By Michael B. Laskoff Being unemployed is hard anytime but never more so than during the holiday season. While the rest of the world is feeling flush with good cheer from Thanksgiving through New Year's, the unemployed tend toward depression. It is, after all, hard to feel joyful and generous when you're without income and a predictable professional future. Add to that all the social gatherings, which require you to publicly admit your continuing unemployment to friends, loved ones, and complete strangers, and it's easy to succumb to something approaching despair.
And yet, it doesn't have to be this way. With a little forethought, you can enjoy the festive season and take advantage of the unique job-searching advantages that it offers. Some things to remember:
Holiday greeting cards: The calling card of the unemployed. True, it's generally harder to get people on the phone at this time of year, but that doesn't mean your networking efforts must suffer. Holiday cards are an excellent way to communicate directly with people in even the most rarified corporate ranks. Believe it or not, busy executives often open such mail themselves and are far more likely to read the contents. As a result, you have a terrific opportunity to bring your existing network as well as more elusive targets up-to-speed regarding your search.
Don't overdo it, though. Remember, you're sending a holiday card, which should offer seasonally appropriate salutations and wishes. Skipping this step could make your efforts seem crass and potentially offensive. Also, be sure to write your messages by hand. I know this is vastly less productive than typing, but it's the extra effort that makes an impression. Remember to accentuate your positive accomplishments. This is, after all, a holiday card, which makes it an inappropriate vehicle of anything other than good cheer.
And finally, don't wing it. You'll want to work out the message in advance and be consistent in your presentation. This isn't to say messages shouldn't be personal, but if each card takes 10 to 15 minutes and you want to send out 20 or 30 cards, then a little math will demonstrate the time advantages of repetition.
Look for hidden networking opportunities. An obscure fact of the season is that not all the people with hiring authority use the holidays to head for good skiing or warm weather. Many continue to work every day, even while their subordinates and co-workers take time off. As a result, the latter half of December can be the best time to schedule a meeting with someone who's generally so busy that getting on his or her calendar would be all but impossible. Of course, securing this appointment will require you to be particularly diligent in early December, particularly since you have no way of knowing who stays home and who travels during the holidays.
Understand, however, that for every person who'll grant you an audience, two or three will be out of the office. So while you can secure networking meetings, you might feel your overall success ratio is falling. Don't be disheartened. Try to remember that it's nothing more than a seasonal anomaly.
Give yourself a break... ...because everyone else is. If you've been moving heaven and earth to get a new job, the thought of taking it easy will seem anathema. After all, every moment that you're not actively and effectively job searching is a moment lost, right? Or is it?
Job-search efforts are useful only if they serve a productive purpose. That's harder in December, with vacations, curtailed office hours, and the fact that most everyone's budgets are tapped out until January. It's easy to understand why you'll almost certainly have less opportunity to look for work until January, when the normal rhythms resume.
Rather than decry your diminished capacity, I strongly suggest that you join the celebration. Most people, even the unemployed, have something to feel fortunate about. Taking time to recognize this will actually endear you to friends, family, and others who you rely upon to sustain you in this time of transition. Moreover, a bit of genuine relaxation and celebration will help you to stay mentally fit in the months to come -- making you a more attractive candidate and potentially shortening your search.
So while I won't claim that being in the midst of the holiday season will suddenly make your job search better, it does present you with some unique opportunities that are worth seizing. Go ahead -- and you'll be prepared to make the most of whatever January has to offer. Laskoff is the author of Landing on The Right Side of Your Ass -- A Survival Guide for the Recently Unemployed. A graduate of Harvard Business School, he has worked in the investment-banking, consulting, and entertainment industries, as well as a number of e-commerce startups. He operates a Web site at www.askyourass.com