So your boss called you into her office Friday afternoon and bluntly informed you that your position is no longer "economically sustainable." Turns out that coworker perpetually paranoid about losing his job was right for once: "new efficiencies" meant layoffs, and you just got the nod.
You walk back to your desk stunned, as though you saw the ghost of the Great Recession itself. A security officer is waiting to take your identification card and escort you to the front door. You walk out for the last time, glance back at the office and start to boil with a mix of anger and worry.
You have mortgage payments, car loans, a teenager applying to college. Your resume is collecting dust in some file you've lost, and the unemployment line? Never thought you'd be there. A loyal employee for 22 years kicked to the curb. Goodbye self-esteem; hello stress and panic.
What do you do now?
The journey toward your new job will be tough, as scores of Americans have learned during the past few years. You know the story: Some group of elite investors and businessmen put their greed above good practice, and, combined with the country's spend-thirsty ways, the economy spiraled downward.
Layoffs spiked. Growth stalled. Now you're out of work and need a plan like this:
1. Take a deep breath. Then take three more. Now grab a bottle of your favorite wine or a pint of your favorite ice cream, rent a movie and turn off your cell phone. After more than two decades of non-stop work, it's time to treat yourself to a little rest and relaxation. You deserve it.
Some alone time, exercise and being around family and friends will ease the transition, said Robert Gordon, a private psychologist in Allentown. Focus on calm, positive things, take a walk, hit the gym or, budget allowing, schedule a visit to the spa.
Turn to your comforts to keep your stress in check. And don't get too down on yourself. "Your self esteem is determined by whether you're a good person, your concern for other people," Gordon said, "not by how much the marketplace wants you."
2. Point yourself in the right direction. You were great at your old job, but there were definitely some things you hated (your boss aside). Think about what you like doing the most, what you're best at, and if you're interested in picking up any new skills. Being computer savvy is a must, said Nina Rehrig, a career development specialist with Northampton Community College.
Being down with the latest social networking -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn -- is a plus, Rehrig said.
You'll also have to get your finances in order, and that could mean some sacrifices. "People don't need to spend nearly as much as they think they do," Gordon said. And if losing that cable package or satellite radio is too much to bear, remember, after a successful job hunt, you can reward yourself.
3. Go out on the town. Spending time with family, friends, volunteering and hitting some parties can be a great way to get the word out about your job search and meet new people. If you have a company in mind, you can always pick up the phone or stop by to see if there are any openings. But it doesn't hurt to chat people up and make those social connections that can yield professional gold.
4. Beat the blinking cursor syndrome. You've dreaded updating your resume and cover letter since the moment you left your old job. And now that you've got your computer up and running, a cup of coffee and some time, you're staring at a blank screen and a blinking cursor.
Fear not. According to Rehrig:
Take the resume one step at a time. Update your name, address and contact numbers. Then write a brief summary of why you're qualified for the position you're targeting. If your education is recent, list that next, otherwise leave it for the end.
Move on to your job experience, listing exactly what you did, and the results you achieved. Use active verbs and be as specific as possible. "An employer will judge you on what you can do for them, and that will be based on what you've done for other employers."
As for the cover letter, use the first paragraph to introduce yourself and name the position you're seeking. The second paragraph should highlight a few unique qualities you offer -- essentially, why they should pick you and no one else. In the third paragraph, make your pitch for an interview.
5. Sketch a plan of attack. Some people will set goals for themselves like sending out three applications per week. While that's fine, Rehrig said, she prefers applicants instead target companies they really want to work for, and make a plan to get their foot in the front door.
"Don't worry so much about, 'Oh my gosh, I didn't send out five resumes this week, I'm a failure,'" she said.
6. Take a break. Constantly checking job boards, websites and your e-mail inbox can be overwhelming. Don't be impatient; the application process takes a while. During your search, build in time to get out of the house, away from the computer and do something you enjoy.
7. Know when to call, and when to give up. Follow up on your application a week or two after submitting it. Ask the company when it hopes to make a decision, and if you could call again around that time for an update. "Express an interest, and tell them how much you are looking forward to working with them," Rehrig recommends.
If you are rejected, try not to take that personally, Rehrig said. If you have the chance, ask the employer why they chose another person, and how you could make yourself a more attractive candidate. You may find out some simple tweaks or a few new skills could make a world of difference, Rehrig said.
8. When they interview you, interview them. After losing your job, you want to make sure you're entering a stable environment. If you score an interview, ask about the last person to work in the position, how they fared and how long they worked for the company. Find out what the bosses expect in the first six months, and don't be afraid to question the stability of the company and its finances.
9. Weigh the options. If you're among the lucky, you may have a few options for your next job. With the prospect of ending the jobless heartache and budget crunch, avoid making any rash decisions. Negotiate for a little time to think about the decision, and weigh the pros and cons before accepting anything.
"Consider not just salary, but benefits, responsibilities, how well you fit with each company, as well as the individual job," Rehrig said. "Weigh everything and make a decision."
10. Reward and protect yourself. Congratulations! Now get to work. In all seriousness, make sure you cap a successful job hunt with some fun and thank those who helped you along the way. This may be the perfect fit -- but let's be honest, who knows what the future holds. To make the hunt easier next time, keep your training updated and don't be afraid to pick up some new skills.
And this time, don't cast aside your cover letter and resume. You know better than anyone, you just may need them in a pinch.