Full-Time Job Hunting: An Outdated Concept?

Anybody who has worked with a career coach or gone through an outplacement (i.e. “employer-paid career assistance”) program in recent years has inevitably been hit with one of the “gospel truths”  that folks in my field have been reciting since the dawn of time: “If you’re unemployed, guess what?  Looking for a job is your new full-time job!”

There’s an increasing amount of chatter out there, however, suggesting that this cardinal rule of job hunting might have outlived its usefulness — and that running a true full-time job hunt, encompassing 40 or more hours of focused effort per week, is no longer than the best path to getting hired.  The argument that a few of my colleagues in the field are making has several different elements to it.  For starters, some claim that putting in so much time each week into finding work can easily become demoralizing, stressful, and ultimately counterproductive, especially if an individual isn’t seeing direct results that correlate with the extra time being invested.  Others emphasize that people should devote less of their available time into finding leads, and more time into making themselves more marketable for various opportunities by working to enhance and upgrade their skills through classes, certification courses, and self-study.

Another camp, still, is trumpeting a very unique and somewhat newfangled perspective.  Several highly-regarded experts in the field are pointing out that if most of the hiring in our society comes from networking, and quality networking is built around finding shared interests and common ground with other people, then a job hunter will often get farther, faster by spending the majority of their time attending to their personal hobbies — as opposed to trying to connect with people strictly on a professional level, in an attempt to find work.  One great article on this very notion can be found here, published by Peter Bergman in Harvard Business Review.  Additionally, the career-change book “Working Identity” by Herminia Ibarra (which I recently reviewed in this blog) follows a similar theme, suggesting that people will have more success finding their proper calling in the world if they just get out and bump into lots of different people, doing different things, versus taking the career exploration challenge too seriously — or approaching it too formally.

Again, this is an interesting notion to ponder, and I’m tempted to agree, in part, that the shortest path to a new job may not necessarily and always be a straight line.  Now that job hunting has become a much more commonplace activity in today’s world of work, it appears that a number of tried-and-true traditional search strategies — such as attending professional association meetings and contacting people through sites like LinkedIn — have lost a certain amount of their effectiveness, due to saturation by folks anxiously seeking new employment.  I’m not saying these approaches have lost ALL of their effectiveness, mind you, but as I’m sure a lot of people have realized, it’s hard to find many public networking events these days where one doesn’t sense that the ratio of decision-makers to professionals-in-transition is dwindling rapidly.  So it might very well make sense for out-of-work professionals to tone down some of their traditional job-finding activities and retool their job hunting strategy to include a stronger mix of “authentic” engagement in things such as sports and recreation, hobby groups, volunteerism, and the like.

Additionally, as I’ve always maintained to my clients, the old “looking for a job is a full-time job” guideline doesn’t take into account the qualitative difference of the hours spent searching.  In other words, I’d rather have a properly-trained job hunter engaging in 4 hours of the “right stuff” each week than blindly plowing through 40 hours of the “wrong stuff” such as surfing hundreds of Internet job sites, endlessly tweaking their resume, etc.

Long story short, I can’t help but agree with the mounting evidence that the job market is going through a peculiar state of flux right now, and that much of the traditional wisdom about finding work is slowly losing its luster.  With the increasing breakdown of personal and professional boundaries (remember the days before 24×7 e-mail communication?  or when people took formal coffee and cigarette breaks?  or when one got to work at 9:00 and left at 5:00?) it might very well be that attending vigorously to one’s personal interests is the best path for achieving professional success, as well.

Your comments, as always, are welcomed…

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5 Responses to “Full-Time Job Hunting: An Outdated Concept?”

  1. Had to chime in. I’m in the twenty-something’s generation/group and I have never gotten a job through “working hard” or traditional “job hunting.” Every job I have had, in my adult life, has been through networking. And while networking CAN cost money it doesn’t have to. The most effective places I have found to network are the gym and churches. You meet great professional people at both of those locals. Traditional networking settings have never worked well for me.

  2. While I agree that networking is one of many keys to your job search. I’ve found it very expensive. Even if you’re just going for coffee it really adds up. Most people I’m networking with are currently working. They have time for coffee, lunch or even drinks after work. I don’t drink alcohol or coffee but even a soda or tea is costing me big bucks. Is this something that can be written off in my ’09 taxes. It’s a necessary expense but the highlight for me has been “expense!”

  3. I appreciate the perspective here of quality over quantity. Part of the reality here is that if I am not actively working on job search as a major part of my week then I portray an image to my family that I am not that concerned about it. In my situation, where both my wife and I are unemployed, it is very difficult to not be actively engaged in employment search as we see this big behemoth of a freight train coming at us down the track called financial ruin. As two high level individuals used to going after goals and targets, it is hard to set the job search aside as a part time interest. Each promising post draws us in to submit yet another masterpiece to the internet black hole of job submissions.

  4. As someone who went through a job search in the latter half of 2008, I can relate to working hard and not seeing any results.

    In retrospect, I should have spent at least 1 hr. per day in the gym. Now that I’m working, I’m finding it difficult to squeeze in exercising, aside from a brisk walk.

    For those of you reading Matt’s article and these posts, I can’t help but emphasize Matt’s comments about the quality of your job search as opposed to quantity.

    When you get employed, I’m willing to bet that most all of you will NOT have received a job or contract by responding to a job opening on the web.

  5. powerapplications February 25, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Telling job seekers to network is never bad advice. Most jobs are found through someone you know rather than a cold resume submission. Although, forget LinkedIn, as that’s all people do on that site is look for a job. It’s about as useful as Monster.com. Instead, use the truly social sites such as FaceBook, Twitter, etc. that concentrate on people you went to school with rather than people you’ve worked with. That will net much better results.

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