Question: “How long will it take me to find a job?”

In the career counseling profession, this question more or less plays the equivalent role that “what’s the meaning of life?” plays in philosophical circles.  It’s a big, sticky, ambiguous topic and really tough to answer with any real certainty given the multiple variables involved.  And yet everybody seems to want to know the answer to it, so I felt I’d share a few additional thoughts on the subject beyond the initial observations shared in the “Career Tips” section above…

Initially, my thought in responding to this question was to pick it apart, logically, and show people why it’s a relatively silly thing to ask.  For example, what does “a job” actually mean?  I suspect most people could have a job in the next 24 hours if they really wanted one and didn’t impose any specific conditions in terms of salary, working conditions, commute, etc.  There are certainly tons of available jobs out there, after all, among retailers, fast food joints, temporary staffing firms, and the like.  So the essence of the question (as it’s usually asked) is not really how long it will take to find a job, per se, but more along the lines of how long it will take to find “a job that I enjoy and that will pay me roughly what I’m accustomed to earning.”  Sound like a reasonable paraphrase?

This being said, however, let’s not get sidetracked into wording and semantics.  Assuming I’ve captured the typical spirit in which this question is asked, in the rephrasing above, my straightforward answer is that looking for a job these days is a marathon, not a sprint, if you’re a mid-career professional in transition — and that as stated earlier, 6-12 months is a very reasonable and normal timeline in which one can expect success if they are channeling serious effort into the job search process.

On that note, there are certainly some people who will beat this average significantly, as well as some who will be out in the market even longer than a year.  Not knowing which camp you’ll fall into, however, you should gear up for the long haul and design a job hunting routine and game plan that assumes you’ll be at this process for at least a couple of months. After all, to revisit the running analogy, doesn’t one train for and run a marathon much differently than they would a sprint?

For example, when new clients start working with me, I tell them that it might take a a full month or more simply to get their job search ramped up, get their packaging (i.e. resume and elevator pitch) straight, and get their search fine-tuned into a comfortable, efficient routine.  After all, unless you’ve been out of work quite a bit in recent years, there’s going to be a learning curve as you figure out how best to respond to this new and unfamiliar challenge.  One you hit your stride, however, and get the hang of things, the adjustment period will diminish and you’ll then need to settle into the ongoing discipline of doing what it takes, week in and week out, to keep things moving forward and reach your ultimate goal.

On that note, if you’re more than a month into a job search, the following checklist outlines the questions you’ll want to ask yourself on a regular basis to make sure your search stays in a good rhythm — and that you’re controlling all the little factors that will help maximize your odds of success.

— Are you following up on every advertisement until you get a firm ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer?
— Have you submitted your resume to all of the recruiters you can find who specialize in your field?
— Have you let everybody in your network know that you’re available and what you’re targeting?
— Are you circling back around at least once per month to update each person on your progress?
— Have you pulled together a list of target companies to “help people help you” with suitable referrals?
— Are you keeping abreast of the latest news, trends, and developments in your industry?
— Are you tweaking your posted resumes each week to keep them at the top of the on-line pile?
— Are you living your life along the way, despite your situation, and managing any stress accordingly?

Sound like a lot of work?  No question about it — it can be — but again, looking for work should be treated as a “job” in and of itself, and running your job search in this kind of serious fashion is still the best recipe for achieving a rapid, successful outcome.  The days of winging it and assuming a job will find YOU are fading into the sunset as the market becomes mobile, nuanced, and competitive!