How to Find Work/Life Balance in the Job Search

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roadWork/life balance in the job search ? Doesn’t that concept only apply to employment?

When I ask my clients about what they look for in their future employers, a majority of them cite work/life balance. If they value work/life balance so much, why shouldn’t they also look for it in the job search itself?

Recently, I posed a question to my LinkedIn followers: “How many hours a week should one dedicate to the job search? Do you lean more toward 40, 35, 30, 25? And why?” As I’m writing this article, the comments keep rolling in.

I’m sure you’re wondering how one can possibly quantify the number of hours in a week they should dedicate to the job search. It seems a bit like guessing how many marbles are in a fish bowl.

I will say, however, that you’ll be at risk of burnout if you spend 40 hours a week relentlessly searching for a job. You need to have work/life balance in your search as you must have in your next job.

(For the record, I’m leaning toward 25 hours of dedicated job search activities a week.)

‘Looking for a Job Is a Job’

This is a common mantra of job-search pundits. They tell their clients that finding a job is itself a full-time job. I believe this to be true – but only if you examine the nature of work and realize that the number of hours you actually spend working every week is less than 40.

One person responded to my question with an Inc. article that states each of us is only actually productive at work for about three hours a day. That’s 15 hours a week – not 40. It may seem hard to believe on first glance, but when you think about all the time employees – and probably yourself – waste at work, it seems pretty reasonable. We take breaks. We extend our lunches. We use meetings to socialize and linger in our colleagues’ cubes longer than we should. Even when we are focused, we are distracted by email, text messages, phone calls, etc.

Like people who are employed and successful at what they do, job seekers are more productive when their searches are 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. Writing approach letters to companies of interest
  4. Volunteering
  5. Online networking
  6. Contacting recruiters or staffing agencies
  7. Calling on your alumni network
  8. Using job boards 

Your list of priorities might differ from mine, which is fine. I advise that you choose four or maybe five of these activities to focus on in your search. Trying to accomplish more would spread you too thin.

You Can’t Forget About Life

Employees who are fortunate to have healthy work/life balances are not anchored to their desks. They have time to see their children’s events, go to movies and restaurants, hike and walk, actually vacation on their vacations, etc. Why should it be different for people on the job hunt?

If you’re looking for work, your state of mind is already frazzled. You may even be depressed. Worries about money and the feeling of failure might come into play. You might fear the future, especially if you’re an older worker or your industry is unhealthy.

“If I have a client that has been laid off, they might be dealing with some tough emotions that are going to use up some of their available energy,” Sabrina Woods, a holistic career coach, said in response to my question.

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. In a week, you will be looking for work in earnest.

I knew a man who confessed to me that he was spending easily 60 hours a week looking for work. He also told me that his marriage was in ruins and that his health was failing. When I told him to take it easy, he sullenly told me that he had to find a job.

My concern for people who are in the job search is that they will burn out. Spending six hours a day, seven days a week behind one’s computer is some job seekers’ idea of a productive job search. To me, it is the definition of insanity.

SearchLinda Ferrante, a recruiter, added this to the LinkedIn discussion: “I do not recommend making it a 40 hours a week thing. Just a couple hours per day, but make it at your peak performance times. Also, take time to be active: Go for a walk, clean the house, walk at the mall, volunteer. Do something that makes you feel productive!”

Career coach Ingrid Golbloom Bloch  said she believes it’s important to have a structured job search with action items and goals. She also believes job seekers should reward themselves when they’ve met their goals. A reward could be a run, a trip to the gym, “getting a great cup of coffee at a local shop to get out of the house, or going to the movies at the end of the week (during the day!).”

It may seem frivolous to treat yourself to rewards and even time off from the job search, but as Woods states, unemployed people are using a great deal of energy to process the emotion of their situations. Wellness can’t be overlooked. Being unemployed may require more attention to wellness and less unproductive time spent in front of a computer looking for jobs.

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

Most of the people who responded to my LinkedIn post were in agreement that a 40-hour job search is unhealthy. A few did subscribe to the old job-search pundit mantra, but I wonder if they realize that a full-time job search still needs to include some work-life balance.

Does anyone really believe that people are capable of dedicating their entire week to a job search? I certainly don’t.

Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.

By Bob McIntosh