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When it comes to a successful job hunt, attitude is everything.
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updated 6/22/2012 11:18:47 AM ET 2012-06-22T15:18:47

A friend recently shared with me how her husband fell into yearlong depression after he was laid off from his finance job during the global economic meltdown in late 2008. He’d worked hard all his life, thrived on the pressures and challenges of his work, and enjoyed the money he earned. Becoming unemployed for the first time in his midforties was a huge kick in the gut, and one he didn’t cope with very well.

There’s no two ways about it: Losing your job is hard. Whether it has everything to do with your performance, or nothing at all, it’s still hard. However, if you look at job loss, like any setback from an enlarged perspective, you realize that success in life is measured far less by our opportunities than by how we respond to life’s setbacks and challenges.

The story of my friend’s husband is one I’ve heard many times. The challenge people in that situation face is how they handle not only the loss of their job, but the many emotions that can arise. These range from a sense of humiliation, failure and vulnerability, to anxiety, resentment and self-pity. Sure, losing your job can be a blow to your back pocket, but it’s often an even bigger blow to your ego and self worth.

Over the last few years, millions of people have found themselves involuntarily out of work—too often through no fault of their own. This year, many will again. But whether the reason you lost your job has everything to do with your perceived performance, or absolutely nothing, it’s how you respond in the wake of it that will set you apart from others when it comes to finding a new job.

When it comes to a successful job hunt, attitude is everything. A proactive and positive mindset will differentiate you from the masses, making all the difference in how “lucky” you get in an unlucky economy. It will even determine whether you one day look back on this time with some measure of gratitude for what you gained from it — whether it was the chance to re-evaluate your life, spend extra time with your family, teach your kids about budgeting, or to simply re-affirm what matters most.

Confucius said that our natures are alike (i.e. no one likes being sacked), it’s our habits are that separate us. Below are seven habits to separate yourself from the pack, move your job application to the top of the pile, and land yourself not only back into a job, but perhaps an even better one than before.

1. Stay future-focused

It’s easy to get stuck in the past and what shoulda-woulda-coulda happened, but didn’t. Doing so only perpetuates destructive emotions that fuel anger, self-pity and a sense of powerlessness. Focus on the future, and on what you need to do to set yourself up as well as possible on the job front, in how you are budgeting your money, and in your relationship with those who can help you find a new job. What you focus on expands, so focus on what you want, not on what you don’t.

2. Don’t let your job status define you

Sure, losing your job is a very personal experience, but don’t take it too personally. Who you are is not what you do. Never was. Never will be. Research by psychologist Marty Seligman found that the biggest determinant between those who succeed after setbacks of any kind is how they interpret them. People who interpret losing their job as a sign of personal inadequacy or failure are less likely to ‘get back on the horse’ in their job hunt than those who interpret it as an unfortunate circumstance that provided a valuable opportunity to grow in self-awareness, re-evaluate priorities and build resilience.

You define who you are, not your job or a company’s decision whether or not to employ you. Don’t take it as a personal rejection against you. It may well be due to economic forces far beyond your control that you found yourself out of work. Potential employers will be more attracted to people who have proven their ability to stay positive and confident despite a setback/job loss.

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3. Prioritize self-care

When you’ve lost your job it is all too easy plant yourself on the couch, remote in one hand, beer or bag of chips in the other, and wallow in self-pity. Many do! But mental and emotional resilience requires physical resilience. So be intentional about taking care of YOU and doing whatever it takes to feel strong and fit. (After all, you now have no excuse that you don’t have time for exercise.) Studies have found that exercise builds resilience, leaving you more immune to stress. Get outdoors, go for a run, do some gardening, or just do something that lifts your spirits – whether building your kids a cubby house or taking your dog to the beach – and helps to shift the negative emotions that have the potential to keep you from being proactive in your job hunt.

4. Surround yourself with positive people

Emotions are contagious. The people around you impact how you see yourself, your situation and what you do to improve it. Be intentional about who you hang out with and don’t get sucked into the vortex of those who want a marathon pity party. It wastes precious time and energy far better spent getting back into the workforce. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, and avoid those who don’t. Read positive books, watch inspiring movies, and remember that your family will take their cue from you. Let them know that while you may not have chosen your circumstances, you are confident that with time and effort, you will all pull through together, and be all the stronger and wiser for it.

5. Tap your network

The more people who know what you want, the more who can help you get it. The vast majority of jobs are never advertised. So the adage “Your network is your net worth” is particularly relevant when it comes to finding those jobs that are filled via word of mouth. Reach out to people you know and enlist their support in making any introductions or connections that could help you. Whatever you do, never underestimate the power of your network to open up opportunities and land you that “lucky break” you were hoping for.

6. Treat finding a job as a job

If you feel the need, and can afford to do it, give yourself a break for a few days or week or two. But assuming you can’t afford a year sailing the world on the Queen Mary, don’t take too long before returning to your familiar routine. Create structure in your day. Sure you have more time on your hands than you had before, but you will be amazed at how little you can do in a day if you aren’t intentional about what you want to get done. Create a job search plan with goals and small manageable steps. Then prioritize, structure your day and treat finding a job as a job.

7. Extend kindness

It’s pretty simple really: extending kindness toward others makes us feel good. It’s not just a nice thing to do something for others – whether helping a neighbor or volunteering in a local soup kitchen – it’s actually a helpful thing to do for ourselves. Yes, scientists have found that acts of kindness produce some of the same “feel good” chemicals in the brain as anti-depressants. In addition, when we give our time to help others, it helps us stop dwelling on our own problems, and makes us realize how much we have to be thankful for. It can also can be an effective way to build your network, and show potential employers you are not sitting idly by waiting for work to come your way. There’s no better mood booster than making a difference for someone else, even when you wish your own life were different than it is.

Margie Warrell is a bestselling author, executive life coach, media personality, and frequent keynote speaker. Author of "Find Your Courage: 12 Acts for Becoming Fearless in Work and in Life" (McGraw-Hill). Visit www.margiewarrell.com.

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