What I learned looking for a job

As I begin my last week unemployed and prepare to get back to work, this seemed like a good time to look back and reflect on the last few months.Whomever I talk to these days seems to know about some kind of magic number: finding a new job will take you 6 to 8 months. Let’s see… I was let go Aug. 16, 2001 in California. Spent a month trying to find a job in the area, ultimately landing in Switzerland in late
September. I restarted the whole process in Switzerland right away in early October – although following 9/11 this wasn’t exactly the best time to be looking for a job. Since I’ll start work on June 3rd, it took me 8 months – minus an arbitrary “useless” month accounting for 9/11 and Christmas. That’s 7 months total, right on target. It seems
some statistics are to be trusted after all 🙂

So what’s to remember? I would break it down into a few distinct categories.

Getting started

All right, so you “know” upfront that you’re facing a 6 to 8-month job. Although this might be comforting at times, the process can still occasionally prove tedious. Looking at it from another angle, I ended up getting about an offer for every 20 positions applied for. That’s
all good, except those offers aren’t typically nicely scheduled. They tend to be more like packed together after dozens of unsuccessful attempts. This can make timing your worst ennemy, unless you accept the fact that there is no single right path to follow.

A number of methods offer to help you understand your personality, skillset and aspirations. This is a useful exercise to kickstart your search. It will give you material for you resume, raise your self-confidence by highlighting your achievements, and get you thinking about potential issues before they hit you right in the face during an interview. For all these reasons, beginning the search for a job represents somewhat of an introspection effort. And hey, who doesn’t like thinking about him/herself?

How useful this introspection effort will ultimately be regarding the path you’ll end up choosing depends on a number of constraints. Typically, the tighter the labor market, the least options you may have to follow your original strategy. Also, it’s by definition difficult in the planning stages to account for an unexpected opportunity. Your own reaction to such an opportunity might also be different a month into your search or 5 months later.

Armed with all this new-foud knowledge and self-confidence, it’s time to launch your product – i.e. you – on the market.

The employment market

he word on the street is that about 80% of the market is hidden, i.e. not accessible through published ads. That’s probably why many consider networking the most effective way of locating an open position, particularly in the light of Stanley Milgram’s “Six Degrees of Separation” theory.

Recruiters are supposed to come right after networking in terms of efficiency. This may be true if you’re lucky or can gain access upfront to some graded map of the recruiting scene, but reality turns out to be different. There are some amazingly dedicated, efficient recruiters out there. Others are, well, less so… The basic problem is that to uncover this “hidden” portion of the job market, you’d expect recruiters to know about open positions before they are published in the press. Some do, but others simply positions themselves as intermediaries once an ad has hit the newspapers.

As far as ads – both online and offline – are concerned, these can actually prove quite effective. It can take quite a while to receive feedback, but a good-looking resume, together with a cover letter targetting precisely the company’s needs can often get you through at least for a first interview. The rest is up to your interviewing skills and an actual match with the company – both from a human and a competency standpoints.

Spontaneous offers fall somewhere between networking and ads. They’re related to networking because they’ll be most effective if you know who to send them to. On the other hand, they resemble ads in the sense that you rely on the same tools: a resume and a cover letter.

The interviewing process itself can begin feeling somewhat exciting as you sharpen your skills. I witnessed two opposing trends, though. A growing level of stress perceived prior to interviews, simultaneously to a diminishing level of stress during interviews themselves. As I come to think of it, I tended to react in a similar fashion back in college, so your own mode of operation could be very different.


While being unemployed for a while does offer some interesting opportunities for introspection and career reorientation, satellite issues can seriously aggravate the situation. What comes to mind revolves around the lack of financial resources, the absence of couselling or coaching of any kind, the market’s perception of your age, and many more. Luckily enough, these are many battles I didn’t have to fight this time around.

If I had to take away just one lesson, it would be to regularly assess my professional situation – even when comfortably employed at a company. It’s all too easy to get used to a known environment, recurring paychecks, friendly collaborators – in one word: stability. It would seem that by keeping an eye on market needs and your own skillset at regular intervals, as well as your company’s competitive position you should be able to disrupt that stability in your favor before some external factors do.

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