Why Does it Take So Long to Get a Job?

You were laid off in December, took the holidays off because you think no one is hiring in December anyhow, and started working on your resume in January.  You finished a first draft, passed it around to your friends in the biz, got some feedback, made some changes, and now you think it’s ready to go. You’ve got some networking meetings set up, and you’re checking the job boards for whatever might turn up in your area.  You’re willing to step outside your profession if the right opportunity comes up, and you see yourself as flexible.  So now it’s what, mid-February?  How long is this going to take, exactly?

 Here’s how you see you getting a job:


Here’s how the company sees the process:


Big difference.  And the bigger the company, the bigger the difference.  For you, this is fairly linear.  For the company, this is a big fat budget item with lots of twists, turns, and performance measures and objectives, and with staff and money (and maybe company politics) involved.  No rush on this, by the way, because conducting the business of the organization takes priority over filling open jobs, and fastest isn’t always the best when it comes to hiring. 

 Note the arching blue arrows in the second diagram—those are the investments that companies make in order to find people who fit.  Although the arrows are all the same size, the investments and their value are not the same.  More weight is given to the best sources—the ones that pay off consistently with a terrific ROI, however the company defines that.  Most experts believe that the best ROI comes from employee referrals, and the lowest selection rate is from the internet, but there are exceptions. 

The pink arrows show the influences that affect the size of the labor market.  Some events cause a labor market to grow; sometimes a market shrinks in response to events.  One example of timing is the college graduation season (causing the labor market to grow in some places and shrink in others), another is tourism in seasonal markets (causing the labor market to shrink).  When labor (also called talent) is plentiful, company investment in outreach slows; when the talent pool shrinks, the outreach spend goes up.   A labor market may be huge but the number of potential candidates suitable for a job may be very small.

 See the green arrow pointing down?  That’s you and your competition—some are just names the company has been keeping an eye on, some are friends of employees, and some are just like you, a five or six week old resume with an unemployed citizen attached to it.  Most won’t get to the next step. 

If they/you do, the blue bucket contains all the hoops left to jump through, and there are probably several hoops at each level.  The higher up in the company the job is, the greater the number of interviews.  However, if you are in the line for a training program, internship, or other visible slot, the more complicated are the hoops.  You might add Assessment Center Testing, Group Interview, or Day of Informational Interviews and Reckoning to that list of hoops.  It can take months—lots of months—to get through the entire process.  And then the job might be eliminated before it’s filled.

 Keep in mind that while all of this is going on, the salary and benefits money for the approved open position is not being spent.  Though work might be piling up, the department line item is favorable to budget, and the chances of the position being cancelled without being filled grow with each passing week.

 Remember that some companies post jobs for their employees across the country to bid on and may assess all or some of their internal candidates before considering external applicants. 

Some companies interview a slate of applicants and focus attention on the job all at once.  Some companies interview when they see someone they like.  HR handles logistics and scheduling, but they don’t control it.  There are references to check and details to verify. The decision-maker decides when it’s time to hire, and no one gets hired until that happens.  Newsflash: you have no control over any of this. 

 When someone tells me they got a call about a great job, or a headhunter called them, or they sent a resume in response to a job posting or ad, I suggest they not get ahead of the company’s plans.  You are not in a committed relationship with the company, its recruiter, a job, or the prospect of a job.  You are just you, same as you were yesterday. 

 So how long does it take to get a job?  A long time, once you find you are actually in the running for one.  Longer, if you find you are not. 

Sometimes it all works out, but it takes time.  When the process begins to drag out, it’s not a good sign for you, although I once got a job offer after another candidate turned it down.  It was a great job; it just took a while to get it.  I had already moved on, and so was clear-headed and thus able to see that my negotiating position had improved.  I believe that I got a better offer by staying calm and by being a smidge less anxious to jump aboard when they called me back.

Companies do tend to move quickly when they see the candidate they think they want, and if that is you, it might leave you breathless.  Breathe.  Keep a level head; a fast moving train is a dangerous vehicle.   The speed could be due to a last minute attempt to get someone hired before a budget deadline.  If the attempt fails, you’ll be dropped on your head.  If it succeeds, you could be dropped on your head after you are hired.  It really does happen.

The speed could be due to a recruiter trying to get a payday.  This has actually happened to me as a candidate.  The recruiter was out way ahead of the company, on a completely different page, trying to use several (not just me) willing candidates to elbow some other guy’s nominations out of the way.  It was very exciting to drop everything, fly to Seattle, fly back, debrief, fly somewhere else to meet someone else, until it became more ridiculous than exciting.  Of course, they ended up (drum roll) filling the job with someone from another division of the same company.  Keep your cool.

 So that’s why it takes a long time to get a job—because companies take their time and a lot of yours.  This is why you need to be active and engaged in what you want and how you are going to get it, all the time.  There is nothing you can do to speed up an organization’s process, but you can control your own time, your own process, and your own decisions.  It can be exciting to be recruited and romanced, but remember, you are dealing with professionals managing a process and their job is to make you feel wanted and needed and very special at all times.  It feels great, but means next to nothing until the offer is in your hand.

One response to “Why Does it Take So Long to Get a Job?

  1. This was great! I especially loved the diagram of how “I” think versus the companies process which I must say is very true. I do tend to have that linear way of thinking when it comes to me getting a job. This served as a needed reality check. 🙂

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