Anybody who has worked with a career coach or gone through an outplacement (i.e. “employer-paid career assistance”) program in recent years has inevitably been hit with one of the “gospel truths”  that folks in my field have been reciting since the dawn of time: “If you’re unemployed, guess what?  Looking for a job is your new full-time job!”

There’s an increasing amount of chatter out there, however, suggesting that this cardinal rule of job hunting might have outlived its usefulness — and that running a true full-time job hunt, encompassing 40 or more hours of focused effort per week, is no longer than the best path to getting hired.  The argument that a few of my colleagues in the field are making has several different elements to it.  For starters, some claim that putting in so much time each week into finding work can easily become demoralizing, stressful, and ultimately counterproductive, especially if an individual isn’t seeing direct results that correlate with the extra time being invested.  Others emphasize that people should devote less of their available time into finding leads, and more time into making themselves more marketable for various opportunities by working to enhance and upgrade their skills through classes, certification courses, and self-study.

Another camp, still, is trumpeting a very unique and somewhat newfangled perspective.  Several highly-regarded experts in the field are pointing out that if most of the hiring in our society comes from networking, and quality networking is built around finding shared interests and common ground with other people, then a job hunter will often get farther, faster by spending the majority of their time attending to their personal hobbies — as opposed to trying to connect with people strictly on a professional level, in an attempt to find work.  One great article on this very notion can be found here, published by Peter Bergman in Harvard Business Review.  Additionally, the career-change book “Working Identity” by Herminia Ibarra (which I recently reviewed in this blog) follows a similar theme, suggesting that people will have more success finding their proper calling in the world if they just get out and bump into lots of different people, doing different things, versus taking the career exploration challenge too seriously — or approaching it too formally.

Again, this is an interesting notion to ponder, and I’m tempted to agree, in part, that the shortest path to a new job may not necessarily and always be a straight line.  Now that job hunting has become a much more commonplace activity in today’s world of work, it appears that a number of tried-and-true traditional search strategies — such as attending professional association meetings and contacting people through sites like LinkedIn — have lost a certain amount of their effectiveness, due to saturation by folks anxiously seeking new employment.  I’m not saying these approaches have lost ALL of their effectiveness, mind you, but as I’m sure a lot of people have realized, it’s hard to find many public networking events these days where one doesn’t sense that the ratio of decision-makers to professionals-in-transition is dwindling rapidly.  So it might very well make sense for out-of-work professionals to tone down some of their traditional job-finding activities and retool their job hunting strategy to include a stronger mix of “authentic” engagement in things such as sports and recreation, hobby groups, volunteerism, and the like.

Additionally, as I’ve always maintained to my clients, the old “looking for a job is a full-time job” guideline doesn’t take into account the qualitative difference of the hours spent searching.  In other words, I’d rather have a properly-trained job hunter engaging in 4 hours of the “right stuff” each week than blindly plowing through 40 hours of the “wrong stuff” such as surfing hundreds of Internet job sites, endlessly tweaking their resume, etc.

Long story short, I can’t help but agree with the mounting evidence that the job market is going through a peculiar state of flux right now, and that much of the traditional wisdom about finding work is slowly losing its luster.  With the increasing breakdown of personal and professional boundaries (remember the days before 24×7 e-mail communication?  or when people took formal coffee and cigarette breaks?  or when one got to work at 9:00 and left at 5:00?) it might very well be that attending vigorously to one’s personal interests is the best path for achieving professional success, as well.

Your comments, as always, are welcomed…