Having been in job search mode for a while now (longer than I expected to be), I have learned a few things about surviving a long unemployment period. So I thought I would share in case someone else might be helped by these insights ...

  1. Mentally prepare for the long-term ... even if you have never been unemployed for a long period (my longest before was 4 months, and that included a move 1/2 way across the country AND 9/11/01), in today's economic climate, you *may* be out longer than you have been in the past, no matter what your credentials are. Besides, if you prepare for the long haul, and get something quickly, you will be pleasantly surprised, right?
  2. Even if you have some savings to use, start talking to your lenders early on. This was a mistake I made 1) because I figured I would have a new position before my savings ran out and 2) because I assumed as long as I could make full payments on everything, I should operate in a "business as usual" mode. But I was wrong! Because the overall unemployment rate is so high and all the financial industry fallout in the last few years, lenders (at least in my experience) are more than willing to work with you if you talk to them. In hindsight, I should have started the conversations within the first 30-60 days I was out ... this is especially true of your mortgage company (if you have one) since their process may take a while.
  3. If you are considering starting your own business, find out if your state has any assistance programs and see what the requirements are immediately. In this economy, more and more individuals who have been displaced from their jobs are choosing (voluntarily or because they can't find suitable employment elsewhere) to start their own businesses. However, starting a business could interfere with your unemployment benefits, and if that is your main source of income, you might decide to hold off. DON'T! At least in NY, there is a great program called the Self-Employment Assistance Program administered by the same folks who handle unemployment. But (again at least in the case of NY) you need to apply during your first 13 weeks of unemployment ... so I am not eligible since I waited and debated over starting a consulting business. Hopefully someone else will be able to learn from my mistake.
  4. Network, network, network ... I am sure you already know that most jobs are found through networking, so this is a key factor in your search. But networking, especially when you are "in transition", is hard for many of us. While I have no problem networking when I don't need anything, I have a tough time when I am unemployed since I am asking for help. So if you're like me, here are some things that helped:
    • At networking events, just try to meet new people and learn about them. Do not go with the purpose of "finding a job" or asking everyone who they might know who could help you. Many of my employed friends have stopped going to certain networking events because they feel like too many people are hitting them up for a job. DO however have your 45-sec introduction down so you can give new people a brief overview of who you are and what you bring to the table. If there is a connection or they ask how they could help, my recommendation is to set-up a time to meet with them one-on-one. Networking events are not geared for extended conversations, plus if they are at the event, they probably want a chance to network with people other than just you. So don't monopolize their time ... get contact info, move on, and FOLLOW UP in a timely manner.
    • Try and have a specific request in mind when you meet with someone one-on-one - such as, if they are at one of your target companies, ask them to tell you about the company, its culture, and the industry issues it faces. Or if they are in an industry that interests you, ask for who else they know that you should talk to. I know that people who are experts on job search say to ask everyone you meet with for three introductions/contacts ... I personally am not comfortable with that, so using a specific request is easier for me.
    • Practice your 45 second introduction (preferably both in front of a mirror and with a friend or two) until you could say it in your sleep without sounding "rehearsed". And have a slightly longer version/additional information ready for people who ask follow-up questions.
    • Relax ... meeting new people can be fun! Pick networking events that have people whom you can relate to (shared interests, professional associations, or same demographic) and that are in a place you are comfortable in. For example, I love going to my local AMA events because I enjoy the people, plus I usually learn a lot. I however tend to avoid the happy hour networking events at local bars. Networking with relative strangers in a crowd bar just isn't my thing - unless it is for Social Media Club ... I like the people too much not to go when I can.
  5. While I know the experts will probably disagree with me, take breaks from your search. If your search extends many months (or sadly even years like some of my friends), you will need a mental break once in a while. The same way you take vacation time from work to relax and recharge ... do the same during your search. Now I am not suggesting you only work on your search 2 days a week, and play the rest of the time. But don't feel guilty if you have a relaxed lunch with a friend or go to the occasional matinée movie or capitalize on the nice weather and take an afternoon bike ride. To be at your best for networking and interviews, you need to keep your spirits up and be relaxed, not totally stressed out. Exercising is another great way to de-stress during this time, or so I've been told.
  6. Finally, my last observation/tip ... surround yourself with positive people. Sadly, this extended period of unemployment has weeded out many people who I thought were my friends - either due to complete "radio silence" on their part or due to their negativity every time I am around them. It is hard emotionally/mentally to be out of work for a long period, especially when you are very career focused like me, and some days you will get down. It is best to have people in your life that will be positive influences, will point out your strengths (when you are starting to forget), and will listen to you when you need to vent (but not let you do it for too long). I have been very, very lucky in this way ... while I did lose some "friends" along the way, I also realized just how amazing many of the people in my life are (you know who you are, so I won't expose you online and violate your privacy).

I hope this post is helpful to some of you out there who are currently in search mode. Feel free to offer other tips and suggestions via comments - I am always looking for new ideas.