Ask Annie

10 ways to beat the blues in a long job hunt

June 10, 2011: 11:15 AM ET

It's hard to stay upbeat when you've been pounding the pavement for months on end. Here are a few tips on how to stay in the game.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Dear Annie: My husband's job in IT management was sent overseas more than two years ago, and since then, the interviews have been few and far between, with no job offers. We know he will eventually find work, and we're trying to stay positive, but the lack of response from employers is really tough on his psyche (and mine). Do you and your readers have any advice on overcoming the urge to just give up? — Tired Times Two

Dear Tired: "The loss of a job is one of the most stressful life events," notes Jayne Mattson. "Yet the psychological toll it takes is often overlooked. When you lose a job, especially in this economy where it can be so difficult to find another one, it's hard to maintain your sense of self."

Mattson, a senior vice president at outplacement and executive coaching firm Keystone Associates, specializes in helping people like your husband avoid getting so discouraged that they stop trying to find work. In her seminars and coaching sessions, she offers 10 suggestions that may help.

1. Keep news reports in perspective. A steady drumbeat of dire unemployment headlines is unlikely to boost any job seeker's morale, so try to focus on the (admittedly few) rays of hope amid the gloom. It may be useful to keep in mind, for example, that while the overall unemployment rate is stuck at 9.1%, joblessness among people with a college degree is less than half that (about 4%). "Aggregate statistics never tell the whole story," Mattson points out. "So don't let them get you down."

2. Become an expert on finding a job. "Finding work is your job now, so treat it the way you've treated other professional challenges in the past," Mattson advises. "If someone hired you to find yourself a job, how would you go about it?"

The task may require some creative thinking. "Too often jobseekers rely on job boards and waste a lot of effort applying for advertised openings," Mattson observes. "But tapping into the informal job market works much better. Your church, your college alumni association, even the people you know at the gym can often be an unexpected source of great leads."

3. Connect with people who believe in you. "Stay in close touch with people in your life who will tell you, 'Of course you can do this!'" Mattson suggests. "Being out of work for a long time is so hard on your self-esteem that you need a regular dose of encouragement from friends, former colleagues and bosses, and relatives who are on your side."

4. Meet people face-to-face. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are essential tools in a job hunt these days, but online social media can't replace in-person conversations. "You need to sit down with at least three contacts each week, even if it's just for a quick cup of coffee," Mattson says. "Often things come up when you're chatting with someone that you'd never learn any other way."

Getting out and meeting new people will also keep you from becoming isolated, she notes: "Isolation is one of the big dangers of long-term unemployment. Not only does it contribute to depression, but if you're holed up all by yourself, people who might have job leads will forget you're there."

5. Ask everyone you meet how you can help them. It's easy to overlook the fact that you might have contacts and information that could be useful to someone else, notes Mattson. Even if not, "making a habit of asking reminds you that the whole process is reciprocal. At the very least, people appreciate that you asked, and they'll remember you for it."

6. Donate your skills to a nonprofit. Finding a charity, professional organization, or community group that could use your help does three good things, Mattson says. First, "giving back" makes you feel good about yourself. Second, you might make contacts that could lead to a new job. And third, you'll be keeping your skills sharp and giving yourself a recent project to talk about when you do land a job interview.

7. Stick to a daily routine. "People need structure," Mattson notes. "The more you keep to a set schedule every day, the more productive you'll be." Her firm provides offices that out-placed managers can use in their job searches and, she says, "it's no coincidence that the ones who choose to come in every day bright and early, just as if they were going to 'the office' for a job, are the ones who find new jobs the fastest."

8. Do something you love every day. "Take an hour or so each day and do something you enjoy that energizes you, whether it's working out, gardening, listening to music, or whatever makes you happy," Mattson advises. Getting some endorphins flowing on a regular basis helps combat the job-search blues.

9. Don't beat yourself up. "I have clients who say things like, 'I've been on x number of interviews and still haven't gotten any offers -- what's wrong with me?'," says Mattson. "The answer is, nothing! A long job search is an emotional roller coaster, and it's important to acknowledge that you're going to have good days and bad days. The bad days are a normal part of the process. They're not your fault."

10. Remind yourself of your successes. "Only you can tell others how good you are, but first you have to believe it yourself," Mattson says. "Write down a list of everything you've done in your career, and your life, that you're most proud of, and re-read it often." The point is to stay focused on the fact that, as she puts it, "you have been successful before -- and you will be again."

Talkback: If you've weathered a long, discouraging job hunt, what worked for you? Leave a comment below.

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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