How to manage a long job search without losing momentum

The stock market is on the rise. The economy is booming. Unemployment rates are the lowest in years.

That may sound great, but if you are a job seeker in a long job search, optimistic marketplace news is meaningless. Few people enjoy looking for employment, but a job search of a year or more can be devastating to the ego, as well as the pocketbook. Why are some job seekers lavished with offers while others struggle to get an interview? Here are a few common reasons a job search may take longer than expected and suggestions on how to cope.

Ambiguous career goals

Employers don’t like guessing games. You must be very specific about the job you are applying for and the skills you have to offer. If you are using a generic resume, it may be quite awhile before you get an interview, as Bob discovered.

Bob graduated with a general business degree and “just wanted a job.” His resume reflected his ambiguity. Which business skills did he want to market? Finance? Marketing? Operations? Each area has a unique skill set. It took Bob some time to define the skills he wanted to use. He also needed several resumes reflecting different jobs he could do. Once he was able to focus each resume, making it specific to the job he was applying for, he started getting calls for interviews.

Frequent starts

and stops

Most career counselors will tell you, the job search is a full-time job, requiring 36 to 40 hours each week. If you are working while looking for new employment or casually searching, it can take a long time.

Mark was an operations manager who relocated to Seattle a year ago for his wife’s career. Mark enjoys the role of “Mr. Mom,” but it extended his unemployment longer than expected. As soon as Mark started his job search, family matters got in the way, consuming his time and destroying his momentum. Mark said, “Each time I revisited my job search it was like starting all over. Old contacts had to be re-established, new contacts generated, resumes and cover letters revised.” Eventually, Mark had a serious talk with his family and got them to realize that his employment efforts are top priority. He has now laid the foundation for a solid job search and is optimistic the momentum he is generating will soon result in employment.

Narrow or competitive job market

When counseling clients, I recommend they identify 40 to 60 potential employers before beginning a job search. This is easier for some occupations than others. For example, individuals in the entertainment or publishing industries have a much harder time finding work in Seattle than in New York or Los Angeles.

Janet worked in Florida as a manager of a university bookstore within walking distance from home. A non-driver when she moved to Seattle, she knew her options would be limited and felt defeated from the start. The occasional university bookstore job that opened usually required several bus transfers, making for a very long day. I got Janet to assess her transferable skills and broaden her “targets.” By considering retail book selling, working as a library assistant or using her editing/proofreading skills, Janet is on her way to developing a list of the requisite 40 to 60 targets within a reasonable commute.

Depending on the Internet

Even with the overwhelming popularity of the Internet, networking is still by far the best way to get jobs offers. When I met Pete, he had been unemployed for a couple of years and was totally defeated by the job search. He suffered from symptoms described above: A narrow job field and unfocused career objective. Once corrected, we discussed Pete’s job search strategies. Like most job hunters, 90 percent of his efforts were spent on the computer. For someone as outgoing and affable as Pete, this was a great misuse of time. Pete committed to one to two networking meetings a week. “Getting back out there really energized me,” said Pete. “I am a very social person, but the job search got to me and I just stopped networking.” Pete is now in his final round of interviews with one company and has another offer on the table.

Each job seeker has a unique set of circumstances that impact the speed and quality of the job search, but all agree extended unemployment can be demoralizing, if not paralyzing. Here are a few additional suggestions to keeping job search momentum:

  • If you can’t devote six to eight hours on a job search, at least do one thing each day. One phone call, one meeting or one job application is one step closer to employment than doing nothing.

  • Join a job support group. There are many listed in the employment section of the newspaper and are free of charge. A job club will make you feel more committed to you job search, less isolated and may generate leads.

  • Celebrate the little successes. Treat yourself to a walk after submitting a resume. Buy yourself a latte after an interview. Set small goals and reward yourself when you achieve them.

  • Finally, remind yourself that each rejection is a step closer to the job that is meant for you. The job search is, in part, a numbers game. If you play the odds, you will eventually wind up a winner.

    Terry Pile is president of Career Advisors which offers career counseling, outplacement and relocation career service to individuals and small businesses. She specializes in helping people find satisfying employment. She can be contacted at

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