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On the job hunt, success can lead to setback

Job hunter Ron Shermet remainded hard at work even over Canada Day holiday: "While others may be taking time off this summer, I'm planning to log six hours a day at my job hunt."

Fred Lum

Canada Day may have been a holiday for most Canadians, but for job seeker Ron Shermet, it was a day of work.

While he made progress on his hunt for work this week - including talks with several recruiters and an interview for a position he's interested in - Mr. Shermet had no intention of resting on his laurels. Instead, he planned to be at his desk in his home office in Oakville, Ont., by 8:30 in the morning, and work until mid-afternoon on a letter pitching himself for work as a purchasing manager.

He says he's learned to avoid the temptation to celebrate when things are going well by taking a break from his search.

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"If you don't keep up a daily momentum, it can paralyze you. You can fall into a rut and procrastinate, so I try to maintain a daily momentum forward," says Mr. Shermet, who has been unemployed for a year since losing his job as procurement manager for Revlon Canada Inc. last summer in a company downsizing.

"While others may be taking time off this summer, I'm planning to log six hours a day at my job hunt."

That's a sound plan. But a majority of job seekers aren't following it, a new study finds.

An enticing call from a recruiter, a promising interview or even a general sentiment that a search is going well may feel better than the frustration of getting nowhere. But perceived progress can be just as hazardous to a search because it can lull job seekers into a feeling they are entitled to take a break from their hunt.

But even a few days away from the search routine makes it harder for them to gear up again. And at that point, a lack of further progress will make many want to coast some more, says Connie Wanberg, a professor of human resources and labour at the University of Minnesota, and co-author of the study to appear in the August edition of the Academy of Management Journal.

People who tend to be emotional by nature can even end up losing enthusiasm for continuing their search, says Prof. Wanberg, who did the study along with Jing Zhu, a former doctoral student who is now an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Edwin A. J. van Hooft. a professor at the University of Amsterdam.

The study tracked 233 unemployed U.S. professionals, asking them to fill out online reports of what they did for their job search each day for three weeks, and rank how positive they felt about their progress and how confident they were that they would get a job.

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The effects it found are showing up regularly among executives becoming frustrated by a long job search in this economy, says Jim Geraghty, president of Happen, an association for executives in job transition that runs weekly networking meetings in Toronto and Vancouver.

"When people sit back and rest on their laurels after they've had a gangbuster interview or decide they're in line to land a job and, for whatever reason, the offer doesn't materialize, they take it very hard," Mr. Geraghty says. He's seen senior executives become demoralized or fall into a depression that sets them back for months.

That's why Happen recommends that job hunters set a predictable routine and stick to it whether they are seeing a little or a lot of progress, he says.

"We recommend at least five hours a day and at least one networking contact, either by phone or face-to-face, daily. This is not just our advice, but also from recruiters who come to talk at our meetings, for people who hope to avoid being out of work for a long time. You've got to be dedicated to land a job in this economy," Mr. Geraghty says.

However, the Academy of Management Journal study found that few job seekers actually put in that level of daily commitment.

Just 7 per cent of the job seekers sampled devoted six hours or more a day to looking for work. Another 32 per cent reported spending four to six hours a day, 17 per cent spent three to four hours, and the remaining 44 per cent logged less than three hours a day.

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While the study wasn't able to calculate an optimum amount to spend on a search, Prof. Wanberg says it appears those participants who were most satisfied with their progress devoted an average of 20 to 30 hours a week, or about four to five hours a day.

Hitting a happy medium seems to be more effective than going to extremes, she adds. In the study, those who tried to put in eight hours or more a day found it so stressful, they ended up frustrated and eager to ease back. At the other end, those who devoted just an hour a day found they were often distracted by such things as household chores and many ended up doing nothing about their search for as much as a week at a time.

"Job hunters should keep in mind that, while many factors in this job market are not easy to control, one major thing they can control is the time they spend on making their search successful," Prof. Wanberg says.

The study also found that the types of people most likely to stick with their search routine, whether experiencing success or setbacks, are those who identified themselves as extroverts.

"Extroversion helps because networking is a big part of the job-hunt process. Extroverts, we found, get energized by talking with other people," Prof. Wanberg says.

That's something introverts need to learn from, she says. Introverts more often reported finding their search stagnating, and feeling isolated. "Introverts need to work at finding ways to get away from their computers and get out meeting people face-to-face, picking up the phone and going to networking events."

As for taking a holiday from the job search, her advice is to strike that happy medium. "I would say, take some time off, because the job hunt is so intense you do need to take a break. Just don't take a big block. Saying 'it's summer, I can take a couple of weeks off like others are doing' will get you out of a routine that you may find hard to re-establish."


Make it routine

There are too many ways to get distracted. Create a daily agenda and stick to it.

Dress for success

Don't lounge in your PJs. Getting spruced up for work will remind you that your goal is to get out and into a new job.

Network daily

Checking in, getting advice and keeping up with what's happening in your business helps generate enthusiasm and support.

Have a daily goal

Being able to check off a daily achievement will boost your spirits and help avoid depression.

Do regular reviews

Log achievements in writing. Assess weekly where you are making progress and what you may need to adjust to be more successful.

Don't coast

Avoid the temptation to decide you can relax because you've got it in the bag. No search is finished until you have the job in hand.

Wallace Immen

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About the Author

Wallace Immen is an award-winning staff writer for The Globe and Mail whose stories about workplace trends and career advice, as well as about cruising and travel destinations around the world appear regularly in print and on-line. He has worn many hats in his career with the Globe, including science writer, medical writer and columnist, urban affairs reporter and travel writer. More

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