Begin With Realistic Expectations | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

With job searches taking anywhere from a few months to over a year, it's important to have a game plan from the get-go.
H. Michael Burgett
Contributing Writer

One good question to ask yourself at the start of a search is:

“How long do I think it will take before I find that new job?”

It is an important question for sure, as it is prudent to not only set one’s expectations properly but also to frame a timeline for family and friends.

In asking this question at the start of someone’s search, I often hear a variety of answers. Some candidates will mention a projected duration of a few weeks or months, and others may state a period as long as a year.

While it is true that some job searches can be wrapped up in a matter of weeks, and some may take longer than a year, in my experience job seekers at search initiation typically will set an overly-aggressive expected date of employment.

Who can blame us? We are conditioned to set stretch goals. There are a lot of folks depending on us and we know it is ultimately up to us to make it happen. However, one must consider that there are elements outside of one’s control, such as market conditions, that can affect the duration of a search, no matter the effort we put forth.

Prepare for the Long Haul

As we set an expected timeframe for our next date of employment, it is important that this declarative statement is realistic. Business guru, Tom Peters, preaches to “under-promise and over-deliver”, and that is definitely appropriate in this situation.

So let’s begin with setting that top line goal.

“I will start my new job by December, DD, 20YY”.

My recommendation at this point is to make this goal purely based upon your Runway Calculation.

To properly calculate, begin with an assessment of your current financial situation.  Total your current savings, severance, 401K amounts, and any source of “dry powder” that you have available. 

It is important not to hold back any funds in this calculation. Yes, add in college savings, home equity, and other “untouchable” assets. This must be your true total financial nest egg.

This total number divided by living expenses plus projected expenditures will tell you the number of months available without further income, at which point that number depletes to zero.

Yes, this is a harsh reality, but an important exercise in realistically assessing what is in play. Some may call this a worst-case scenario, that is fine – but this is your baseline for setting expectations.

Of course, even with this advice, many will not make this zero-sum depletion date as their declarative deadline, but to be clear this date does exist. Feel free to set your goal sooner to whatever level of comfort you may have, but know that it is better to face harsh reality than to have an artificial date missed. 

Write it, post it, and share it with those to whom you are accountable.

Flex Your Search Requirements Early

Now whether your targeted employment date is near term or presents a longer finish line, you can directly impact that duration with a realistic assessment of the requirements that you are willing to accept in your next job.

Too often a job seeker will begin with an extended laundry list of expectations that they must have in their next role, such as “I must increase my compensation by 20%” or “my title must be at the VP level” or “I will only work in the northern suburbs in this city with no more than a 20-minute commute“. 

While these all may be very valid expectations, the more stringent your requirements are at the beginning of a search, the longer your search may extend.  And if you have a year or more of a runway, then have at it. If you have the mental fortitude to possibly conduct an extended search then go for it.

But remember it will prove most fruitful to begin with a relaxed set of expectations. Yes, there can be some non-negotiable items, but the more flexible you are early will minimize the need to radically change later in a search.

Too often a candidate will begin their search with an extended list of expectations and after several months of an extended search will begin to relax those requirements as they are nearing their runway date. This leads to further stress and in some cases undue panic.

Like a house that has been on the market too long, an employer, like a buyer, may assume there is some hidden issue, whether true or not. However, properly aligning to the market at the start can in effect shorten the cycle for a successful transition.

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.

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