By Michael B. Laskoff I've conducted more job searches than I care to remember. And while they all differed, every single quest for employment had one thing in common -- the stall. For those of you have never experienced it, the stall is an extended period of time -- days, maybe even weeks -- during which the job-seeker has no active leads, gets no response to e-mails, calls, or other forms of communication, and has no idea how to reignite the search process.
As to how it feels to be in such a state, imagine being in a small sailboat without food, water, wind, or sight of land. In other words, the stall is a fine time to panic, surrender all hope, and set the alarm for sometime in the next decade. And yet, I've repeatedly survived the experience and have managed to gather some useful techniques for doing so. Applying them won't make the stall painless, but they will help you get through a tough time more quickly, and in better spirits.
Take a break. Job searching is hard, unsatisfying work that leaves most people exhausted and depressed, at least temporarily. This is made all the more difficult by the need to assume a confident, optimistic demeanor for all networking and job-search interactions. So when feel like you can no longer maintain the charade, you should stop for a few days.
Indulge in some pleasures that ideally, you've been denying yourself on a regular basis, such as excessive sleep or spending the entire day watching Oprah and Seinfeld reruns. Confess your crisis of confidence to friends and family, and let them comfort you. It's O.K. to rest, take care of yourself, gently overindulge, and recharge your battery. Just be sure that your break isn't more than three or four days. The idea, after all, is to get back in the game with better spirits, not out of it altogether.
Revisit your network. After your break, you will hopefully feel a bit better about yourself, but this feeling won't last unless you can jumpstart your search. To do this, revisit your networking campaign. Start by sending update e-mails to people with whom you have met and inform them of your progress. Since you obviously don't have a job yet, this will most likely consist of smaller victories -- having met with targeted companies, a refined professional goal, or pursuing new prospects as a result of your networking efforts.
To you, all of this may seem trivial and obvious, but others will perceive it as proof that you are being diligent, prudent, and professional. Moreover, the follow-up e-mail will help you stay top-of-mind, which is critical because someone who doesn't remember you obviously can't help.
Now is also a good time to look for missed opportunities in your potential network set. For example, you may have ignored certain individuals for reasons of pride. That's natural, but you should put should put those feeling aside. You're stalled and must therefore pursue any course that offers a reasonable prospect of revitalizing your search.
Rethink your goals. It's possible that you will realize that your goals have changed to such an extent that people who earlier seemed extraneous could now offer meaningful perspectives or access to interesting potential employers. Many job searchers initially overlook a contact who ultimately turns out to have value. Figure out who that is.
Be patient. For the unemployed, time seems to move more slowly than for the employed. And since time is in shortest supply for those with the greatest potential to help you, you'll likely spend much of your time feeling ignored, maltreated, and forgotten. And while such feelings are sometimes valid, it's more likely that you're simply just one of the "to-do's" on a busy person's long list.
Realize that many of the people that you've reached out to will eventually get back to you, particularly if there is a good reason to do so. For example, you may have had terrific meetings with a prospective employer only to hear nothing from them for several months because there was no budget for new employees. When funding becomes available, however, you could easily find yourself being actively wooed by a company that you had long ago written off.
Looking for a job is a lot like gardening. You have to plant a lot of seeds, spread a lot of manure, and nurture a lot of plants. If you are diligent and patient, however, you can expect something to flower.
Try new things. Even if you've been conducting an efficient and purposeful job search, there is still probably room for improvement. Are you spending enough hours looking for work each week? Have you reviewed your resume to ensure that it represents all of your accomplishments and potential contributions? Are you doing everything possible to present yourself well in person and on the phone? Have you placed unnecessary constraints upon your search?
Whatever the relevant questions are for you, remember that successful job searching is an evolutionary process. Therefore, introspection, tweaking, and, sometimes, downright change may all be required to get a new position.
Enduring a stall in your job search is never pleasant, but if you cut yourself a little slack and then do what's necessary to reignite your campaign, you'll find it nothing more than a painful but ultimately insignificant impediment. 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