Striking the perfect balance between work and play is hard enough to do without family and health emergencies, much less a job search. To manage all the surprises that come your way, take a note from the families who have gotten through it all.
By Debra Donston-Miller
For most of us, the work-life balance is a delicate one. We carefully mete out our time, resources and energy to our bosses, co-workers, spouses, kids, parents, friends, pets, charities and — if all goes perfectly as planned — ourselves.
The slightest change can upset the balance. A big change — such as a job loss — has the potential to bring everything crashing down.
In today's economy, a job loss can be especially upsetting to the work-life balance because the resulting job hunt may extend for several months.
With jobs scarce and job hunters plentiful, looking for work becomes a full-time job. However, unlike most full-time positions, the job hunt offers no pay; no security; and — perhaps most significantly — no structured time off. This makes it more difficult to maintain that delicate balance we call life.
When you’re on the job search, you don’t get vacation time or even a lunch hour. It becomes a personal and financial necessity to balance your other responsibilities and keep those unexpected events like family emergencies from upsetting your job search.
Betty Priday knows this only too well.
She lost her position as an EDI consultant at Cardinal Health because a required relocation would have meant moving her elderly mother — who was in the care of Priday and her family — from Wisconsin to Ohio.
Priday had 18 months' notice to prepare for the change, and used the time to get her resume and affairs in order. But she couldn’t predict that her mother would suddenly take ill, require more intensive care and pass away just a month after Priday left Cardinal.
Priday also has three busy children (one in college); a husband who works in the real-estate business (an industry struggling to get its footing); and health issues of her own.
With all of this and more going on, said Priday, searching for a job has been "fatiguing."
Priday has sent out dozens of resumes and is working with a job-placement consultancy. She said she has become frustrated with the inhuman quality of the process, where applicants must be an exact match and where thoughtful, heartfelt applications receive an automated response — if they receive any response at all.
The power of records
So how does she keep it all together?
Organization is key, Priday said. For example, after hearing from a friend who had to fake her way through a telephone response to an application because the friend wasn't sure which job was being referred to, Priday has started keeping careful records.
"I keep a spreadsheet," she said. "It includes the date I applied for a job, the job title and where I heard about it."
Priday said she also copies descriptions of the jobs she applies for in a Microsoft Word document so she'll "be ready if someone calls." Recruiters also recommend job seekers keep track of which version of their resume and cover letter went with which application to be sure they’re not surprised in an interview by details omitted from one version of their resume but present on another.
Priday is also setting job-hunting goals. For example, she attempts to send out two or more applications every week, and she is now going back and following up on applications she has already submitted.
Goals are key to balancing the job hunt effectively amid other responsibilities and keeping your sanity, said Raoul Encinas, a board member of the Scottsdale Job Network and vice president of Preod, a professional-services firm based in Princeton, N.J.
"As a job seeker, you need your own plan or a time budget each week," said Encinas, who is also the chair of SJN’s Curriculum Committee. "If you have other demands on your time, then budgeting five, 15, 25 hours a week for your job-seeking activity is fine. You then need to tailor your weekly goals to your budget. If your normal weekly goal is to have 10 one-on-one networking meetings a week, but you can only allocate 20 hours, then change your goal to five meetings a week. That way, at the end of the week, you don’t beat yourself up for not making progress on your job-search goals."
And all those other people vying for your time and attention? Enlist them in the process, said Katy Piotrowski, a career counselor at the Career Solutions Group and author of "The Career Coward's Guides."
"If your job search is truly a priority, reflect that in your behavior," Piotrowski said. "Delegate chores to other family members so that you have the time to invest in your next career step. Remember, your advancement will benefit them also."
Experts also advise job seekers to be open and honest with family and friends about what they are going through and to set realistic expectations.
"Job seekers should talk to their children about the realities of today's economy and about how a job search can sometimes take a long time. It may be difficult for them to realize that you may not be able to get a job tomorrow and that it may take prolonged effort over an extended period of time to get the right job for you," said Sharon Reed Abboud, author of the new book "All Moms Work: Short-Term Career Strategies for Long-Range Success."
Stay healthy, stay sharp
One person who often is neglected during the job search is the job seeker.
Mental-health and career experts advocate making time for exercise and favorite activities, no matter how desperate the search becomes. In fact, the moredesperate the search becomes, the more important these activities may be, as they can prevent job seekers from entering a state of depression.
But remaining active is also an important part of maintaining that elusive work-life balance during the job search, Priday said.
"What I do when I get tired is get up and do something physical — weed, move flowers, mow the lawn," she said. "It takes me away from the stress of the job search."
Priday has also been taking the time to create family pictorials, tracing the history of family members, including her mother. She said this has been a healthy distraction: "Family albums bring you back to what's important in life."
Debra Donston-Miller covers work-life issues and difficult job-search situations for TheLadders.