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.
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.
The Web is brimming with freelance job sites (a number of them are listed here) but that doesn't mean they're all good. For "work from home" job listings you can trust, see RatRaceRebellion.com (free). And for quality freelance job listings, see FreelanceSwitch.com ($7 a month).
Take Odd Jobs
I have a friend who was laid off from the mortgage industry this past summer who's now driving a school bus part time while going to business school at night and plotting her next career move.
Some people I know would turn down their nose at taking stopgap work like this but my friend couldn't be happier: For one thing, she has a job to go to each week, and it comes with health insurance. For another, she has worked in banks and offices for 15 years and loves the change of scenery her new job affords her.
If you decide to tutor, bar-tend, babysit, walk dogs, clean houses or rent yourself out as a handyperson, there's no law that says you have to put it on your resume or bring it up in interviews for the higher-end jobs you really want. To find odd jobs or list your services online, see this list of job sites on Mashable.com.
Don't be afraid to let friends and family know that you're available for such work, too. My bus driver pal helped a friend clean out her garage for $12 an hour not too long ago. In fact, I was thinking of asking her to help me whip my disaster area of an office into shape this winter.
Even the top economists can't agree on how long this recession will last and when the employment outlook will perk up. If the well has run dry in your field and none of the previous options appeal to you, it might be time for a complete career overhaul.
One of the quickest and least costly ways to get trained to do something else is to get your certification in a field that's still hiring, like insurance appraisal, court reporting and massage therapy.
Certifications from a community college or vocational school take six months to a year on average and will run you anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars (financial aid is sometimes available).
To check on the job prospects for any career training program you're considering, see the Bureau of Labor Statistics' current Occupational Outlook Handbook.
At the very least, you may discover that pushing papers or painting basements is your best bet for the time being.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" and "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" (October 2008) -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com.