As I write this we’re in the depths of February. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the rain is constant and the sun is scarce. Even though I know spring will eventually come, at this point in the year it always seems like winter will never end.
It can feel like that when you’re job searching too, especially when the process takes longer than you thought it would. The job search has so many ups and downs, and at times it can feel like it will never end. It will end eventually of course, but as you’re in the midst of the process it can be hard to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
A longer than expected job search can be very challenging, yet it’s important to maintain perspective and positive energy throughout the process. I recently asked several social impact professionals who landed great jobs after searching longer than they had anticipated to share their advice for others going through a similar experience. Here are their recommendations.
Your search will probably take longer than you think
And that’s totally normal. I see this consistently with job seekers who are just starting out and are expecting to be employed in a new role within one or two months. While that’s certainly possible it’s a pretty aggressive timeline, especially since it often takes at least that long to go through an interview process. How long your search will take is highly individual and depends on many factors including how much time you devote to it, how big a shift you are trying to make, the market you’re in and the skills you have, and the strategy and approach you use.
That said, I advise my clients that the minimum timeframe to plan for is about three months, and that’s if you are working on your search pretty exclusively and moving to something very similar to what you’ve previously done. If you’re making a career transition, job hunting while employed full-time, or have other factors that may slow down your progress, six to twelve months is a more realistic timeline. This is often a surprise to many job seekers.
Michelle, who eventually landed a job in what she describes as her dream company, shares that her job search took almost a year. “When I left my job I assumed I would be in another position in about three months. I was obviously mistaken!” Layla, whose transition from a nonprofit to a university also took around a year, agrees: “The search took far longer than I anticipated, and required me to put even more energy and time than I thought was needed.”
This is not meant to discourage you, but to help you to set realistic expectations and make contingency plans. As the saying goes, “hope for the best and plan for the worst.” If your search does take six to twelve months or longer, have a plan for how you will support yourself and your family financially. Especially if you are planning a bigger career transition, start saving well in advance so that you have a cushion for a longer search timeline. If you land a job sooner you won’t mind the extra savings, and if not you won’t be so stressed or tempted to take a job that isn’t right for you just for the paycheck.
Finally, stay open to pursuing other types of employment while you’re searching. Temp, contract, and consulting work are a great bridge to provide income and gain experience as you’re searching, and can often lead to full-time opportunities. This was key for Michelle who shares, “Don’t be afraid to think outside the box for networking and income. I temped the majority of the time I was looking for a job, which not only gave me a revenue stream but helped me meet a lot of wonderful people and gain new experiences.”
You can’t do it alone
As hard as it may be, to be successful in the job search you have to ask for help. The sooner you can start doing that, the more effective and efficient your search process will be. Deborah, who landed a role that is the perfect fit for her background after about eight months of active searching and six months of planning, was initially resistant to reaching out to her network rather than just applying online to jobs. Her advice to others based on her experience? “Do more networking, less job applications. In fact, the sooner you can throw the fraught ‘networking’ term out the window, the better. It really helped me to focus on networking not as some artificial mechanism but rather as a means to connect.”
Michelle agrees, and shifted her approach after finding little success applying online. “The reality is you are far more likely to get a job through your network than by applying online,” she says. “I had to realize that I needed to go to more events, meet more people, reach out to connections, and get out there!” She agrees with Deborah’s sentiment about reframing networking as a way to genuinely connect with others and says it help to build her confidence, which is critical to success but often takes a hit during an extended search. “I think of networking more broadly – taking someone for coffee, meeting a friend of a friend in the industry you’re interested in, volunteering. Those plus the traditional networking events will help you get a job you love and make you more confident in general. Job interviews are all about confidence, and if you spend time getting out your nerves and practicing your pitch in casual meetings, you’ll be more polished in your interviews.”
In addition to asking your network for help, finding other job seekers to connect with can be invaluable, especially during those times when you just need to vent. It’s important to maintain a positive attitude when you’re interacting with potential employers, but the reality is that you’ll have some days, even weeks, when you’re just not feeling it. Connecting with others who are going through a similar experience is critical to help you get through these times and realize you’re not alone.
