Job Hunting for Dummies: Structure and Connection

When unemployed or freelancing (or some combination thereof), it’s pretty easy to sink into an anxious, disorganized funk. Throwing résumés into the void of the internet feels “productive” — except of course it isn’t. I’m always strangely satisfied when I actually receive a rejection form letter two weeks later, because that means there actually is someone on the other end.

My tendency, especially when I’m feeling extra vulnerable — and job hunting makes everyone feel extra vulnerable — is to hide out. My schedule tends to devolve into a loose routine driven by a combination of anxiety and escapism. I feel unproductive, even when I’m actually getting things done. I’m tired, unfocused, and spend too much time under my laptop on my sofa.

My favorite career coach said that over the years, whenever a client is in an unemployment funk, there are two things that help: structure, and connection. Both of these things do not come easily to me. I can be very organized and focused when it comes to a project, but when it comes to my life? I’ve never even had a predictable morning routine. Rigid structures just don’t work for me.

So, I am creating a temporary system for managing my unstructured days. Each morning, I will pick one thing to get done today in each of a number of areas, and do the 3 most important first. then I can work on the others at my leisure. Here are a few things you can do to build structure:

  1. Use a tool to track projects, such as Wunderlist, Omnifocus, or Evernote. Projects should include career, home, health & wellness, and any other special projects.
  2. Each day pick at least one task for each project on the list
  3. Out of all of those tasks, choose the top 3 and do them first
  4. It might help to post each day’s list on a wall or whiteboard somewhere
  5. Give yourself a reward if you complete all of the days’s tasks

For increased productivity, try some thing like the Pomodoro technique — work in short bursts with breaks in between.

In terms of connection, I have made sure to have at least 3-4 meetings every week. Some are professional — interviews or networking — but others are social. I’m making a point to reach out to people I haven’t spoken to for awhile. Connect more:

  1. Check in with people you’ve worked with in the past
  2. Try to find connections within companies you like, and set up informal coffee dates
  3. See your close friends at least once a week and keep them in the loop
  4. Work your family connections. Does your cousin know someone you should talk to?
  5. Make sure you have the networking cheat sheet on hand, and can quickly explain what you’re looking for

Overall, I think the career coach knows what she’s talking about. Structure and connection will help you survive a period of unemployment, and they become even more important the longer this period goes on.