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By Michael B. Laskoff For the unemployed, the holiday season can be especially stressful. Strained finances made gift-giving something to dread. Potential employers went AWOL in mid December, putting the brakes on even the most diligent job search.
And don't forget all those delightful holiday parties at which you got to explain your joblessness to a whole host of people that you probably only see once a year. Cheery people can be unbearable when you feel like your professional life is on the skids.
Fortunately, the holidays are now in your wake, but you must remember that the early part of the year isn't quite business as usual. Understanding this will let you make appropriate adjustments and use your time wisely. Here are some thoughts to help you get your search back on track:
Reestablish your routine. Even the most dedicated job-seeker saw his or her carefully plotted search plan rendered moot around the middle of December. Some, recognizing the inevitability of this, opted to visit family or friends with the idea of starting anew in January. Many, however, made no such conscious choice and found that their search ground to a halt amid unanswered e-mail and unreturned phone calls.
Regardless of which camp you fall into, you may be finding it hard to get back to a routine that seemed largely meaningless for three weeks. But reimposing discipline will not only ensure that you resume productive behavior but it also will prevent a slow drift into depression.
So, start setting the alarm for a reasonable time again. Prepare a written schedule of your weekly activities, including to-do lists. And reclaim the space that you were using as your "office." These basic tasks will help you recapture the mind-set you need when job-hunting.
Be patient. Once you're back on your routine, you'll be all fired up. So you'll find it particularly frustrating to discover that your job-search network isn't as responsive as it was prior to the holidays.
This doesn't mean that you've hit a roadblock. What it does indicate is that all the people that you rely upon for future employment are also laboring to reestablish their own routines, which they also lost control of weeks ago.
Even those people who are desperate to hire in early January will still take a week or more to excavate the pile that has accumulated since mid-December. Until they do that, everything else is generally put on hold, including the hiring process -- and answering your e-mail and returning your calls.
No matter how much you might like or need the process to move faster, nothing will return to a semblance of normality until the week of Jan. 12. Remember this so you won't panic when the world fails immediately to match your renewed enthusiasm.
Do other things. Networking may be difficult right now, but that doesn't mean that you can't be productive. Now is an excellent time to revisit your r?sum? and other marketing materials to ensure that they're current and reflect you in the best possible light.
Think about this not just in relation to your written materials, but to how you present yourself overall. Are you eloquent about your accomplishments, pertinent skill sets, and potential contributions when speaking to perspective employers? If not, now is a good time to work on that so you can make the most of the upcoming opportunities. Practice -- on your own or with someone else -- until you have your patter down. Are your job-hunting clothes all set? It's not a bad idea to make sure they still fit after the holidays.
Early January is also an ideal time to do research on industries, companies, and individuals that are crucial for your search. If you think you might be interested in an area where you haven't previously worked, use this time to investigate it. Or if you have a big meeting later in the month, use this time to bone up on the industry, the company, and the people you'll be talking to.
Make sure that you use this time wisely so you'll be fully prepared when the working world reengages and turns its thoughts to new hires.
Be optimistic. The old year is gone -- and so is the fiscal 12-month period. Many companies that didn't have the budget to hire last year now have the funds to do so. In fact, there's often pent-up demand owing to the fact that managers who were eager to hire four to five months ago now have the resources they lacked.
On top of that, the New Year brings a sense of renewal and optimism to many companies, which makes the first quarter a particularly good time to secure new employment. So even though you're unemployed, you can feel cautiously optimistic about your professional future. 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 at a number of e-commerce startups. He operates a Web site at www.askyourass.com