Boosting Morale in An Iffy Economy

It's natural to feel anger and frustration after being laid off, but don't let your outlook ruin your job prospects

ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN STAUFFER

The global job market may or may not be bouncing back, but plenty of engineers are still out of work and none too happy about it. The catch is that if you're job hunting, it's essential to maintain an upbeat attitude, career advisors say. So how do you keep your morale high even when times are tough?

"Maintain perspective," she adds. "Even long-term unemployment is a temporary setback. It's not your entire career, and it doesn't mean you're a failure. The good news is that employers are learning not to stigmatize people for losing their jobs, because they could be next. The employment landscape is such that sooner or later this happens to everybody." Hirsch and others say that by taking concrete steps to lift your outlook, you'll improve your job prospects, too.

Let go . People can get consumed by bitterness or depression over being laid off, so the first step after losing a job is to give yourself time to mourn that loss. A study by Southern Methodist University psychologist James Pennebaker found that those who confronted such emotions early were more successful in finding work than those who immediately jumped back into job hunting. He suggests mentally reviewing the circumstances of your layoff until you can accept it and writing down your feelings to facilitate moving on.

Make a plan . Treat the job search just like a new job. "Take the same approach as any other professional project: set up a plan with goals, delivery schedule, and fulfillment expectation," says Maria Schafer, program director with the META Group (Stamford, Conn.), an information technology research and consulting firm.

Be prepared . It can be painful talking about being unemployed. But when you're interviewing for a new position, it's important not to be put on the defensive, and to be able to answer questions about why you were laid off and what you've been doing in the meantime, especially if you've been out of work for a long time or are trying to switch fields.

"Look them in the eye, smile, and say, 'Let me explain to you why my skills transfer,' " says Nancy Haffner, president of the Haffner Group, a Los Angeles employment service. "If you're often told you're overqualified, don't be afraid to say that."

"Don't say anything negative about your old job, because your interviewers will think you'll one day say negative things about them," she adds. "Instead, turn your response into a positive--'I'm rested, ready to return to work, and have the energy to do whatever is required.' Make sure to research the position, so you can say, 'I'm aware these are your current needs, and here's how I can help you fill them.' Companies like to be courted as much as people do."

Seek comfort . Surround yourself with people who understand what you're going through and can offer advice and contacts. A number of groups devoted to helping the unemployed have recently sprung up. One such group, the 495 Networking Support Group (http://www.495nsg.org), based in the high-tech area around Boston, offers camaraderie and also lobbies for better legislation for the unemployed.

Time to switch? As you think about your career goals, consider working in a related field. One 495 engineer found out that there was a demand for science teachers in Massachusetts and is now pursuing his teaching degree. On a more formal level are retraining programs, such as Cadence Design System Inc.'s Retool-to-Work, which offers free instruction in electronic design to unemployed engineers; courses are held at the company's training centers throughout North America (http://www.cadence.com/education/retool.html).

Remember to breathe . Career coaches recommend indulging in fun distractions to reduce stress, whether it's taking up a hobby or attending a yoga class. As you go about your job search, "get yourself a routine that does not include sitting in front of a computer screen for 12 hours a day," says 495 president Anthony Badman.

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