How Much Time Should You Spend on Your Job Search?

US News

How much time should you spend on your job search? You'll get a range of answers depending on whom you ask, but one popular answer you're likely to hear repeated is that a job search should be a full-time job itself.

If you're like a lot of job-searchers, you've probably heard that with bewilderment and concern -- and wondered if you're doing yourself a disservice because you're not spending 40 hours a week applying to jobs.

The reality is, though, that job searching isn't really going to be a full-time job for most people, so there's no need to feel guilty for not racking up the hours.

The amount of time your job search will take varies dramatically from field to field and person to person. If you're fairly junior in your career and are applying to a wide range of jobs, it's possible that networking, writing cover letters, tailoring your résumé and wrestling with convoluted online application systems could take up a significant portion of your time. Even then, though, it probably doesn't need to be anything approaching 40 hours a week. On the other hand, if you're more senior or specialized, or if you're simply in a field where there aren't a ton of openings, it's more likely to be impossible -- or at least impractical -- to spend that much time on your search.

And because of this wide variation, telling people that their search should be a full-time job, without regard for their situation, is a bad move. It makes people feel like they're not trying hard enough, when in fact they might already be doing exactly what they should. It's not useful advice, and we as a society should collectively resolve to stop repeating it.

If you are actually spending 40 hours a week on a job search, it's worth taking a step back to regroup. If that time is paying off for you -- if you're getting interviews and getting close to jobs offers -- then great. Carry on! But if you're not getting many interviews despite the time you're putting in, take another look at how you're spending the time. While it might sound counterintuitive, the problem might actually be that you're applying for too many jobs. If you're taking a scattershot approach and applying for everything that you seem remotely qualified for, your chances of getting interviews goes down -- because employers can usually spot the candidates who are résumé-bombing rather than targeting their search.

Instead, go for quality over quantity. Focus on the essentials: applying only for jobs that are truly a strong match, writing compelling cover letters that are customized for each opening, having a résumé that focuses on your achievements rather than just responsibilities and making sure you're tapping into your network.

Additionally, aside from direct job search activities, there are other things you can do with the rest of your time that will help with your search in a broader sense:

Volunteering. Volunteering will expand your network and give you something to talk about when interviewers ask what you've done with your time. But more importantly, job searching -- and unemployment in particular -- can be emotionally draining, and seeing an organization value you and your work can be restorative. Plus, it comes with the bonus of doing good in the world.

Reconnecting with former co-workers, old bosses and other networking contacts, as well as friends who you've fallen out of touch with. This is a good thing to do in general, because having a strong network puts you in a better position to hear about job leads, get strong recommendations and find people connected to the places you're interviewing or would like to interview.

Becoming active in professional organizations in your field. Join industry associations or other professional affiliation groups in your city (such a young professionals group or an organization for local alumni of your college), and show up at their events. Consider taking on a leadership role, too, which will help you build your network, get interesting experience to either put on your résumé or talk about in interviews and potentially build your skills as well.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.



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