New Year, New Job Hunt

I've been getting a lot of e-mails like this lately: "I've sent out 50 resumes and haven't heard a peep. What should I do now?"

And this: "I've been looking high and low for work for two months and keep coming up empty. Help!"

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but sending out a few dozen resumes or pounding the pavement for a couple months is just the tip of the job hunting iceberg -- even in a good economy. Recession or no, it often can take six to 12 months to find a new position that's comparable to your previous one.

Looking for career advice? Click here to send Michelle your questions and they might end up as a topic for her next column.

VIDEO: Job Opportunities in 2009
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In the meantime, you need a reliable way to pay your bills. After all, those meager unemployment checks and sporadic trips to the pawn shop will only go so far.

Herewith, my top suggestions for finding paid work as quickly as possible:

Temp or Work as a Contractor

I've always been a fan of temp and contract work. Not only do these short-lived positions get you out of the house and help line your pockets, they put you in contact with businesses and professionals who may have a permanent position to fill in the future.

Signing up for temp or contract work is also a handy solution to the "Should I take a lesser position?" dilemma plaguing so many professionals right now. Because you're not applying for an employee slot, you don't have to worry about convincing HR that you won't jump ship a few months down the line if and when the job market improves and a better opportunity comes along. You just have to convince them that you'll show for the rest of the month, season or whenever your assignment is up.

As you might imagine, there are temp and contract employment agencies for every vocation under the sun: accountants, lawyers, engineers, Web designers, technical writers, construction workers, call center workers, salespeople and on and on. (For a sampling of contract jobs and agencies, see Sologig.com.)

To get the inside scoop on which agencies near you are the best to work with, check with other folks in your field. (If you don't know any, use a social network like LinkedIn or your industry association of choice to track some down.)

Contact at least three agencies, as you won't hear back from them all. And read the contracts they ask you to sign carefully; you don't want to sign away your right to work with other agencies or to work directly with your agency's clients for the next umpteen years.

Freelance or Work as a Consultant

While full-time freelancing or consulting isn't for everyone, it's a great way to earn some extra cash until something more permanent comes along. (Note that you can't collect unemployment benefits for the hours that you freelance.)

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be a writer to work as a freelancer, and you don't have to have an MBA to work as a consultant. As long as you have a service to offer -- bookkeeping, marketing, administrative assistance -- you can work as an independent professional.

To get your first few clients, send an e-mail blast to everyone you know (including past employers, who often make great starter clients) that you're looking for freelance or consulting projects. Cozy up to other independent professionals right away (see Biznik.com); they'll be one of your best sources of referrals.

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