Federal Careers

Starting out a new job search is a huge step in any career — whether you’re trying to switch to a new industry completely, or are searching for a new opportunity in a field you’re already established in. There’s no set standard of time that a job search can take, which can leave room for a lot of frustration and bewilderment — like a never-ending uphill battle — especially if you’ve already been on the hunt for a while. So, if you’re looking for a new position, career, or industry, it is important to have realistic expectations on how long it will take.

The short answer? Longer than you think.


In the old days, we used to say that for every $10,000 you want to make, you should expect a month of job search. Now it can take even longer (or shorter). Here are some factors that go into the length of your job search:

• How qualified are you? Are you applying for positions for which you are truly qualified? Do have the qualifications required or only most of them? For federal positions, do you have the specialized experience or only “one year in the next lower grade?”
• Does your resume show your qualifications? Have you included your qualifications clearly? Have you used metrics to give your work context? Do you show relevant accomplishments that clearly demonstrate the “so what?”
• How long ago was your relevant experience? If your relevant work experience was 7, 10, or more years ago, it is important to understand that you are competing against people who are doing the relevant work now.
• Are you in a geographic location with many jobs? If you are looking for a position in Montana or Idaho or Arkansas, for the most part, there are fewer jobs. Of course, the opposite is also true; in areas with many jobs, there is more competition. This makes getting a job in a different geographic location more challenging.
• How old are you? While we all know that age discrimination is against the law, it can be a factor. Age is a more significant issue typically in the private sector than the government; many people come to the government for a second (or even third) career. But if your resume shows that you are resting on your laurels, talking about achievements from the 1990’s, or still includes your expertise in Word Perfect, LOTUS 123, or Windows 3.0, you are not sending the right message!
• If you are trying to change careers, are you willing to take a lateral move, or even go down in salary or grade? You should not expect a promotion if you are looking to make a major career change. Nor should you approach a job search in terms of how much you “need” to make—employers are not interested in how much you need (or think you need.)
• How flexible are you? Your flexibility in terms of the length of your commute, telework, and other personal concerns will affect your job search, as well as the specificity of your job preference.
• Can you be found on LinkedIn? Are your Facebook settings appropriate? Social media, whether we like it or not, is critical to an effective job search. And make sure that the experience you show on LinkedIn matches what’s on your resume in terms of dates, titles, etc.
• Are you networking? One of the simplest ways to speed up your job search is to work through your existing professional network. Sit down and make a list of the people you can reach out to who you have a relationship with that could help you get your foot in the door at an organization you’re interested in — even if it’s just through someone they know. Ask for informational interviews (not a job), attend networking events, etc. LinkedIn can really help in this regard.

Regardless of if you’ve been searching for months or are just beginning, remember that patience is key. The job search process isn’t one that happens overnight for anyone, and feeling discouraged is a waste of energy that could be used elsewhere. Continue to apply to jobs you are qualified for, use your networks, and remember you don’t need to hear back from every job you apply to — it only takes one!