This is one of the toughest job markets I’ve seen in my lifetime, and I’ve been around a pretty long time. Sure, the economy is adding jobs, but not fast enough to keep up with population growth, let alone make up for the jobs lost in the 2008 financial meltdown. The sad truth is that more people are exiting the workforce than are joining it.

If you’re out there searching for a job or a better job, the good news is you’ve got lots of company. The bad news is that this is one of those rare situations where misery doesn’t love company because company means competition.

Still, whether you’re right out of school with a fortune in student loans to pay or a baby boomer just beginning to explore the many wonders of age discrimination, it’s important to have faith. Just keep saying to yourself, “I will get through this.” Indeed, you will survive to work – and hate your job – again.  

It also helps to keep your spirits up by rediscovering what’s left of your sense of humor and finding out which of the 10 Stages of a Miserable Job Search you’ve arrived at:

1. Defiance. You’re out on the prowl, hunting for a job. You know what you’ve got to do and it feels good. It feels right. Sure, it’s a challenge, but so what? You eat challenge for breakfast. You put your game face on, do your best impression of Han Solo from Empire Strikes Back and boldly proclaim, “Never tell me the odds,” then get on LinkedIn and start banging away at the keyboard like you’re possessed.

2. Determination. You’ve submitted 10 resumes a day for a month without a single hit to show for it. You think, okay, so that’s how it’s gonna be. With determination in your eyes, you tell your wife, “I’m going to bring home a paycheck or die trying!” She smiles, gives you a big kiss, and says, “I know you will, sweetheart.” The next day she takes out a life insurance policy on you. 

3. Disappointment. Three months have gone by. You wake up at 10, get out of bed at noon, put on your robe, shuffle into the kitchen for a cup of Joe, and realize you can’t remember the last time you showered. So you head into the bathroom, look up in the mirror, and wonder how an old homeless guy got into your house. 

4. Denial. On the 100th day of your unemployment, your wife shoves a stack of past due notices in your face and scoffs, “Now what, big shot?” You force a smile that looks more like the deranged Joker in Batman and say, “No worries, baby. I’ve got everything under control. In fact, I’ve got an interview right now.” You shower, shave, put on a suit, and head right for the liquor store.  

5. Fear. The friendly letters that say, “If you’ve already paid, please ignore this notice” have long ago morphed into bold fire engine red threats of insurance lapses, car repos, collections, and foreclosures. For no apparent reason you look at the bill from the one credit card company that hasn’t dumped you and your wife yet and see a line item for a consultation from the Family Law Offices of Shark & Vulture LLC.

6. Jealousy. A friend calls and starts screaming into the phone about his big promotion to a management job with a six-figure income. You muster a barely audible, “That’s great, bro. That’s really great. Really. Great.” You hang up, then call the local pizza joint, order a dozen Hawaiian pizzas with extra pineapple and have them sent to his house.

7. Self-loathing. Six months in and you finally land an interview. Unfortunately, your fragile self-esteem quit on you long ago. You go through the motions and, when the hiring manager asks if you have any question for her, you say, “This must be a really crappy company to even consider a loser like me.” You leave her office, get in your car, drive straight to Burger King, buy half a dozen Whoppers, go home, close the blinds, and stuff your face.

8. Hope. While your wife is packing to go stay with her sister in Baltimore, you get an email out of the blue from a good company. The job is right up your alley and they’ve been looking for someone just like you. As you head out the door for the interview you pass a mirror and wonder what that weird thing on your face is. It’s a smile.  

9. Celebration. They grill you mercilessly and, just when you think there can’t be anyone left in the company to interview you, the hiring manager comes in and says, “Good news: the job is yours if you want it.” Holding yourself back from kissing him and the receptionist, you race home and run into the house screaming like a little girl. The neighbors are sure you’ve finally lost it.

10. Elation. The night before your first day, you’re so excited you can’t sleep. The job starts at 9. You’re up at 5 and at your desk at 7. You smile like an idiot at everyone you meet. They all think you’re on crack, but you could care less. You’re on the payroll again!  

Congratulations! Since you’ve managed to come this far, you’ve earned a bonus:

11. Acceptance. A month later, the honeymoon is so over. Half the job is paperwork and the company is full of whiners, kiss-ups, back-stabbers, and political players who’ll say or do anything to get ahead. After your micromanaging boss yells at you for something you didn’t even do, you trudge through the parking lot shaking your head. As you drive home with all the other rush-hour lemmings, you realize, crap, it’s only Tuesday.      

Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.

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