AJO Blog

The Controllable Versus the Uncontrollable Factors. How Long Your Job Search Will Take


December 18th, 2015
“How long will my job search take?” is a frequently asked question we’ve attempted to answer in a three part series.   
  • In part one we introduced the idea that “what’s next” plays a role, depending how clear you are about your career path.
  • In part two, we covered three factors that control the supply of available opportunities – the location where you want to work; lifestyle preference that affect how you want to work and compensation needs that drive your goals around “how much”.
  • In this final post, we explore what might be the least controllable with the most controllable variables, these being “The Market” and how you “Approach” it.

job search duration and labor market

The Market and Job Search Duration

The best way to illustrate the labor market dynamic is through the chart below which shows how long it has taken AJO program participants to land their next opportunity during the last four years. Behind the numbers are similar groups of people, looking for similar professional and executive level opportunities in similar locations.
In a strong labor market, where employment was as low as 5%, it took our program participants around 20 weeks on average. In a weaker labor market such as we experienced in the second and third quarters of 2014, this doubled, peaking at 40 weeks. During the last four years, unemployment has dropped in the US from over 9% to 5% in November 2015 - the lowest in more than seven years.

how marketable are your skills - career managementWhat Is the Demand for Your Skills - The Competition Factor?

Another dimension of the market is the availability of suitable candidates (i.e., your competition). Scarce skills give you better odds to navigate a weak labor market where outdated or over abundant skills will exacerbate weak market conditions.
In Investing In Your Career - How to Stay Marketable and Avoid Job Loss, we offer a collection of recommended resources for researching the demand for skills in your field, as well as assessing your competition and more. We also share our recommended strategies for overcoming adverse labor market conditions.
The good news for job seekers is that we are entering “a seller’s market” where widespread skill shortages are being experienced by employers.

Your Approach and Job Search Duration

Your approach refers to the strategies you employ to find your next position.

This triangle illustrates the benefit of networking to opportunities before they are advertised. The top represents new opportunities that are hidden where the candidate pool is small or even non existent.
Typically, employers will advertise positions internally once an opening has been approved.
Employers are also increasingly encouraging and rewarding referrals from current employees. A position is unlikely to be published externally if a candidate pool can be identified from internal applicants and referral sources.
The following job search strategies are listed in order of their importance and potential likelihood of landing a position in the shortest time:
  • Networking. The value of networking comes from its many benefits - the potential to identify employers who are hiring and learn about positions that not widely publicized. There is also the opportunity to learn about what fellow professionals are doing; the organizations and industries in which they work; trends they are seeing, etc. 

    Experience also shows that proactive approaches are more rewarding once the anxiety around networking and fear of rejection is overcome. Meeting and talking to people can be energizing and keep you connected during what can otherwise be a lonely journey. When you approach networking as a mutual information exchange it adds value for both parties. Plus, it’s easier if you’ve established a network that you can tap before you need it.

  • Referrals. We have previously blogged on the Power of Referrals. It’s an important strategy that can be effective as a follow up after applying to a published opening. Research and network with people you know within your target organizations. If they can speak to your experience and are comfortable recommending you, ask if they would be willing to refer you. If they are not comfortable endorsing you, ask if they would share your resume and provide a short cover that explains why you are a fit and why you want to work for this organization. This will give your resume an extra push and a second chance of getting noticed (bypassing the hiring system into which your resume might have gotten buried).

    You are still facing the prospect of competition that is minimized or reduced when the position is not advertised, but it could get your resume to the top of the pile assuming you are a strong match. See the new LinkedIn feature to learn more about how you can leverage this strategy; assess your fit to a published opening of interest; and measure your competition for that role.

  • Responding to published openings. This is a legitimate, but potentially reactive strategy, the success of which diminishes as the position gets widely disseminated, and also as seniority and income increases. Once a position is advertised, the number of applicants will grow exponentially, adding two hurdles - greater competition and the challenge of standing out in a crowd. This strategy demands that you are a good fit and that your resume is strongly matched with keywords in the listing. These are important requirements to ensure your resume is retrieved from automated hiring systems ..... not to mention being read by overwhelmed sourcing teams and hiring managers.
From experience working with those in career transition, we know that many people are reluctant to network, preferring instead to take the easier path of searching listings online and responding to published openings that are a match (although can become long shots if and when desperation sets in). This approach may be successful, depending on market conditions and competition, but it can also lead to frustration and dejection when applications are met with no response, resulting from strong competition that reduces the odds of success.


Answering the question of how long a job search is likely to take is predicated on many variables, some more within your control than others. In this series, we hope we've addressed the six most important factors that play a role. In a follow up post, we'll share our recommendations on the three strategies to overcome adverse market conditions, along with our collection of favorite resources for managing your career, whether you are currently employed or not. 

“You can overcome your circumstances or you can let your circumstances overcome you.”

― Richie Norton, The Power of Starting Something Stupid: How to Crush Fear, Make Dreams Happen, and Live without Regret