Gearing up the Job Search

Mr. T asks in his career column, is it time to move on?

Gearing up the Job Search

Mr. T asks in his career column, is it time to move on?

In a previous career column, I asked you to “kick the tires on your career” and do some navel-gazing about whether your current job is doing it for you anymore.

Let’s assume that your assessment turned negative. Then the question is: How do I go about making a change? The question after that is: How long will this take?

Let’s answer the second question first, because this will make you think harder about the transition. The answer depends on how much time you devote to the search. If you dabble with it three to four hours a week, the answer may be indefinitely. If you are gung-ho and want to make it happen, you will clock 15-20 hours a week. If you quit your job — or it quits you — the job search becomes your 40-hour task.

One of the rules of thumb for looking for a job is to calculate the search to take one month for every $10,000 in salary. If you are making $60,000 a year, you are looking at six months in the hunt for your next position.

Making a job change becomes a three-step process. Your transition requires taking a look at your personal brand. Your brand tells everything about who you are. One way to accomplish this is to write your biography. In fact, do this before you write your résumé. Your biography will give you ideas on how to come across really personal and emphasize what is important. These attributes should translate to your résumé.

After you’ve thought about what you want to do, the next step is to develop a list of companies to target. You can use the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook online. This resource gives a five-year forecast for every industry in the country. You can pick a company at any point in the life cycle — from industries on the verge of extinction to those with growth potential off the chart. You can find industry leaders using the industry classification codes.

Next, get ready for the interview. Does your handshake need practice? Is it firm but not arm-wrestle tough? Is your smile tattooed permanently? (No smile, no energy, no good interview.) Equip yourself with good questions, not the softball variety. What is the company’s three-year plan? Why didn’t the company hit its earnings targets? How many new products will the company have in the next two years? You cannot over-research a company.

When you get an offer to interview, ask to spend a day where you will work and interact with potential peers. Check out the onboarding process. If it isn’t structured and there isn’t sufficient training, you might want to dig deeper into the company. The average cost to hire a person can be up to $10,000. Company staffers better be good at making a great impression.

The filter for all of this is simple: Is this getting me to where I will love going to work and believe I am making a contribution and doing worthwhile things? If the job doesn’t get through that filter, keep looking.

John Thompson
John Thompson

Ask Mr. T

Q. I took a position that I thought was my dream job. The dream has turned out to be a nightmare. I have been interviewing and think I’ve finally found the right fit, but I felt that way before. What can I do to avoid my big mistake with my current job?

A. At this point in your career, you should have some really strong instincts about what’s good and what is not. Every place has chemistry, and you need to know if it’s good or bad. To get a feel for it, ask for a shadow opportunity — a day at the office — before you commit. It could be a full or partial day, but you should spend it where you will work and with the people you will work with daily. If the experience doesn’t feel right, you might think again about accepting the position.

During the interview process, ask two important questions: “Why did the person I am replacing leave? And how long did the person before this one work there?” In the answers, you are looking for turnover rates. You also should ask questions about the posted job description. Ask the hiring managers how they determined the position’s needs and requirements and ask about the commitment to the duties as described. Weak answers mean weak support.

Second, ask where the position falls in the organization. Looking at an organizational chart helps. For example, how many layers are between you and the top? And you and the bottom? If there are a lot of positions going up, be prepared for a long stay in the same job. If there are only a few below you, where is the buffer for being laid off? Just ask good, detailed questions. You do not need to be burned again.

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John Thompson is executive director of TCU’s Center for Career and Professional Development. For more information, visit