You’ve been fired. Let go. Downsized. Kicked to the street. You poor thing!

You quit. Walked out. Hasta la vista. Good for you!

It doesn’t matter how it happened. You’re without a job, and you need another one. It’s time to make a plan. Initiating a job search can feel scary and intimidating. Where to start? Think of it as a step-by-step process and it can be a manageable, fulfilling journey. Let your job search unfold in stages, each new phase building on the previous one. And it all starts in your head.

Take Time Out. The very first thing to do is get yourself into the right mental space. This is especially important if the breakup with your previous employer was sudden or harsh. It’s okay to grieve. This may involve a short vacation or long walks, but it’s important that you eventually pack up your negative baggage. If you’re feeling aggrieved by your previous employer, find a quiet place and write it all down. Still upset? Write more. Get it all out, then file it. Your feelings are real, but they’re like spinach in your teeth. If you don’t clear them away, they’ll be the only thing an interviewer sees.

Ramp Up. Now you’re ready to lay the groundwork. This is where you perfect your resume and build out your LinkedIn profile. Be sure to share them with friends, family members, and professional colleagues. Ask for feedback and make refinements. If you have samples of your work, assemble them into a portfolio or web site. Then, identify your three professional references. Your objective in this stage is to gather everything that will show you off to a future employer.

Get Educated. It’s not a good idea to enter a triathlon if you don’t know how to swim. Before you jump into your job search with both feet, identify what you still need to learn. Do you need to brush up or acquire a new skill? This could be a good time to enroll in a degree or certificate program. Another way to fill in the gaps is with online classes, books, and professional magazines.

Your education isn’t limited to technical skills. You should also be studying the industries and companies that will be the target of your job search. Start reading job postings. This will help you identify the skills you want to emphasize once you start applying. Finally, if you’re looking for a job in a new city, start reading their local news. This gives you a way to connect with a prospective employer.

Start Talking. Now it’s time to build your network. How is this done? Think of a series of concentric circles, like ripples on a lake. Start close in, with people you know. Offer to buy coffee for friends, family members, or colleagues. Ask if they know companies or people you might contact. Better yet, can they make an introduction for you? These contacts then become your next layer of connections. Meanwhile, you become more and more comfortable talking about yourself. And keep in mind that networking is reciprocal. Ask if there’s something you can help with. Perhaps you can share a good contact or do some freelance or volunteer work.

Apply, Apply, Apply. Here you are at step five and you haven’t applied for a single job. But now you’re ready. Your resume is ready. Your attitude is ready. You should have a good idea of what you’re looking for and where you’re looking. This is the time to start writing those cover letters and filling out applications.

This phase can feel like a grind if it seems like you’re submitting plenty of applications and getting few responses. Keep at it, and at the same time circle back to things you were doing in earlier phases. Refine your resume. Reach out to your network. Read a book or take an online class. And keep that positive outlook. Your hard work and persistence will pay off.

Celebrate! You land that great job, and all you can think about is getting back to work. But don’t forget the importance of gratitude and celebration. The first person you need to congratulate is yourself. Do an exuberant Happy Dance or take yourself out to dinner, but give yourself credit for a well-played job search. Then, send personal thank-you notes to everyone who helped with contacts, support, and well-wishes. Now go tackle that new job!

This is another blog article I wrote for my friends at AptoZen.

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