One of the most pivotal questions to ask yourself at the onset of your job search is: “How long do I think it will take before I find that new job?” This question isn’t merely a matter of curiosity; it serves multiple purposes. It helps set realistic expectations for yourself, and it also provides a framework for your family and friends to understand the journey you’re embarking upon.
When I pose this question to individuals at the start of their job search, the answers are as varied as the people themselves. Some are optimistic, projecting a timeline of just a few weeks or months. Others are more cautious, suggesting it might take up to a year or more.
The truth is, both scenarios are possible. Some job searches do conclude quickly, while others can stretch out for an extended period. However, it’s common for job seekers to initially set an overly ambitious target date for their next employment.
We can’t entirely fault ourselves for this tendency. Our culture encourages us to aim high, to set stretch goals. We’re aware that people depend on us, and we feel the pressure to deliver. But it’s crucial to remember that several factors beyond our control, such as market conditions and economic fluctuations, can significantly influence the length of our job search, regardless of the effort we invest.
Prepare for the Long Haul
As you set your expected timeframe for your next job, it’s vital to ground this estimate in reality. Business thought leader Tom Peters often advises to “under-promise and over-deliver,” and this wisdom is particularly relevant here.
Start by setting a top-line goal, such as, “I will start my new job by December, DD, 20YY.” But don’t pull this date out of thin air; base it on what I like to call your “Runway Calculation.”
To arrive at this calculation, begin with a comprehensive assessment of your current financial standing. Add up your savings, any severance package you may have received, your 401K, and any other financial reserves or “dry powder” you have at your disposal.
Don’t hold back in this calculation. Include all assets, even those you consider “untouchable,” like college savings or home equity. This sum represents your total financial cushion. Divide this amount by your monthly living expenses and any projected additional expenditures to determine how many months you can sustain yourself without further income.
Yes, this exercise may be sobering, but it’s crucial for setting realistic expectations. Some might label this a worst-case scenario, but it serves as your baseline.
Write it, post it, and share it with those to whom you are accountable.
Flexibility is Your Friend
Whether your target employment date is in the near future or further down the line, you can influence that timeline by being realistic about the job requirements you’re willing to accept.
Job seekers often start with a long list of non-negotiables, such as a specific salary increase, a particular job title, or even geographic constraints like working only in certain parts of a city. While these might be valid aspirations, the more rigid your initial requirements, the longer your job search is likely to last.
If you have the financial runway and mental stamina for a prolonged search, then by all means, stick to your guns. But be aware that flexibility early on can prevent the need for drastic changes later in your search, which can lead to stress and even panic.
Starting a job search with a rigid set of criteria and then loosening those requirements as you approach your financial runway can send the wrong signals to potential employers. Just like a house that’s been on the market too long, employers might begin to wonder if there’s a hidden issue with a candidate who’s been searching for an extended period.
This is the third in a series of articles for my upcoming book, “How to Hack Your Next Job Search”. For my readers, I will be sharing insight, observations, and specific coaching on how best to conduct a job search. These strategies are simple, yet diverge greatly from most traditional approaches. It is my goal to share a proven process and cultivate a mindset that will elevate you into the top 5% of job seekers in any particular market or industry.