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To find a job, get your space and yourself organized

Published 05/27/2012
The News & Observer in Raleigh

Bridgette A. Lacy writes a monthly unemployment column.

Unemployment requires a great deal of organization. You have to maintain a job log. You need to have a stack of updated and tailored resumes and cover letters for potential employers. Then there are all the papers involved with maintaining COBRA health benefits.
And if you were like me, you’ll also have to tackle all that paper that you didn’t deal with when you were employed because you were too busy. Stacks of magazines, an article here and there you never got around to reading and papers you are just not sure what to do with but that are creating a landslide in your home office.
Nor does your work begin and end with physical organization. You also need to sort through your feelings about unemployment. Did I do everything I should have done on the job? Was it my fault? What do I want to do next?
Three local experts offered their advice on how to organize your physical space, your emotions and your job search.
Barbara Hemphill, a Raleigh organizer and productivity consultant, says organizing a job search should be part of your daily business and “you can’t run a business without an office,” she says.
Hemphill says you need an inviting and organized physical space to do the difficult task of handling your life. Hemphill, author of “50 Ways to Accomplish Your Work and Enjoy Your Life,” says that in working with more than 200 people, she has learned there are certain things everyone needs in their office space, whether it’s a corner of their kitchen, a hall closet or a designated room:
• Trays: An inbox, an outbox and a box for things to be filed.
• Paper managers: A waste basket, recycling bin and a shredder.
• A time management planner which can be an old-fashioned calendar, Outlook or some type of computer-based time management system.
• A contact management system: a Rolodex, address book or contact information stored in your email address book. You don’t want business cards and small pieces of paper strewn about your desk.
• Action files. These are files that require some sort of action on your part. These files can be organized three ways: date, type of action or name of project. For files by date, Hemphill suggests her filing system, the SwiftFile Tickler System. It comes with 31 folders for every day of the month and 12 folders for every month in the year. It’s a way to keep track of daily demands. Types of action files are those which require data entry or a response. Project files might hold a potential employer’s background information or tailored resumes you are working on.
• Reference files. These are papers you want to keep. You will need this information but not now. Hemphill makes a distinction between action files and reference files. Background information is stored in the reference files, leaving the action files lighter.
Hemphill has taken her five strategies for organizing your life and adapted them for the unemployed. They are:
• State your vision about your future employment. What does that look like if you are successfully employed? What kind of company do you want to work for? What are the ideal hours? Work culture? Salary?
• Identify your obstacles. What’s getting in the way? Education?
• Commit your resources. Include LinkedIn, friends or family, education, experience, resume and references.
• Design and execute your plan. That means pulling the trigger on action. Commit to making a certain number of calls each day. Take certain classes to update or expand your skills.
• Maintain your success. Don’t stop when you start to make progress; keep going until you have completed the goal. Stick with the plan long enough to get what you want.
For more tips from Hemphill, visit or
Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz, director of the UNC Anxiety and Stress Disorders Clinic, has written a book called “The Stress Less Workbook: Simple Strategies to Relieve Pressure, Manage Commitments, and Minimize Conflicts.” It will be published by Guilford Press in August.
Here are his tips for organizing your emotions about unemployment.
• Separate out negative emotions, especially anger, depression and anxiety – emotions that are fueled by things we tell ourselves.
Anger makes you feel like those people shouldn’t have fired you. “No one’s giving me a chance.” This can be destructive and make you difficult to be around. This makes it hard for people to empathize with you.
Depression leads to isolation and feeling like you are not worthwhile. Those thoughts affect your job search. Depression keeps you home because it makes you feel bad about yourself. When you are depressed, no one wants to be around you. So it makes it harder to get support.
Anxiety pushes you into feeling like you will never find a job. It creates unnecessary stress and can cause you to lose sleep and lead to unhealthy behaviors.
• Exercise can help you deal with these emotions. Challenging your thinking by asking yourself about the validity of the thoughts underlying the emotions can also help. Cognitive therapy is the best form of treatment if the negative emotions persist.
• Sort out your feelings. Sit down and write down your thoughts about the situation. Look at these things rationally.
• Focus on strengths. Ask yourself: What do I do well? Accept that you are unemployed. You don’t need to blame yourself.
• Dig into your past. Reflect on how you survived similar situations.
• Separate the situation from yourself. If your company is downsizing, that’s not something you can help.
• Differentiate between what is awful versus what is unfortunate.
Paula Bryan, the volunteer leader of Colonial Jobseekers, an independent ministry of Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, says the job market is more challenging and competitive than ever. Job seekers need to set themselves apart to be the candidate of choice. Understand searching for work is a full-time position. “It’s sales and marketing – and by the way, you are the product,” Bryan says.
She recommends taking advantage of your time to be still and assess what you want to do.
Here’s her job search tool kit:
• An accomplishment-based resume. The job-description resume is not flying today. You need to tell employers how you were a contributor to your last organization. It needs to pass the 30-second rule by quickly highlighting your strengths. Upload the resume to key job boards.
• A LinkedIn profile. Make sure your resume is uploaded to the profile and that you have recommendations.
• A 60-second elevator pitch to sell yourself. It needs to be clear and concise. You want to draw people in to ask more questions.
• An exit statement. Be prepared to tell people why you left the company. It should be one to two sentences with a neutral tone.
• Business cards with your name, profession and direct contact information for networking events. You want to draw people into conversation and leave them with a way of contacting you about future opportunities.
• Accomplishment story library. You need to have stories stored in your brain about how you contributed to the success of your company and how you handled specific situations.
• Calendar. Time can get away from you before you know it. Plan your day. Schedule time to spend on your job search, networking, family, etc.
• A productivity log. This way you can see what you have been doing. This can be a spreadsheet with built-in benchmarks.
• A professional email address and voice mail. Children featured on the outgoing voice mail message is not what you want. Again, you are marketing a product. You want the first impression to be in your favor.