Get back on track after 18 months of unemployment

For starters, put on something other than pajamas or sweats, okay? You're hurting. Prolonged unemployment is brutal. But starting now, you need to get off the couch and into job-hunting shape.

"People who are unemployed think the worst possible outcome is not finding another job," says Richard Bolles, author of the job hunter's bible "What Color Is Your Parachute? (Ten Speed Press, 2002). "Actually, the worst part is losing your self-esteem. You start thinking, 'What's wrong with me?'"

Find ways to inject some confidence and optimism into your life, because they're essential to a successful search. Landing a job during what Bolles calls a "workquake" requires a lot of persistence, and persistence requires energy. Bolles suggests a routine that includes exercise, rest, and plenty of water. Let unemployment drive you to drink, just as long as it's Evian.

Then do your homework: Write down seven experiences at work that you enjoyed, and list the skills that you applied in each case. What leaps out, says Bolles, are your talents and passions.

Now it's time to get creative. According to Bolles, job hunters typically rely on only one or two methods in their search: mailing out a hundred resumes or posting a copy online. Those might have worked before, but not now. Don't limit your search to companies that have openings. Consider companies that you'd like to work for, whether they have openings or not. Arrange informational interviews to develop relationships that could prove beneficial later. This is how you create new job opportunities, says Bolles. Remember, the point is to offer resources that can help a future employer, not simply to beg for employment.

Also, broaden your range of job possibilities. Not sure about a new career direction? Volunteer in order to get an idea of what an industry is like. Or arrange to shadow someone on the job to get a feel for the position. That arrangement may open a door.

If you can't or don't want to leave a particular location, define your job-hunting zone. Drive as far from home as you're willing to commute. Then take out a map, and, using your home as the center and your maximum commute as the radius, trace a circle. Now list all of the companies within that area, and start visiting them. "You want to take action every day, not sit around waiting for something to happen," says Bolles.