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“ ‘Tis it really the season?”

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Tools the unemployed and underemployed can use to keep it together through the holidays 

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Thanksgiving kicks off the season of family gatherings, holiday parties with friends and outings to the mall and Michigan Ave. for shopping, food and fun.  To borrow a quip from our Christmas-celebrating friends, “ ‘Tis the season for peace, love, and joy!”  But what about the over 10% of Americans on the unemployment roles or the estimated 10% more who are either underemployed or out of work for so long, they are no longer eligible to get help?  ‘Tis it really the season for them?

As a counselor at Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), I’m seeing clients that have been out of work for three months, six months, a year or even more.  For many of these clients, millions of Americans, and I’m certain many Oy! readers currently looking for work, December is bound to be a lot less peaceful, loving and joyful.  As unemployment runs out, bills pile up and family members express concern that they cannot keep up financial support for much longer, stress builds, hope dwindles and the unemployed and underemployed wonder if it’s worth trying at all.  However, it is at this critical juncture that job seekers do not throw in the towel on the job search.

Many people say that looking for employment is and should be a full time job.  There are so many things to do when looking for a job, that someone could easily spend 40-50 hours or more a week looking.  Do you know anyone that really spends that much time working on the job search?  You probably don’t, so give yourself permission to not feel guilty when you are not looking.  You still get to live your life, even if you are unemployed.  If you are worried about not getting enough done, pick three things you know you need to accomplish each day.  Try and finish those three tasks as early as possible.  Think about it—if you do three things a day for a week, that is 21 tasks completed.  Keep it up for month and you have a list of 90 items checked off.  Even some working people aren’t that productive with their time.

This is not an article about how to find a job.  There has already been a lot written on the subject.  It is also not a piece on how the unemployed and underemployed are victims of the economy or how unfair employer’s hiring practices can be.  This is about managing the most important part of the job search—the emotional side.

Three keys to keep it together through the holiday season and into the New Year.

1. Take care of yourself

You may have already heard this one, but what have you done for yourself lately?  Keep exercising.  This is the time to work out several times a week.  The Chicago Park District has workout facilities at many of their buildings and the membership is one of the cheapest out there.  No, they don’t have TV’s on the treadmill, but there is enough equipment to get the job done.

Make sure your diet is healthy, too.  Under-eating because of anxiety and over-eating because of stress is not going to help you look and feel good for your interviews.  Take time once a week to plan out your menu.  Fill yourself with fruits and vegetables and hold back on the comfort food.  Produce can be quite reasonable if you find your way to produce stores or farmers markets instead of the mainstream grocery stores.

Stay on a consistent sleep schedule.  If you find yourself submitting resumes at 3 a.m., remember, the people responsible for reading those resumes are not awake, so why are you?  Go to bed early, so you can be up in time to make those phone calls and return those e-mails when the working world is awake.  Are you too restless to sleep?  Up late, worrying about the job search?  Keep a notebook by the bed and try the following each night:  Write down 3-5 things for which you are grateful.  Next, create a to-do list including everything you want to get done the next day.  Last, write 3-5 things you did well that day—it is important that you find at least three things for which you can acknowledge yourself every single day.  Every victory, large or small is worth celebrating.

2. Keep in touch with friends and family

Keep in touch with everyone.  Employed people spend one-fourth or more of their time at work, so it’s easy to make our jobs define us.  Without a job, you may feel like you have no identity.  This is simply not true.  Your identity is much more rich and complex than something that can be summed up and posted on Career Builder.com.  Get past the shame of unemployment and reach out to those that care for you.  Just make a point to talk about other things besides your job situation or lack thereof.  Ask them about their day and their lives.

Chicago has many free or inexpensive options perfect for outings with friends.  There are recession specials at bars and restaurants, free festivals downtown and passes to Chicago museums at libraries, just to name a few.  You can also host a movie or game night.  Even your working friends will thank you for coming up with such a relaxed and cheap idea.  Most importantly, reach out to those who are also unemployed.  One job seeker recently landed a job from a friend he reached out to when they were both unemployed.  They kept in touch for support and occasionally shared leads or contacts. The friend ended up landing a job first.  Three months later, another position opened up and he was able to get his friend’s resume in front of the right people.  In addition to being new friends, they are now co-workers.

3. Volunteer

Volunteering is helpful for three reasons.  First, it is good for your health to just have somewhere to get up and go in the morning.  Second, it gives you something extra to put on your resume.  Interviewers will ask you, “What have you been doing since you got laid off?”  Third, it is a great way to make contacts.  One client that worked with me volunteered to be on the committee for a large nonprofit’s annual event.  When she showed up to the first meeting she happened to sit down next to the hiring manager for a job she had just found out about.  They talked, and she asked some questions about the job.  The manager was impressed with her background and told her to definitely apply.  Of course, she was called in for an interview.

I really believe that for most people, 80-90% of the job search is simply staying in the right mindset.  Almost anyone reading this piece has found a job before, probably several times.  We all know how to find a job.  I worked with a client this summer who complained often.  She would come to my office and say, “Nothing is working for me!  This isn’t fair!  Why have I not found a job?”  She seemed to spend more time complaining than taking my advice.  She often didn’t follow through on assignments I would give her.  After meeting several times, she was still complaining.  Finally I said to her, “Maybe you haven’t found a job because you are too negative.  If you keep putting out all this negative energy, nothing good is going to come back to you.”  She e-mailed me later to thank me for bringing it to her attention and to tell me she left that session feeling better than she had in a long time.  She rescheduled our next session because she had an interview (her first in several months).  We never got to have that session—she was offered the job!

A note from your Oy! editors:  Thanks to JUF-funded agencies like JVS,  every eight hours an unemployed worker finds a job.  JVS relies on our generous donations to provide for job counselors like Andy.  Wanna help support organizations like JVS?  Give back .  Need help?   Make an appointment online , email   ParnossahWorks@jvschicago.org or visit the  JVS job search website .

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