Having been in the career coaching field now for almost 20 years, I’ve ridden shotgun THOUSANDS of times on the job hunting process, helping people fire up their employment search and master the latest and greatest methods for tracking down new opportunities.

One paradox that I’ve consistently witnessed, over all these years?  Highly successful people usually make the crummiest job hunters.  At least initially, when they’re just starting their search out, since it’s usually been an inordinately long time since they last had to hustle for a new assignment.  What many folks don’t always realize, at first, is that 1) they’re older and more experienced (i.e. higher up the food chain where jobs are scarcer) and 2) that the whole market has changed around them, while they were safely ensconced in their last assignment.

What “rookie” job hunters find out in a hurry, however, is that the methods and assumptions that served them well when looking for work 10-20 years ago no longer tend to apply.  So in the spirit of helping such folks jump the curve, I’d offer this top ten list of what you might brace yourself to expect, if you’re kicking off a job search after a long and stable period of employment:

#1.  Job hunting takes time.  If you haven’t had to look for a job in many years, or develop an employment opportunity “from scratch” versus being recruited directly into one by friends or headhunters, there’s a good chance you’ll underestimate the amount of time it can take to find your next assignment.  While somebody CAN always get lucky within a week or two, the average professional today should expect to spend 6-12 months hunting for a new position — and should manage their expectations, motivations, and financial resources with respect to this time frame.

#2.  Job hunting takes work.  In the old days, looking for work was more or less a part-time activity.  Aside from circling a few want ads in the newspaper each Sunday, and chatting with a few friends in passing, there just wasn’t all that much you could do — or were expected to do — to find a new gig.  These days, however, you could easily make looking for a job a full-time commitment, investing 40-60 hours a week leveraging different techniques to promote yourself, boost your visibility, and uncover leads.  A comment I hear without fail from almost every new client of mine a few weeks into their job search?  “Matt, I feel busier now than I ever did when I was working!

#3.  Positions are more specialized.  Review any published job advertisement on the web today and chances are you’ll feel grossly inadequate.  Don’t worry.  Everybody does.  Since most employers are determined to achieve “instant gratification” in the people they hire, and don’t have to pay for each and every word they run, as in the old days, they can (and do) write herculean job descriptions that demand 15-25 extremely specialized qualifications.  As a new job hunter, you’ll have to learn to see past this intimidating new reality, developing multiple targeted resumes to focus your credentials on exactly what each given employer says they’re looking for.

#4.  People are more flaky.  While one of the most uplifting things about looking for work today is the amount of help that many people, including complete strangers, will often extend to you — there will also be numerous cases when a close friend or somebody you were counting on doesn’t come through for you.  People routinely report having the “ball dropped on them” throughout the job search process.  Trusted acquaintances will make promises and commitments, often involving introductions to other people, and then totally “go dark” and fail to follow through.  These developments aren’t usually malicious; they’re simply a consequence of the extremely busy lives we all now lead, so you’ll need to not take these setbacks personally, and instead will want to push, prod, and follow-up in gentle fashion to advance your cause in such situations.

#5.  Interviewing takes longer.  Prior to the turn of the milennium, hiring managers seemed to trust their instincts a lot more.  If all went well, and they liked the cut of a candidate’s jib, they would frequently extend an offer after a single interview.  Or two, at the most.  Fast-forward to the new marketplace, and you’ll see companies routinely run candidates through multiple rounds of phone interviews, face-to-face meetings, loop/panel scenarios, personality tests, and background check steps — either because they’re playing things safe or because they’re understaffed and unable to coordinate the interview rounds in efficient fashion.  So if you’re thinking you’re going to land a job in a mere 1-2 months, I’ll warn you, many interview processes alone can take that long to play out!

#6.  Money comes up quicker.  Back in the old days, it was conventional for companies to wait until the final step of the interview process to inquire about a candidate’s salary needs.  Talking money in the early stages of an interview was, in most cases, considered rude or disrespecful.  Not any longer.  If you haven’t yet discovered this, most employers will hit you up with a question about your compensation requirements almost immediately in the first interview — or ask you to supply this information in a cover letter or web application form.  So do whatever research is needed to clarify your compensation goals, right from the get-go, and then make sure you have a polished, confident answer ready to roll when the question about money inevitably rears its head.

#7.  Feedback is scarce.  Another challenging dynamic of modern job hunting is the lack of feedback you’ll receive throughout the process.  Not only will you find employers hesitant to give you any useful input about your interviewing skills or their selection process, for fear of lawsuits, but you’ll also be surprised at how many companies fail to acknowledge (as they used to) that your resume was ever received, to begin with!  So to triumph in today’s search process, you’ll have to have a lot of self-discipline and conduct quite a few activities completely on faith.  Having a thoughtful stress management regimen can also help in combating the ambiguity you’ll experience, as can taking steps to surround yourself with allies, advocates, and positive people.

#8.  Job hunting costs money.  While you’ll want to avoid throwing money at a lot of the fee-based job hunting tools out there (e.g. TheLadders.com) that are of questionable legitimacy, there are still plenty of expenses that crop up in the course of a modern job hunt.  Coffee outings and lunch meetings will certainly take a bite out of your pocketbook, in addition to networking event fees, professional association dues, parking charges, car refuelings, and possibly a new set of interview clothes — or two.  So make sure you budget for these items accordingly, in addition to tracking all your receipts, since the majority of job hunting expenses (check with the IRS) are tax deductible.

#9.  Information abounds.  As somebody who spent the majority of the nineties in the public library, painstakingly copying down company names and contact lists from hardbound directories, I absolutely love the fact that in today’s world almost any type of information a job seeker could want is accessible for free, at the touch of a button.  Not only can you build company lists, identify decision-makers, and explore new industries within seconds using tools like www.zoominfo.com, but you can even dig up internal “dirt” on companies and their hiring processes using company review sites like www.glassdoor.com and www.careerbliss.com.

#10.  Social media is a game-changer.  Lastly, to end on another positive note, the ability for even the most introverted professional to buid, track, manage, and leverage relationships has never been easier thanks to the plethora of social networking technologies that have emerged since the web hit puberty.  LinkedIn.com is the king of the heap in this regard.  But tech-savvy professionals have also found that they can nurture and juggle hundreds of useful relationships via additional sites like Facebook, Twitter, Biznik, Google+ and the like.  Theoretically, I suppose one could continue to do all of their networking via the traditional methods of telephone calls and shoe leather.  But why would you?  If you’re still a bit behind the curve in terms of social media, seize this opportunity to capitalize on some of the many amazing and exciting new ways that people today are able to keep tabs on and communicate with one another.

So there you have it.  A quick rundown of the nearly-inescapable dynamics of the modern employment landscape for those individuals who haven’t had to search for work for a while — and who may need to “jump the curve” and adapt to these new realities.  Without question, the above observations will continue to morph as employers and candidates continue their high-stakes waltz, seeking ways to get acquainted in win/win fashion.  For now, however, these are the top things I’d highlight, based on my long-term experience working with professionals in transition.

Any other items you’d add to the list?  Any other “wake up calls” you might have experienced, yourself, in terms of how looking for work these days is different than in decades past?