Wouldn't a sabbatical from work be nice? An extended break to finally accomplish all those things on your to-do list: travel, go hiking, renovate the house, read the classics.
If you find yourself unemployed, very often the silver lining is that you have the time to do all those things you never could while working. But as many job seekers soon discover, lack of income and the need for a new job can hinder your recreational activities. After all, do you want to spend your savings on a trip to Europe if you don't have a job lined up?
If you're a job seeker, you can find yourself struggling to balance the demands of finding a new job and being tempted by your newfound free time. When you're checking job postings earlier than you ever showed up to the office, it dawns on you that a job search is its own full-time gig.
Why is it a full-time job?
You know job hunting is serious business, but just how long does it take to post a résumé online and make a few calls to your professional contacts? Not long, but stopping there would be a mistake. Today's job hunt is a combination of old-fashioned footwork, online brand building and reaching out to the right people, as Debbie Withers has learned.
She was a marketing director before she took some time off in 1997 to be a full-time mother. As her kids grew up, she began a freelance writing career and did marketing consultation. Her youngest child is about to be in middle school and she thinks it's the right time to renew her career outside of the home.
"What I've discovered is that it really is who you know," Withers says. As a job seeker who was out of the professional world for a while, Withers has to overcome the image that she wasn't getting any relevant work done during her freelance years. Not to mention the fact that her time off began once she moved from Virginia, where she had many contacts and a solid reputation. "Unfortunately, since I didn't work full-time [here] in the Atlanta market, I don't have the business contacts I had in the cities where I was a marketing director; no one in my current sphere saw me in that high-profile position."
Since beginning her job hunt, Withers says three things have stood out to her:
1. Connections matter
One of the other mothers at a play group was married to a cameraman in a broadcast company where she wanted to work. Although the company wasn't in a position to hire her right then, she did get the contact information for a hiring manager. When the company is hiring again, she has a direct line to the right person.
2. Don't waste any opportunity to sit down with someone
One of Withers' acquaintances passed her résumé along to a colleague in the marketing department of her company. She was able to sit down with the marketing person and present her portfolio. Although the company was in a hiring freeze, Withers says she doesn't see it as a wasted opportunity.
"At least now I've met the corporate contact face to face, and although they're not advertising openings, she'll be more likely to think of me when they need someone."
3. Give your résumé to the right people
Withers asked one of her former employers to be a reference and forwarded her résumé. A few weeks later, that employer introduced her to a business associate who is hiring for a position she has experience in. She doesn't know whether or not she'll get the job, but she's glad to know she has someone helping her find employment opportunities.
By now you know that technological advances have benefits and plenty of disadvantages. Your cell phone can save your life during an emergency, but it can also ruin your evening at the symphony with an ill-timed ring. Social networking sites have had a similar effect on job hunting.
Sites like Facebook, BrightFuse and Twitter allow you to connect to old friends, potential employers, past clients and other people who might offer career opportunities. But combine the sheer volume of social networking sites and the ever shrinking shelf life of timeliness -- you haven't updated your Facebook status in over two hours? -- and you can't walk away from the computer for too long. Michael Durwin, who was recently laid off because of the economy, is experiencing the full-time demands of a job search.
"I'm as busy, if not more busy, tweaking my personal brand, hunting down new freelance clients and job hunting," he says. With his wife expecting their first child in a month, Durwin thought the layoff would give him plenty of time to do some work around the house that he's been putting off. He was mistaken. "I'm constantly trolling through job sites, joining new ones, reaching out to contacts, hunting down client contact info [and] updating my blog and Twitter feeds."
Of course, you might not mind the need for constant updates when you consider how visible you're making your job hunt. Sure, all of your contacts on these sites can see your information, but depending on your network settings, people in your same city or alumni network can, too. More sets of eyes are coming across your availability for a job.
Time is money
The ability to stay connected can help your job hunt, but it can also add a sense of guilt to your daily life. Every free minute you spend relaxing can feel like a career opportunity slipping away -- a feeling Meghan Schinderle recently discovered.
"I was prepared to treat looking for a job like a job," Schinderle says. "I prepared to dedicate long hours to it and to put time and effort into searching and networking. What I was not prepared for was the feeling of guilt I would have for the times that I am not doing it -- and the feeling that I must be glued to my laptop working towards finding a job at all times. This is unhealthy, to say the least."
To maintain good mental health, Schinderle is taking a step back from her obsessive behavior. She's trying to take advantage of the free time she has, while still looking for a job.
"I am running at the beach in the mornings and cooking dinner with my boyfriend at night. I am going to the gym and running errands in the middle of the day or going to the museum right by my house," she says. "I am doing all the things that people who do have jobs wish they could. It's great to dedicate a significant amount of time to job hunting, but you have to get away from it for a little while every day or it will consume you and then depress you."
Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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