As anybody who has worked with me knows, I don’t tend to sugercoat discussions about the current job market and what it takes to succeed in it.  While I try my best to provide positive feedback through my coaching role, and empower people in a multitude of different ways, I also acknowledge that I’m dealing with mature adults tasked with making important decisions about their lives, their careers, and their futures — and that I therefore owe it to these individuals to “get real” and give it to them straight, even if my assessment of their situation isn’t as upbeat as they might have been hoping.

Along these lines, I’ll confess, I’m amazed by how many people I come across who still don’t seem to grasp the current state of the job market and how challenging conditions are out there.  Granted, if we looked hard enough, we could likely round up a small sample of individuals who have somehow managed to land on their feet in record time (a month or two) following a recent job termination or layoff.  For whatever mysterious reason, the recession doesn’t seem to lay a glove on certain folks.  Perhaps they’ve got some “immune” gene or were just born lucky.  Who knows.  But if you’re in transition, I’d urge you to avoid comparing yourself to these people, since I could line up several hundred clients in a heartbeat who would testify that finding a job in less than 90 days is not “the norm” right now and that people should be preparing to run a marathon, not a sprint, in terms of finding their next assignment.

So if you’ve just joined the ranks of the unemployed, or have been job hunting for a while in relative isolation, here are a few observations I’d share with you in terms of what you’re likely to experience, based on what my clients are reporting back to me every day:

— Your job search is likely to take 6-12 months or longer, especially if you’re being somewhat selective, are targeting high-wage assignments at the mid-to-senior level, and are unwilling to relocate out of the Puget Sound area.  THIS IS THE NORM.

— The fact that you’ve never had a problem finding a job in the past is largely irrelevant; many extremely successful, well-educated people are finding it extremely difficult to generate interviews and land offers right now.  THIS IS THE NORM.

— While you’ve got to go through the motions, of course, simply to collect your unemployment benefits, sending out resumes in response to published advertisements is unlikely to generate even a single hit unless you have relevant industry experience and near-perfect credentials for the role in question.  THIS IS THE NORM.

— As you tap into your network and try to develop referrals through friends and former colleagues, you’ll find that some people you were counting on to come through for you will flake out, and disappoint you greatly, while other folks you didn’t know all that well will unexpectedly step up to the plate and offer heroic assistance.  THIS IS THE NORM.

— You’ll be shocked at how hard it is to get feedback from employers and recruiters about your viability as a candidate, as well as by the lack of communication, courtesy, and follow-up that often takes place even after you start interviewing with a company.  THIS IS THE NORM.

— Your emotional state will oscillate between fear, anxiety, confusion, shame, and self-doubt — mercifully punctuated by the occasional surge of adrenaline/excitement you’ll get when an employer actually calls you back and wants to meet with you.  Don’t worry, if you’re feeling this way, you’re not losing your marbles.  THIS IS THE NORM.

Not the most cheerful prognosis, I know, but it’s an honest one.  And it’s pretty safe to assume that “this too shall pass” and brighter days will lie ahead for the job market, hopefully as soon as next year.  But in the meantime, as we ride out the storm, it’s imperative for everybody who is unemployed to realize that they are not unusual and they are not alone. I’ve had a number of people call me in a panic lately, having experienced one or more of the things from the above list, and in each case they seemed to assume that they were either uniquely unemployable or must be doing something horribly, horribly wrong in terms of their search methods.  In most cases, after looking at their resume and listening to how they’ve been approaching the process, I assure them that they’re more or less doing everything right — and that their lack of success, to date, is likely due almost entirely due to external factors (i.e. the tight job market) instead of some fatal flaw they’ve inherited as a professional.

These assurances may seem like cold comfort, but I usually hear a great deal of relief on the other end of the phone when I tell people that what they’re going through may be difficult, and unfortunate, but at the same time is relatively normal for an experienced professional in transition right now.  For better or worse, this news seems to lift the weight off their shoulders, at least to some small degree.

Does this mean that people can’t improve their success rate with proper coaching?  Or that they can’t beat the odds by outhustling, outworking, and outsmarting their competition?  Absolutely not.  There are a growing number of professionals today who are mastering the art of networking — and marketing themselves — and these skill sets are unquestionably helping them shave weeks or months off the length of their search.  But not everybody aspires to being a gifted, genius-level job seeker.  If one is patient enough, and can muster the emotional and financial reserves to hold out, one can still run a normal job search and expect normal results.  Just realize, though, if you go this route, the definition of “normal” may have changed significantly than what you’ve likely experienced in years past!