Job hunting can be engaging and energizing—or frustrating and draining (and is usually a mix of both). Sometimes you find a new job that’s a perfect fit right away; other times it takes so long you start doubting your qualifications and skills.
The Zip Recruiter Survey of New Hires, released in March 2023, says 91 percent of new hires (people who started their job within six months of being surveyed) found their new role in three months or less. But those new hires happened before the hundreds of thousands of layoffs in 2023. More than 168,000 workers at tech-based companies alone have lost their jobs this year, according to TechCrunch. There have been thousands more layoffs in media and entertainment, retail, financial services, and more.
That many newly unemployed workers can add significant time to the average job search, making the time it takes to find a new job often much longer than three months.
Career consultant Colleen Paulson says the average job search is more like five months, and even longer at the executive level.
And it can take even more time if you want a specific position that has a lot of applicants.
“I had a client with a very narrow, niche focus in her career that she was passionate about, and she also wanted a remote job, and it took her about nine months,” says career coach Mary Blalock.
Applying to one job and not hearing back is common—especially with a lot of competing applicants. Applying to 50 jobs over a few months and not hearing anything—then it’s definitely time to evaluate your approach. Do not panic, but look at your job searching process and find ways to make it more effective. Here are a few key areas to focus on first.
How long should you look for a job before you review your process?
There’s no specific number of jobs or weeks trying to find a job to reach before you evaluate your process. When trying to gauge if it’s been too long with no responses from employers, consider how much competition there might be in the market, how many jobs you’re applying to, and what skills you’re offering.
For example, you’ll be up against many more applicants when you’re applying to remote jobs.
“Remote can be a little bit harder because there are people from all over the country, maybe the world, applying at the same time, so that can make it more challenging,” Blalock says. “If you’re doing a local job search in your area, sometimes that can narrow down the pool for you and make your job search faster.”
Consider how many job listings you see that fit what you’re looking for—is there a lot available?
“With general-type jobs like marketing manager or project manager, there’s a lot of opportunity, so you might be applying for potentially 10–20 jobs a week, and that can increase your odds,” Blalock says.
Also consider how much need there is for your skills compared to how many workers can provide those skills—is demand high, and supply low?
“Software engineer is a perfect example because there are some programming languages where people are really looking for those, so you might get a job instantly,” Blalock says. “That happened a lot when I was recruiting in tech, where companies were like ‘how soon can you start!?’”
Blalock says if you’re trying to switch careers, that can also make your job search harder.
And remember, you don’t know what’s going on “behind the scenes.” The company could be slow to review applications. It could take them a month to even start setting up interviews.
“People tend to get really frustrated in the first couple months, thinking ‘I should’ve gotten something by now,’ and start thinking there’s something wrong with them,” Blalock says. “But really that’s just the amount of time it’s taking companies to get back to people and review candidates.”
Instead of trying to identify a specific time on when to review what you’re doing, you can make notes as you go.
“It’s really hard to quantify [how long to go before reevaluating your process],” Paulson says. “It definitely makes sense to reevaluate how things are going on a regular basis. You definitely need to keep track of where you are and pivot as necessary.”
One place to look first: your resume.
Read more: 10 Actions to Take After an Unexpected Layoff
What if you’re not getting any job interview requests?
Not every resume you send out will get read by the recruiter or hiring manager. Maybe there are hundreds of applicants and they don’t get to your resume at all, or they find someone the same day you send in your resume and never read yours, or they use automated screening software that for some reason doesn’t “pass” your resume on to the next step. But it’s necessary to make sure your resume best represents what you can do and what you’re looking for.
“If you aren't getting interviews, then it's time to go back and look at your resume and the roles that you are applying for, and make sure that your resume is aligned with those roles,” Paulson says. “Are you positioning yourself in a strong way for these roles? Are you qualified for these roles? How are you showing that you are qualified?”
Make sure you have a strong statement on your resume that describes how you’re a good fit for the specific job you’re applying for.
“Your resume should have a career statement at the top that grabs people’s attention, and that’s something you can adjust for each job you apply for,” Blalock says. “A compelling career statement and skills section that is specifically geared toward that job will help you stand out. They say that recruiters and hiring managers look at resumes for six seconds in their initial evaluation. What they’re doing (and what I used to do) is scanning it for key words. If those words stand out and someone looks like a good candidate, they’ll set it aside and then call those people for interviews.”
Blalock says she helps clients use their resumes to show their job “narrative” or story: who are they and what are they good at? Then she helps them connect that narrative to what the job requires.
Next step: interviewing.
Read more: The Best Answer To: Why Are You Looking for a New Job?
What if you’re getting the interview and not the job?
“It's a great sign if you are landing interviews, so that’s great news!,” Paulson says. “If you aren't landing the job, then it's time to be honest about your interview skills. Practice interviewing with a friend or with one of the many AI tools online to assess where you are and strengthen your skills.” AI interview tools like Yoodli help you practice public speaking and interviewing, giving you confidence scores and tips to improve.
Write down common interview questions and practice what you’ll say. A great one to start with is ‘tell me about yourself.’
“People really don’t know how to answer that question,” Blalock says. “This is something really common with clients I see. People have a really hard time describing themselves. It’s really an opportunity to give an elevator pitch. I recommend people have three very clear skills they can talk about in that initial question, and those skills should be related to that position.”
You want to hone in on the job you’re applying for and communicate why and how you fit that position so well.
“You don’t want to give miscellaneous details about your career,” Blalock says. “You really only want to tell them the specific information that will make them want to hire you. So focus on some specific things about you that are impressive, and weed out all the other info. It’s a really short amount of time, so you want to stay positive and focused on telling them things that they want to hear.”
Blalock says you might have a lot of other skills that will be helpful once you’re in that job, but remember the interview is all about sharing the specific skills that will make you a good fit for the position they’re hiring for.
Read more: Questions to Ask in an Interview That Will Actually Tell You About the Job
What not to do when you can’t find a job
This is a hard one, but don’t let the rejection make you doubt yourself and what you’re capable of!
“The most common struggle that I see is people losing confidence,” Paulson says. “It is so easy to be hard on yourself when you aren't seeing results. Like I said, the average job search is five months. The hiring process takes time, and sometimes delays have nothing to do with you and everything to do with the hiring organization, so people should keep that in mind and really think about the job search as a longer term process.”
And if you have the resources, consider working with a professional for some expert insight.
“When you’re working with a coach, you can have them look at your resume, have them look at your cover letters, check out how you’re describing yourself. And you can get everything cleaned up before you even start trying to find a job,” Blalock says.
Once you’ve reviewed the key areas of your job search and improved any weak spots, there’s more you can do while you look for a job, like networking, getting a side hustle, and talking to a mentor. Check out these 26 actions to take when you’re having trouble finding a job.