How long is this going to take?

Good Monday morning,

This Memorial Day is a good time to take stock of your career and what the rest of 2019 holds in store for you.

If you’re looking to change jobs to take advantage of the extraordinarily hot economy and terrific employment market, a reasonable question might be How long will this take?

For the typical high-end professional making between $100K and $500K who is committed to looking for a new full-time role, the answer is that you should expect to spend about 10 hours per week over the next six months.  While you react in horror to that statement, I’ll remind you that there is a reason it is said that finding a job is another full-time job.  It is a tremendous investment of time and energy, especially for an uncertain, unknowable outcome.

Unlike other major life events, such as having a baby, going on vacation, or planning your wedding, there is no way to predict when your job search will end.  On top of the unpredictability, you’ll likely have several opportunities in progress at once, each with its own schedule, setbacks, and outcomes. Some days will see a flutter of favorable activity that cause your heart to leap.  Others will be saddened as a favored job slips out of your grasp. All the while, your sense of urgency and the desire to see the search come to a close will come into conflict with the sometimes slow-spinning wheels of Corporate America.  And as happens so often, the best and most desired jobs may remain tantalizingly out of reach while the slightly-less-thrilling sure bet lands in your lap, tempting you to settle.

As you think about your search, you want to chart a path between overdoing it, leading to burn out after a few weeks, and taking a too-relaxed approach that sees your search linger along for years without progress or conclusion.  The discipline this requires is your professional discipline — the ability to stick with it, steadily, for the dozen or two weeks it will take your search to come to fruition.

In that light, setting a 10 hour per week goal for job search activity is a reasonable compromise.  Achieving a great outcome — let’s call it a job in the top 10% of all of the jobs for which you’re a likely fit — is a balancing act against the amount of time you’d like to put into your search.

It’s not at all a science, but if I assessed my gut after twenty years in this business, I’d say the trade-offs are as follows:

Taking the first thing that comes your way? This gives you a 30% chance that you’ve maximized your outcome, but saves you several months of job search effort.

Spending just 2 hours per week on your search increases your chance of maximizing your success to 50%.

Putting in a full 10 hours per week moves that up to 85% chance that you’ll land in the top decile of achievable jobs.

And up to 20 hours per week gives you a 95% chance of optimized success.

It is unlikely that spending more than 20 hours per week on your search will improve your outcome at all as your exhaustion outweighs the benefits.

And while the typical job search in a standard economy can take six months, we are definitely seeing shorter searches currently.

It is simply a remarkable economy for professionals looking to change jobs.  Unemployment among college-educated professionals has dropped to 2.0% in 2019, a historic low.  That means the supply of competition is also historically low. Meanwhile, there are 1.3 job openings per unemployed person in the country — this number was as low as just 0.1 jobs per unemployed person during the recession ten years ago.  That means that the supply of jobs is remarkably strong at the same time.

Huge supply with little demand makes for excellent prospects for you.  What’s more, this excess of demand also assists you in landing multiple offers at the same time, which improves your negotiating position.

Now, while you may be among the beneficiaries of this hot economy, don’t get discouraged if your search drags on past six months.  That really is the typical length of time a search at this level takes from start to finish. Each company has a process and a pace that is appropriate for their hiring needs.  It may take them a month to assemble a slate of candidates. Another month to six weeks for them to be moved through an interview pipeline. Another month for final decisions. All of this time adds up, and if you yourself have hired at this level, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the sometimes plodding pace.

Combined, this means that your first opportunities and outreaches could just be bearing fruit as your final outreach is getting underway. That mismatch in timing will undoubtedly cause consternation in your search, especially if an employer’s needs turn urgent just as you feel you are hitting your stride.

As a result, this Memorial Day is a good time to take stock of the rest of the year ahead and get yourself mentally prepared for what a half-year search would look like in your life.  It’ll require nights and weekends, frequent workday step-outs, and a good amount of exhaustion. Finding a job is a job, and you’ll need to manage it like a job – working at it, concentrating on it, and taking breaks from it.  

Like today.  Enjoy the sunny weather!

I’m rooting for you!