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Should I Lower my Expectations The Longer it Takes to Find Work? Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Question: Hi Mark,

I am wondering what you as a coach tell people when they have been looking for a job for more than four months (and have been doing so almost full-time every week), yet they've only managed to get a couple of interviews and no job offers yet. My friends and family are starting to drive me nuts. They're saying I should lower my expectations, you know, take whatever I can find and be happy that I'd be working again. Plus they're making me feel like the longer I'm out of work, the more employers will look at me like I'm some sort of loser. Personally, I believe I'll get a great job if only I can hang in for another three months or a bit longer. Or is everyone else right and I should stop being a job snob, accepting something lower than I had before? (p.s. I was making around $70,000 a year in my last job, which I lost due to a general downsizing).

Ratisha M., Hamilton, Ontario
Dear Ratisha,

Good question. I'll have to reply with that somewhat worn, though appropriate phrase: ''It depends on your personal circumstances.'' Here's what I mean.

If you happen to have, for example, a financial reserve saved up that allows you to job hunt without panicking for the next three to five months, then this will go a long way to giving you a chance of sticking with your current plan successfully. Because the moment you start worrying about money, you begin to make yourself vulnerable to a number of less-than-ideal temptations, such as:
  • jumping at the first job offer that comes along, even if you sense that you won't last there long for whatever reasons.
  • failing to negotiate your job offer to everyone's best advantage.
  • accepting a pay cut, reduced title or unfavourable work conditions unnecessarily.
  • feeling desperate instead of coming from a place of relative self-confidence.
  • cutting back on your lifestyle before you may have to, which can make you feel worse about yourself and situation than need be.

I advise all my clients to contact a professional, unbiased financial planner at the start of their work search. This way they can plan for the maximum number of months possible that will allow them to find work without rushing unduly. It also means they can try to maintain their usual lifestyle for as long as they can, if they choose to do so. I also recommend that people re-visit their financial plan at the three month point in their job search. If it looks like it might take twice as long to find work as they'd initially budgeted for, it may be time to start considering some cut backs in unnecessary spending (even going out to restaurants less and reducing smoking, alcohol etc. can make a difference over a period of months).

For a job that pays around $70,000 a year, you should probably figure on it taking anywhere from three to seven months in total to find an acceptable position. Some people find this kind of job within a month (very rarely). Sometimes it can take nine months to a year, depending on things like where you live, your track record, the reason you left your previous job, your physical and mental health, etc.

Though I will unfortunately confirm a point you made above: employers tend to look more dimly on people who have not found work within a reasonable amount of time. I say ''reasonable'' because it's such a subjective word. If you can give a solid explanation for taking longer to find a job, such as the fact you've been re-training and upgrading your skills (see my article on explaining why it's taking so long to find work), you may have no problem whatsoever.

Which leads back to your initial question, should you start to lower your expectations now that you've been out there seeking employment for four months, having secured only a couple of job interviews? This depends on some of the following factors:
  • How active is the marketplace in terms of jobs for people with your background, experience and education?
  • Are you willing to move in order to be where the most opportunities for someone like you are?
  • Do you already have a number of job interviews lined up, and are you waiting to hear back from those you've been on?
  • Are there people you know who could hire you, and have they told you that something will be coming up shortly?
  • Can your nerves survive the uncertainty and anxiety that normally accompany a drawn-out work search?
  • Are there ''survival jobs'' readily available that you can take while continuing to look for the work you really want, if necessary?

A main problem with lowering your expectations and accepting a job that's beneath you is that, six months from now, you are likelier to be unhappy, your performance at work could therefore suffer, and you might find yourself seeking another job anyway. But if your only solution is to take what you can get, you'll have to adjust your mindset so that you don't sabotage your own efforts in the position that you have accepted. Otherwise, take it and embark on a ''stealth job hunt,'' except it'll be tougher to explain to future employers why you bailed on one job you'd committed to, just to hop to another. It can make you look like you aren't very loyal.

In the meantime, take a few moments and conduct an assessment on whether you are currently maximizing your work search approaches. It could be that you need to tweak your efforts or shift some of your time and energies to more productive routines.
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