Michelle credits joining my group coaching program and meeting other job seekers as a pivotal point in her search. “Job Search Bootcamp really was a turning point in many ways. Having a group of people going through the job search process was wonderful. If you can find some people to brainstorm with and ask for advice, the process is much easier.” Layla, who participated in the same program and also built her own support group of former co-workers, friends, and other contacts agrees. “The feedback, connections, coaching, and suggestions that I received from those folks kept me afloat even when I felt hopeless. Having people to talk to throughout the process that understood how stressful and challenging a long job search can be was so important and necessary.”
Let go of perfection and focus on what you can control
One of the hardest things about the job search is the uncertainty. While it doesn’t always feel like it, you will land a new job eventually – you just don’t know when, how, or where. This uncertainty, combined with the frequent rejection that is a given part of the process, can lead to an emotional rollercoaster that is hard to jump off of.
The antidote to this is twofold: keep your focus on the elements of the search that you can control (where you put your energy, how you prepare for meetings, etc.) and let go of the idea of the “perfect” job. While it’s great to know what your dream job might look like, it can be very dangerous to get too attached to any one job or organization and it can completely derail your search if that opportunity does not pan out. The more options you have, the less attached you will be to any of them and the more confidence and control you will feel over the process.
Layla was able to adopt this mindset over time. “What worked for me – when I could tap into it – was a balance of singular focus and intention with a kind of ‘letting go’ of results,” she shares. “I had to concentrate and focus hard to search for jobs, make new contacts, write cover letters, tailor resumes and prepare for interviews; and all of that felt so much less stressful when I could detach from the anticipation of being offered the job.”
“This was not as easy to do as it is to talk about in hindsight,” she says. “It was a process I had to learn over time. When I was offered the job that I have now, I had accepted that I might not get the offer and I was already making plans for how I would continue my job search by exploring a different angle. My mind was open to new possibilities and ready to move on in case I didn’t get the offer.”
Michelle also realized she needed to shift her mindset. “At a certain point I took a step back to my original goals and realized I needed to open up my search a bit and not be so focused on the ‘perfect job’. That I could find a job at a company I loved and grow into my goals.” She also emphasizes the importance of not taking it personally when things don’t work out, as difficult as that can be. “I think it’s important not to get down on yourself – you can’t help that they chose the other person. Who knows why they did, but it’s nothing you can control. That’s why it’s so important to try to get that personal connection to the job you’re interviewing for, to have someone vouch for you and give you an edge.”
Final thoughts on staying resilient
No matter how long it takes, job searching is challenging and draining for many people. Taking good care of yourself across all dimensions – physically, emotionally, and mentally – is crucial to ensure you’ll have the energy to keep going, especially if your search is a marathon rather than a sprint. Make sure you’re building in some time to do the things that bring you energy, whether that’s exercise, time with friends, volunteering, or other hobbies, so that you can keep your focus and motivation high throughout the process.
It’s also important to revisit your strategy if you’ve been searching for a while and not seeing the results you want. Take a fresh look at the types of roles and organizations you are targeting, how you’re telling your story, and how you are spending your time. Check out these tips I shared in a previous post to help you get going again if you’re feeling stuck, and consider working with a coach to shift your strategy and mindset so you’ll start seeing different results.
Most importantly, hang in there! You will not be unemployed forever. It may take longer than you think and end up differently than you imagined, but eventually you will find a new job. Remember that while it may not be pleasant or fun, through this process you are learning valuable things about yourself and at some point you will probably look back on this experience as a formative time in your life.
And while you probably don’t even want to think about going through a job search ever again, the reality is that you most likely will. The difference will be that you’ll use everything you’ve learned along the way this time to take a different approach, ensuring that it will not be this hard the next time. As all three of our professionals agree, while being selective about what you target and focusing on work that has a social impact can take a little longer, the payoff in your satisfaction, motivation, and willingness to stay in the job you ultimately find is worth it.