AMY LINDGREN: How Long Does It Take to Find a Job?

Amy Lindgren

If you resolved to find a job in the new year, then you’ll be interested in the timeline question. As in, what’s the average timeline for a job search? Not surprisingly, the answer can be quite nuanced. The length of a search can be influenced by everything from geography to industry conditions to the national or local economy.

Despite these variables, study authors do attempt to provide averages for the length of a job search, with conclusions ranging from weeks to years to “It all depends.” That last answer is the one I believe in, given the issues related to data collection.

Here’s an example I share frequently with job seekers concerned about their age. This discussion usually starts with the comment, “I know it’s going to take longer to find work because I’m nearly 60. Older workers have more trouble finding jobs.”

At this point, he or she will describe a study with statistics showing older workers taking 10 months or two years or some similarly appalling length of time to land a new job. But I have yet to see a study asking the respondents what they did during each week or month after their job loss. Instead, they’re asked: How old are you? How long did this last job search take?

Were they to give a detailed list of activities, the respondents’ answers would reflect what I hear every week from my clients: I took the first months off to resolve family issues…I still had health coverage so I used it for a surgery…I was trying to decide what work I wanted to do next.

The point is clear: Raw numbers describing how long it took someone to find a job don’t necessarily indicate how long it will take you. Unless you know the full story, there’s little you can transfer from someone else’s experience to yours.

I have a better idea, and one which has been working very well over all the years I’ve been recommending it: Decide when you need to return to work and build your strategy around that date.

You probably noticed the key words embedded in that sentence, but just in case, here they are again: Decide, build, strategy. For some people, this concept can be a mental sea-change, since it’s been a touchstone for ages that you find a job by answering ads.

Okay, but here’s the problem: You’re not in control of that timeline. Of course you control whether and when you peruse ads and complete an application. But you don’t control whether and when a suitable ad will be posted. Nor can you control how quickly someone will respond to your application, or which irresistible candidates might outshine you.

The problem with all this loss of control is that you can’t influence your own timeline, so slow ad weeks lengthen your search. Now, if you firmly believe that every job opening is advertised, then it only makes sense to scan the postings day after day. But since you probably don’t believe that, it’s time to ask yourself: When do you need to return to work? What’s your strategy?

Although your answers will be personal, and your strategy needs to be shaped around your industry, I can provide some guidelines. First, if you use an 80-20 rule – only 20% of your time spent responding to ads, the rest dedicated to a targeted outreach designed for your field – then you can control how many people you talk with every day. With practice, you’ll graduate to reaching decision-makers, which will shave eons off the opportunities you pursue.

Second, if you’re willing to compromise some of your criteria, you’ll instantly broaden the pool of available positions. Whether that means a change to your salary or your level or the companies you target all depends on you and your field. But as a general rule, the more criteria you require, the fewer there will be of the thing you seek – which usually means a longer search.

Finally, if you can dedicate 2-4 hours every business day to your search, with most of it directed to outreach, I can offer a confident estimate of 12 weeks, with slight variance for individual employers. Not able to spare so many hours? This will still work, as long as you do something daily; you’ll just need to adjust the timeline to accommodate the slower pace.

I’ll pick up the trail on this process in a few weeks. But don’t wait for me – dive in, to see what you can get done in the meantime. Start by deciding when you need to be working, and you’ll have the main ingredient for your job search project timeline.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.

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