How Many Hours per Week Should One Dedicate to the Job Search? It All Depends

The job search is a full-time job is a mantra we’ve heard many times. If a full-time job is 40 hours or even 35 hours a week, does it mean job seekers should dedicate that much time to the search? What’s the ROI on spending that much time? Is the search being conducted properly or is it poor time management?

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These are all questions people in the career development field have, including job seekers themselves. Currently I’m conducting a poll that asks the question, “How many hours a week should one dedicate to the job search?” Most of the voters are leaning toward a lower number of hours.

Thirty-two (32) percent of participants have voted for 0-10 hours a week and 32% have chosen 10-20 hours a week. The other options are 20-30 hours a week (18%) and 30-40 plus hours a week (18%). I voted for 20-30 hours a week. I doubt I’m going to be the winner of this poll.

So, this means that the job search isnt a full-time job according to 64% of the voters.

Some of my colleagues refuse to vote because there are too many variables, and I get this. What constitutes job searching, one of them asked? Does networking count? I answered a resounding “yes.” What about research one asked? Of course research counts.

The reason why I asked the question is to answer another question, as well: how should a job seeker balance their search and life? This sounds similar to achieving work-life balance, and it is. Searching for work is…work.

Let’s break the job search into two areas, looking for work and living life. Both are obviously important.

Looking for work is time-consuming

Like people who are employed and successful at what they do, job seekers are more productive when their search is focused and planned. It’s helpful to break down the activities involved in your job search, select a few to prioritize, and stick to them.

Let’s look at some common job-search activities. I’ve listed them in order of my personal priorities:

  1. In-Person networking in your community and small groups.
  2. Networking at formal events.
  3. Online networking via Zoom and other video formats.
  4. Writing approach letters to companies of interest.
  5. Contacting recruiters or staffing agencies.
  6. Calling on your alumni.
  7. Using job boards.
  8. Volunteering.
  9. Taking time off.

Your list of priorities might differ from mine, which is fine. I see the job search as being more proactive. I advise that job seekers choose four or maybe five of these activities, as trying to accomplish more would spread them thin.

Other time-consuming, albeit valuable, activities include:

  • Writing a resume template and then tailoring it to every job.
  • Getting on LinkedIn, writing a profile, developing a network, engaging with their network.
  • Researching every position and company before writing a resume and prepping for an interview.
  • Informational meetings.

These are just some of the action items required to conduct a successful job search. Many of them are more time-consuming than one would think. For example, with networking you have to figure in commute time and an hour and a half at the event.

Updating resumes is ongoing, as are cover letters. This could take two hours per document. Serious job seekers will put in at least two hours of research for each position. Multiply that by five applications. Already we see the hours per week adding up; ergo my 20-30 hours a week estimate.

My valued connection, Laura Smith-Proulx, works with executive level job seekers and has a different perspective on this question:

I tend to fall in the 10-hour camp, because the job seekers I serve are executives in the midst of a confidential search. They’re usually ramping up their use of LinkedIn, deciding how open they can be with their teams or Boards, dealing with an M&A action that’s driving their exit, responding to a recruiter search for a key executive (internally or externally), and / or working a well-established network.

These activities are on top of a demanding leadership role, family obligations, and other requirements that don’t stop for a job search.

An unemployed mid-career professional, however, would probably be spending more time sifting job postings, making new recruiter connections, filling their bucket list with ideal employers, and deciding how to identify and cultivate relationships with hiring authorities at these companies.

Another valued connection, Teegan Bartos, agrees with me to some extent:

This answer completely depends on the job seeker, but if you forced me to pick an answer for someone unemployed [they] would be in the 20-30 hour camp with high ROI job-seeker activities in the very beginning and then reduced once resume, LinkedIn, scripts, etc were nailed down.

And what about life?

Employees who are fortunate to have work-life balance are not anchored to their desk or in the field. They have the time to see their children’s events, go to a movie and dinner, hike and walk, actually vacation on their vacations, etc. Why should it be different for people in the job search?

If you’re looking for work, your already frazzled. Worries about money and feelings of failing might seep into your mind. You might fear what the future holds, especially if there’s a barrier to employment.

Your first instinct after losing a job might be to lick your wounds and take some time off. I advise no more than a week. I also advise that you take structured time off. For instance, you rise every morning at the same time as you did when working. You take a morning walk or hit the gym. You take some time to reflect. Before long, you will be looking for work in earnest.

My concern for people who are in the job search is the tendency for burn out. Spending six hours a day, seven days a week behind their computer is some job seekers’ idea of a productive job search.

I had a client who confessed to me that he was spending easily 60 hours a week looking for work. When I told him to take some time off, he sullenly told me that he had to find a job. His marriage was in ruins and so was his health.

For some like my client, it may seem frivolous to treat themselves to time off from the job search. They feel it’s counterproductive or that they don’t deserve it. But taking time off is productive; it’s needed to succeed in the marathon called the job search.

Wellness can’t be overlooked. Perhaps, being unemployed requires more attention to wellness and less attention to spending unproductive time in front of a computer looking for jobs on Indeed.com, Monster.com, and (dear I say) LinkedIn.

If trying to enjoy life’s pleasures while looking for employment, is unattainable for you, I suggest seeking therapy. Many people do. It’s not unusual and, as tell my clients, it’s totally normal. When things are dark, don’t hesitate to get professional help.

And what about time availability? Another valued connection, Shelley Piedmont, makes a solid point:

For some, they may only be able to do 5-10. Others have the luxury of having more time available and can do 20-30. I always suggest that people do their best for their particular circumstances. But it is important to remember that more time isn’t always better. Use the time, whatever you have, efficiently.”

The final say?

Alison Doyle writes career advice for The Balance Careers. Back in June of 2020 she speculated that the ideal number of hours to search for work should be 25, given other factors that might be involved. In an article, she wrote:

It would be easy to say that finding employment should be a person’s full-time job, but, realistically speaking, 40 hours per week of job search activity would be more than most individuals could handle.

You don’t want to burn out and not accomplish anything productive.

A CareerBuilder survey reports that, on average, job seekers spend 11 hours a week searching for jobs. If you can put in more time than that, you’ll be ahead of the competition.

A reasonable schedule would be25 hours per week for those who are not working at a job or an internship. For those who are working, 15 hours per week would be a more realistic amount of time.”

Is Alison Doyle the final say. Are the people who voted for 10-20 hours a week the final say? Am I the final say? (I surely hope not.) Like I said at the beginning of this post, it all depends.


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