You’d think a 42-year-old professional would be above such juvenile headlines, wouldn’t you?

I simply couldn’t resist the temptation, however — and also wanted to make sure my headline grabbed your attention, since I feel impassioned to share a few thoughts today on a certain type of “stool” that actually does make a big difference in the career transition process.  It’s the three-legged stool of job lead generation, professional development, and stress management.

In my experience, the majority of professionals continue to underestimate the challenge of finding meaningful employment in today’s world.  While the market is definitely getting better, as I blogged about a few days ago, it’s still tough sledding out there.  And for whatever reason, most of the people I meet still seem to expect that their job hunt is likely only going to take 1-2 months at most, versus the 8-10 months that continues to be the national average according to the U.S. Department of Labor.  You’ll find an article here discussing these statistics in detail, if interested.

Sure, we could quibble with the exact figures in this article to some degree (e.g. the figures cited are national, not local, and ONLY count those people actively drawing unemployment, versus those who jump from one job straight to the next, etc.) but you get my overall point: finding a job today usually takes longer than people think.  And unless you’re an HTML 5 programmer or a specialized medical professional, you’re probably not as immune to these trends as you think.

In light of this, the smart money is on those professionals who embrace the current realities of job hunting, up front, and take active steps to cope with and combat them.  ANY plan is better than NO plan in this regard.  As with dieting, exercise, or achieving any other tough goal in life, your odds of success increase greatly if you put a systematic regemin in place to help you stay confident, focused, and on track.  Acting randomly doesn’t generate encouraging results.  And lobbing a few resumes out to employers here and there, when you feel like it, isn’t a very winning strategy.

So while I know it’s not everybody’s favorite thing to think about, I continue to preach the value of building a properly-constructed job search plan, right from the outset, if you find yourself laid off or facing the need to hunt for a new opportunity.  For best results, your plan should go beyond the one-dimensional facet of simply generating job leads.  Instead, as mentioned above, you should also incorporate specific action steps and commitments that will help address two other important issues that develop during the unemployment process: 1) the atrophication of your skills, as time passes between assignments; and 2) the natural feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression that will tend to creep in as the months roll on.

For example, were we to adopt the three-legged-stool metaphor in putting such a plan together, the three “legs” might be built around activities such as the following:

Leg #1: Job Lead Generation

— Make sure your LinkedIn profile is fully optimized with the right keywords
— Post your resume on several of the top Internet boards (unless you’re searching confidentially)
— Routlinely scan (manually or via alerts) top job websites for published openings
— Locate and contact as many recruiters as you can find that work in your industry/functional area
— Widely and continuously spread the word of your availability to your network
— Identify specific companies that are right up your alley and pitch yourself to them directly

Leg 2: Professional Development

— Identify skills you have that might be rusty and upgrade them via formal classes or self-study
— If there are critical new skills  or qualifications emerging in your field, find a way to acquire them
— Attend professional association meetings to learn about new developments in your field
— Regularly read industry blogs and trade publications to stay abreast of current trends
— Volunteer for projects (e.g. schools, non-profits, etc.) to gain experience and build your portfolio
— Consider contract or temp work, if needed, to generate cash flow and keep your skills sharp

Leg #3: Stress Management

— Spend quality time with a “support system” of friends, family members, and positive people
— Devise an exercise regimen to burn off stress and increase your energy level
— Embark on a diet of some kind to help look your best and maintain a positive self-image
— Consider practicing stress reduction techniques like yoga and meditation
— Do good works; put your extra time to use to helping those less fortunate than yourself
— Keep a “gratitude journal” to help maintain perspective about the positive things in your life
— Commit to achieving a non-career-related goal that’s totally under your control

The above lists aren’t meant to be all-inclusive — just examples of some immediate things that came to mind in terms of the three areas highlighted.  And I’m also not suggesting that everybody should do ALL of these things, by any means.  There wouldn’t be enough time in the day.  But if you can come up with a balanced mix of activities that work for YOU, and stick to them consistently, you’re going to have a major advantage over those job hunters who just dive into the deep end of the pool without thinking about it.  As well as over those professionals who focus their entire attention on the process of chasing job leads, versus attending to other important factors (skill-building and stress reduction) that will help you be more successful in the long run!