When to Worry: How Long is Too Long to be on the Job Market?
Applying for a job takes patience, and nobody enjoys the waiting game that follows every time you click Submit on a new application. But what if you've been on the job market for months and you still haven't landed a position? That could be a sign that you need to rethink your approach.
When should you worry?
How long a job search should take depends on where you are in your career. For entry-level and temporary jobs, the hiring process can be as short as a few weeks, while it can easily take more than a year for a high-level executive to find the right position. So for entry-level jobs, you'll want to reevaluate your strategy if a couple months go by and you don't have any offers. For roles that are further up in the organizational hierarchy, you can expect your job search to take longer, but you should at least see some interest from employers after four to five months. At that point employers should be discussing possibilities with you and asking for references and other information, even if you haven't yet received a concrete job offer. If you've been on the job market for six months or more and employers aren't responding to your inquiries or are summarily rejecting you, that's a good time to take stock and see if something about your applications could be improved.
Possible reasons you aren't getting an offer:
There are many potential reasons for a person's job search to be unsuccessful. Often, one or a combination of these explain why a candidate isn't having any luck.
- There are problems with the information on your resume. Missing, inaccurate, or contradictory information could cause employers to discard your application.
- There are problems in your application's formatting or presentation. Employers may dismiss your potential if your cover letter and resume/CV don't conform to professional conventions.
- You're performing poorly in interviews. If you aren't making a good impression on the phone or in person, that may bring your application's progress to a halt.
- Something bad comes up when employers google you. Employers may notice something unprofessional that you've posted or negative information about you that they find from other sources. They could also mistake you for someone else, such as if a person with the same name was convicted of a crime.
- You aren't casting a wide enough net. Maybe you're applying only to a jobs in one town, and there aren't many openings in that location. Or, you might be applying for one specific role that isn't currently in demand.
- You aren't a good match for the positions you're applying to. You might be applying to jobs that require additional years of experience or skills that you don't have yet.
What to do next
One of the most valuable things you can do is to seek input from a mentor or a friend who's knowledgable about the job market. That person can give you an unbiased opinion about anything you need to do differently and can help you refine your strategy. Mentors are especially helpful if there's anything out of the ordinary about your situation because they can give personalized advice. If you don't have a mentor, you may need to turn to a career coach or your school's alumni services center. Local libraries and community organizations sometimes hold resume writing and job application workshops, and experts at these events may also be able to offer some feedback.
Ideally with a mentor to help guide you, review all of your written application materials, including your resume/CV and cover letter. Compare them with sample resumes and cover letters to make sure yours follow the same format. Check that everything is accurate and that nothing needs extra clarification. Also review your online presence, and make sure your social media profiles don't display anything problematic.
Walk through a mock interview in which you practice answering common interview questions. Ask a mentor to give you feedback on your performance. You can also record yourself answering common interview questions and then play back the recording to pinpoint places where you could improve your delivery.
Finally, compile a list of next steps. This may include applying to more employers, applying to jobs that are a better fit for your skills, or applying in different geographic locations. If possible, try to reconnect regularly with your mentor to track your progress.