Ages ago, back in the last millennium, I distinctly remember sitting in a conference room in downtown Seattle and working with a client who had recently been laid off.  He said that he’d been ramping up his job search and was channeling five or six hours of focused effort into the process, each day, in the hopes of turning up a new opportunity.  He said he felt pretty proud of himself, until he described his ongoing search routine to a mentor and prior boss of his, who simply responded with “that’s all?” and chided him that he should be spending 50 hours a week looking for work — or more — if he was truly serious about finding something.

And again, keep in mind that this was around 1997 or so.

Long story short, there remains a lot of ambiguity about what truly constitutes a “serious” job search effort.  Should one spend an hour a day at the process?  Two hours?  Eight hours?  Every waking moment, hooked up to an intravenous feeding tube as you surf through and other sites?  What level of effort truly demonstrates a person’s commitment to finding their next employment opportunity?

It’s not as simple of a question as you might think.  For starters, there a lot of people who assume the bar should more or less be set according to what the unemployment office tells them, which is that they need to send out three resumes per week to get their unemployment check.  Frankly, this number is insanely low and a disservice, I believe, to today’s job hunters.  Hopefully I don’t have to explain why this is the case, but I’d be severely concerned about the chances of success somebody would have if three submissions per week represented the totality of their efforts.

On the flip side, there’s also the old saying “looking for a job is a full-time job” — implying that people should channel 40 hours of effort, week in and week out, into the process.  Or perhaps even more than that, if my former client’s mentor is to be believed.  And yet, is there truly enough fuel out there for somebody to sustain this level of effort?  Could such a time-intensive commitment end up being counterproductive?  Might the average person end up getting so burned out that they’d likely turn into a desperate, frazzled “job hunting zombie” that employers shy away from and nobody wants to be around?

And then lastly, you have those folks who continually talk about how urgent their situation is — and how highly motivated they are to find something — but then spend weeks procrastinating, working on their house, going on lavish trips, or engaging in other activities that suggest that perhaps their situation isn’t QUITE as dire as they’ve led people to believe.  What’s up with that disconnect?

So at the end of the day, I think each individual job seeker has to look in the mirror and ask themselves whether they’re truly serious about finding a new position — or not — and whether their actions are adequately reflecting this level of commitment.  For example, and to provide at least some sort of benchmark, active job hunters might take a moment and ask themselves:

•  Are you spending a significant amount of time, each day, on the search process?
•  Do you have a clear plan of attack outlining the specific steps/actions you need to complete?
•  Have you made a list of everybody you possibly know?  And contacted them about your search?
•  Are you using LinkedIn regularly to request referrals from relevant “friend of friend” contacts?
•  Do you get out of the house and attend appropriate professional events, meetups, and gatherings?
•  Are you engaging in regular industry reading and training to keep your skills sharp?
•  Have you researched/contacted all of the appropriate recruiters in your field?  Or just a couple?
•  Do you customize each resume and cover letter you send out to maximize their effectiveness?
•  Do you follow up with people multiple times, when you don’t hear anything back?  Or give up?
•  Have you identified and built a list of companies that match your background/interests?
•  Do you conduct at least several hours of research on a company before interviewing with them?
•  Have you actually practiced your elevator pitch and interview answers, out loud, multiple times?

Alternatively, you could ask yourself some of these more “existential” questions:

•  Even if you don’t have a job quite yet, are you proud of the effort you’re making to find one?
•  Would an outside observer be impressed by how you’re approaching this challenge?
•  Are you getting out of your comfort zone on a regular basis — or do you avoid certain activities?
•  Do any of the steps you’re engaging in to find work go beyond what the “average” job hunter likely does?
•  Are you actively seeking to turn up hidden opportunities or simply chasing published leads?

Just to be clear, I don’t think there’s necessarily a right answer or a certain “score” one needs to be shooting for in terms of the above questions.  And honestly, there are also many individuals out there who don’t need to be quite as serious about this process as others, due to their financial situation or where they stand in terms of their life/career arc.  And yet, for those professionals who really do need to find something sooner, rather than later — or who simply love to work and hate the feeling of uncertainty that comes from being between assignments — I’d encourage you try to adopt as many of the above practices as possible into your routine.

Ultimately, job hunting is fairly simple.  It’s just not necessarily easy.  And like any other obstacle in life, the more time, creativity, courage, and structure you bring to bear in your efforts, the better your results will inevitably be.  So where do you stand?    Are you serious about your search — or not quite there yet?  Any other factors some of you would propose that might help an individual gauge this effectively?