out your files. Clean out your closet. Let go of some old, limiting belief that isn’t helping you get where you want to be in life. (That last one will give you more energy than anything else.)

While you’re making these emotional improvements, tend to your physical energy as well. Make a habit of getting a good night’s sleep–not just enough hours, but with regular times for retiring and rising. (All else being equal, people have more energy when they sleep at the same time every day.) Eat good stuff, too. Without getting into this or that dietary theory, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out you’ll be better off with more fresh vegetables and fewer danishes. Drink lots of water, not too much hooch, and get plenty of exercise. Whether we typically do it or not, most of us have a decent idea of what it means to take care of ourselves physically. If you’re looking for work, now is the time more than any other to attend to this.

Use the mutually reinforcing relationship between physical energy and emotional energy to suit your own purposes. Think of it: Why do savvy parents keep their little kids from doing anything too exciting at bedtime? Because emotional excitement–whether it comes from a video game, a tickle attack, or a punch in the mouth from big sister–ramps them up physically. If you want them to wind down and go to sleep, don’t let them watch a Harry Potter movie right up until bedtime. Surely you’ve experienced the same thing when you stay up half the night after a concert, or when friends come into town and you end up talking over old times.

Take advantage of both parts of this virtuous circle by making a list of positive things–physical, mental, emotional–that energize you. Do a crossword puzzle first thing in the morning if that sharpens up your brain. Seek out the people who stoke your enthusiasm or who always have another idea for an avenue to pursue. (Chances are, if you’re my friend and you’re looking for work, I’ve played this role for you. I’ve certainly called on my own friends in the past when I’ve been on the market.)

I’m going to suggest that you make another list, too–of the things that bring you down. Make a new habit of avoiding these. This may be a time to put a few of your high-maintenance friendships on ice, not necessarily forever, but at least until you regain your career footing. Once you’re established in a new job, you may have surplus emotional and physical energy to spare for others. Until then, don’t be afraid to put a little distance between yourself and those who sap your energy, while narrowing the distance with the those who build you up.

All this energy you’re cultivating will help you with the many chores that go with job hunting. But more than that, your high energy will show through to others. The most obvious venue for this comes when you interview for jobs. But it will also be important in the myriad small encounters that can lead to jobs, whether it’s talking with the receptionist at a prospect company or smiling at someone in the grocery store.

Rule #6. Raise your hand. It’s not enough have energy. You have to build your profile by getting noticed. This is true whether you’re trying to land a better job with a current employer or trying to catch on with a new employers. This piece of advice won’t be easy for shy people, or for those who hold the mistaken notion that their experience and abilities should speak for themselves. If you’re looking for work in a small town where everyone knows you, that’s fine–your attributes might speak for themselves. But otherwise, you’re going to have to build your own “small town” of people who know what you’re about and what you can deliver for their organizations.

There is always some way to put yourself forward, whether it’s modestly or brazenly. Build a Web site (or write a blog!) that showcases your capacity. If you don’t have the skills to build it yourself, find a friend who can help you. (Along the way, you’ll probably learn valuable Web-related skills.) Take on contract or temporary or part-time work that will let you show your stuff while making new contacts and learning new skills. Take on duties with your club or church or neighborhood association that offer those same opportunities.

Above all, create a public impression of who you are and what you want from your career, even if what you want now is modest and not fully articulated. This means telling every single person you know that you’re looking for work of a particular (or broad) type in a particular (or broad) range of settings. If you get a temporary position at a company you like, tell the boss that you’d love to keep working there. Tell the folks in your club or church what you’re looking for. Tell your neighbors. Heck, tell the mailman.

I should say at this point that, while all of this advice has worked for me, I’m cribbing this last suggestion directly from the maestro di tutti maestri of job hunting, Richard Bolles. One of the central pieces of advice Bolles gives in his multi-million-selling What Color Is Your Parachute? is to tell everyone you know that you’re looking for work. “Raise your hand” in every context, whether you think it’s called for or not. Seriously, tell your barber. Tell everyone you know that you’re looking for work so that they can have the chance to help you. Don’t deny them that pleasure!

One specific way to do this that might daunt you initially: use this as your opportunity to look up old friends. Go through your old e-mail archives, your paper correspondence, and the like, and start sending messages. Get the most embarrassing part out of the way first: “I’m embarrassed that it’s only now that I’m getting in touch. I lost my job a couple of weeks ago, and I’m using this time to look up old friends . . .” Then talk about the good things that have happened in your life since you last spoke with them. Leave them with just a sentence about how you’d like to catch up with them–if it’s true that you would–and then wish them well. You might be surprised at how many e-mails like this elicit enthusiastic answers.

For now, go to Bolles’s site, read what’s there, lay hands on a copy of Parachute, and then get back to me.

Next time: How to share your job search with people you don’t know through a little practice we call “networking.”

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