Question: “I’ll confess, I’ve never really had to look for a job before, so it feels really strange to suddenly find myself unemployed and to now have to go ‘sell myself’ to somebody and ask them to hire me. Is this unusual?”

Despite what many people might suspect, the majority of people we encounter who are seeking career coaching and counseling are not ne’er-do-wells or individuals who possess a consistent track record of workplace failure. Instead, we’ve found that most of the people we work with actually have been highly successful to date in their chosen fields — and have only recently had their careers “pop out of gear” due to current economic conditions or other factors. And while in one sense such a career history should foster tremendous pride, since many of these people have engineered a track record of employment that is statistically well above average, it’s also understandable that such individuals tend to feel unusually unsettled by finding themselves suddenly among the ranks of the unemployed.

As a further consequence, we’ve noted that it is precisely these successful sorts of people who also have the most difficult time adjusting to the rigors and challenges of the job search process. For starters, the out-of-control feeling and perceived “lack of success” that comes with needing to look for work often turns out to be a tougher pill to swallow for high-achieving individuals who are used to always being on top and in control of their destiny. Additionally, such folks are also far more out of practice in terms of understanding how to job hunt properly and with regard to the tools, techniques, and resume methodologies that are most productive in the current work climate.

So given this common dynamic that so many people express, here are five key thoughts for any of you out there who may be approaching this process for the first time in a number of years:

— Brace yourself; it’s hard to see incremental progress. Unlike diet, exercise, and the pursuit of other important goals in life, the process of looking for work rarely produces positive feedback on a consistent and predictable basis. There are simply too many variables in play outside of the job hunter’s control. One can send out a batch of 30 resumes, for example, and experience a zero hit rate without this necessarily meaning anything is wrong either with your resume, your cover letter, or your qualifications. So it’s critical that “rookie” job hunters take a patient approach to the market and set up a daily routine that will keep them moving forward — and putting out constant feelers — instead of allowing their activity level to fluctuate or be driving solely based on the feedback level they receive.

— People will be flakier than you expect. Another common observation our clients make is that many of the people they were counting on to help them find work are suddenly exhibiting distant, flaky, or uncharacteristic behavior. Again, while unfortunate, this development is also one that can be anticipated as part of the process. Were it limited to just a few reports, from a few people, we’d simply chide the handful of people exhibiting such behavior. Given that the phenomenon is so widespread, however, we can only conclude that there is something about the world today (e.g. lack of time, multiple competing priorities, cover-your-rear behavior…) that causes people to be less responsive than we remember them being in years past. So don’t be shocked if you experience this same reality when kicking off your job search. Anticipate it, take more personal responsibility for following up with people, and factor it into your overall networking and search strategy.

— Job requirements are inflated and excessive. To an individual who last looked for work in the days of the Sunday want ads, the new breed of Internet employment websites will seem incredibly daunting and discouraging! Now that companies don’t have to pay for every word they publish, they are able to dump dozens of knowledge/skill/ability requirements into each advertisement, with the end result being that almost nobody feels qualified to do anything, anymore, once they read through these “wish lists” of what employers are ideally hoping to find! So remember that most modern published job descriptions are, in fact, idealized, and don’t let this stop you from applying if you have at least the basic set of requirements requested — or feel that you could perform the job at hand.

— Interviewing takes longer. Think your job search is likely to be over in a month or two? While it’s certainly within the realm of possibility, it’s also not highly probable given that the interviewing process itself has now emerged as a time-consuming bottleneck for most organizations. Simply put, given the speed at which organizational priorities now change, hiring managers tend to drag their feet more on shepherding candidates through the interviewing process. As a result, we’ve had clients fight their way through as many as 5-6 months of interviewing before receiving a formal offer, and would encourage newbie job hunters to be prepared for this eventuality, as well.

Alas, while the above four factors would not generally be considered “positive developments” from the standpoint of the typical job seeker, they are, nonetheless, the reality out there — and the faster that transitioning professionals come to accept them, the more they can tailor their search strategy, attitude, and mindset accordingly. And lest one think that everything about the process has changed for the worse, we’d leave you with one final, hard-to-argue-with observation that might provide you with a small degree of comfort, as well as some fresh food for thought…

— There are more opportunities than ever before. Despite some of the annoying new wrinkles we’ve mentioned above, with regard to the job search process, the window of opportunity has also never been more opened more widely to a greater number of professionals. This sweeping statement is based on a number of elements, including the profound increase in diversity hiring (remember who recently won the presidency?) to the availability of information/training on various occupational paths to the fact that successful global companies can now be launched for the low, low price of building a basic website. Additionally, due to the increased turnover and turbulence within organizations, you rarely see situations anymore where capable professionals get “blocked” for years behind unyielding layers of management that clog up the promotional ladder for decades at a time. So while yes, all of us in the Gen X and Baby Boomer ranks will have to mourn the passing of certain workplace rules, etiquette, and traditions, the new marketplace that’s emerging is not without its advantages, as well, for those who proactively recognize and capitalize on them!