Finding a job can be a real beast! If you're a new grad, recently unemployed, dying to get out of your current position, or debating the merits of moving on, how much time should you realistically be spending on the search?
As someone who just went through this process post-grad school, I can confirm what you already know: No matter what situation you're in, looking for a new job is completely exhausting. From figuring out what types of roles you want to apply for to coming up with a good way to structure your resume to finding postings that look like a good fit and writing tailored cover letters, the process can be intensly challenging.
Personally, I also found the whole thing to be a bit of an emotional roller coaster—in any given day, I’d be stressed as I waited to hear back from a recruiter, then excited if and when I got an interview, and then invariably bummed when an opportunity I’d grown excited about didn’t work out.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how many hours per week you should devote to the job search, because your individual circumstances and the urgency of your search are factors. However, in order to help you prepare for what you’re about to embark on, below I outline four common job-searcher scenarios with concrete guidelines for how much time you should expect to block off for each situation.
1. Last Semester of College: 10 to 20 Hours per Week
Early on in your last semester is when you need to really start figuring out what you what to do next. You can start by reaching out for informational interviews and exploring various career paths. Then, as graduation approaches and more jobs start popping up you, you should transition your research hours into time spent actually applying for roles. While a small percentage of big companies (e.g., consulting firms, investment banks) sometimes recruit on campus in the fall semester, most openings won’t start popping up until the end of the semester, be that winter or spring.
As you approach crunch time, I’d recommend thinking about your job search as a part-time job, and start setting aside 10 to 20 hours per week whenever possible. Kick-starting the process by meeting with your school’s career office, setting up informational interviews, and zeroing in on a list of companies you’re interested in will definitely keep you busy. And once you start getting (and nailing) interviews, things will ramp up further.
2. Recently Unemployed: 30 to 40 Hours per Week
If you’re recently unemployed and are looking for stable, long-term employment, then your best bet is to treat your career search as though it’s your full-time job, even if you take on a bridge job or side gig to get by. This means budgeting at least 30 hours a week to finding relevant postings, setting up networking meetings, tailoring your cover letter (and resume), and submitting applications. I know the process can sound intimidating, but look on the bright side: It’s amazing that you have large chunks of time to devote to the search.
When I was looking for employment full-time, I found it really helpful to plan out the hours I was going to “work” and the location where I was going to tackle said work. For example, I’d map out a schedule similar to this one: Tomorrow I will go to the library from 10 AM to 1:30 PM, and then I’ll go home for a lunch break. After that, I’ll work from a coffee shop from 2 to 6 PM. Purposeful planning like this helped hold me accountable. It also really decreased my stress level—I knew I was putting in the time needed to land a job, so I didn’t feel guilty hanging out with friends at night or doing something fun on the weekend.
3. Miserable in Your Current Role or Company: 8 to 10 Hours per Week
Do you hate your job and wish you could leave ASAP? Although it’s a crummy situation to be in, there is a silver lining: If you’re miserable in your current position, you’ll be pretty motivated to spend time on a job search. It can be hard to explore a better, more suitable opportunity while you’re also working, but if you set clear goals for yourself and carve out specific time to devote to the hunt, you can fit it all in—and not risk losing the job you have before you’re adequately prepared.
If it’s unrealistic for you to accomplish a significant amount of job searching during the week, I recommend setting aside at least five to six hours on a Saturday or Sunday, when you can give the process the attention it needs. I find the flow and focus that results from utilizing a bigger chunk of time is far more beneficial than doing things on-and-off over the course of a couple days. During the work week, plan on devoting 30 minutes here or there to respond to job-search emails, to follow up with recruiters, and to grab coffee with a networking contact.
4. Considering a Career Transition: 7 to 8 Hours per Week
Exploring a new career path is exciting and, if you are serious about making a career transition, your job search may look a little different from past searches. Networking will be a very important part of the process, as will learning new skills and determining the necessary qualifications involved in making the switch.
You should be able to get things moving if you devote a few (think seven to eight) hours a week exploring different sectors and positions. Likely, you’ll be spending your time setting up informational coffees, researching what it would look like to work in a different role, and educating yourself on a new field. Try to give yourself a set of concrete goals to accomplish each week, such as sending out 10 networking emails or reading six articles about companies that you’re interested in exploring. If you want to build a new skill, such as coding, you can also take a class to really help you focus. This will be a bigger time commitment (likely an additional five to eight hours each week), but it will allow you to build a concrete skill that may really help you make your next transition.
I know it can be completely energy-zapping looking for a new job, no matter what your situation, but hopefully these guidelines will help you get started! Happy hunting.