How Much Money Should You Have Going Into A Job Search?

When I got laid off I had a hefty amount of money in my savings: $1,000.  I was actually pretty proud to have accumulated that much money, considering we were living paycheck-to-paycheck, and we had recently moved to a more expensive city.

Just a few days later, both cars were at the mechanic, which cost… $1,000.

There went our entire savings.  It’s amazing how fast $1,000 can go.

I’ve been thinking about how much money I would want to conduct a job search.  I’m not talking about how much money I need to live – mortgage or rent, food, utilities, car payment(s), etc… I’m talking about the amount of money I would want to get my job done right.  Here’s what I’ve come up with – this is kind of a “would be really, really nice to have” job search budget:

Formal network meetings: $100/month.  Many professionals-in-transition are free or less than $5, but many networking opps for employed professionals can be $25+.  These are places where many job seekers don’t go, but decisions makers do.  Good place for you to go, right?  For the record, my personal must-go-to event, if I’m in town, is $40/meeting.

Get my resume professionally done: $500.  This can be all over the board, with new resume writers doing it for less than $100, and more experienced writers going through a more thorough process for over $1,000.  I’ll go middle-of-the-road on price because I know a lot of my resume writing partners are around this figure.

Job search coaching: $1,000/month.  I’m not sure what the price would really be on this, but I want to budget high so that if the job search goes on a long time I won’t have to cut this expense.  I may be way too high here.

Career counseling: $0 – I pretty much knew exactly what I wanted, so the “what do you want to be when you grow up” counseling wouldn’t have been helpful to me.  Maybe my job search coach would add a session or two, or refer me to a book, but I didn’t feel it was necessary.  Some of my partners specialize in career counseling, and I know it’s valuable for many people.  Oh, if nothing else go take the Myers-Briggs test for free to see how quirky you are 😉

Paid job boards: $540. I’d probably want access to Execunet ($219 for six months), Netshare ($200 for six months) and The Ladders ($120 for six months), just to keep all my bases covered.

Full-time job search Virtual Assistant: $300 – $400 a month for 6 months.  There are many options here.  Let me recommend you listen to the free 90 minute teleseminar you can find at Replace Myself .com.  I recently hired a VA who used to do job search admin work for clients.  It’s not uncommon, and you can have them do all the tedious, time-intensive things (apply to job boards, look for new opps, find blogs to comment on, search for contacts you should develop relationships with, etc.) you can’t do since you are doing a lot of face-to-face networking!

Job search tracking software: $99 – $250.  When I started my job search I might have spent a few hundred bucks for ACT! (a couple hundred dollars online, plus $40 for the book so you can figure out how to use it, plus you better get some backup software on your computer!) or something like that.  Now, there is only one option I consider viable, and that is (drum roll) the premium level of JibberJobber :p  You can do it month-by-month, at $9.95 a month, or just bite the bullet and get 12 months of premium for $99.

Travel for intown interviews: $40/month. I figure I’ll use about one tank of gas each month for networking, interviews, etc.

Travel for out-of-town interviews: $1,500.  When the search gets long, moving becomes quite viable.  I don’t expect to do much out-of-town interviews, but if I had to it sure would be nice to have a fund just for that – airfare, car rental, hotel, food, etc.  This should cover at least three trips, and could include information interviews or just a week of going to local networking opportunities.

Interview clothes: $500. I didn’t have any nice clothes since I had spent years in a “business casual” environment.  One of the reasons I was so qualified to write the popular Dress for Failure post a while back 🙂  I would spend about $100 on new shoes, a few hundred on a suit, and the rest on shirts, belt, socks, etc.

Realize two things:

  1. You don’t have to have all of this money for your job search. I had none – after I had to fix my cars.  Of course, there is another discussion to be had about your monthly living expenses, which is not included here.
  2. I am probably missing stuff… or some of this stuff wouldn’t apply to you. But it’s what I’d want to be ready for, if I were to start a serious job search again.

Total cost for 6 months: $11,800

Total cost for 12 months: $20,020

High, isn’t it?  The biggest cost is the job search coaching, which I might be way too high on.  But consider this.  If you make $5,000 a month, and are out of work for six months, it costs you $30,000 to be out of work.  And $60,000 to be out of work for a year.

Not that that’s the only consideration in these expenses, but it certainly helps put it into perspective.

What do you think?

12 thoughts on “How Much Money Should You Have Going Into A Job Search?”

  1. One point I feel compelled to make, as a college career counselor: before you spend $1000 on a professional resume writer and career counselor, first think about calling your college or grad school (if you went to college). Many offer these services either for free or for a greatly reduced cost to their alumni, and may also offer free networking events for alums, free targetted job boards, etc. Not every school can offer this, and quality probably varies, but it’s worth checking.

    And if you’re truly unemployed, laid off, etc., check what public benefits are available to you for free or very low cost, through your local government, community colleges in the area, friends and family, or your former employer (if they might cover outplacement help).

    I definitely see the need for paid career coaches and resume writers, don’t get me wrong… but I’m also a natural bargain-hunter, and I think unemployed people should be too.

  2. Heather is very right about checking available resources; there are a lot of excellent resources among the sources she suggested. (However, one should not ignore paid resources in order to save a little bit if that investment is likely to produce a much greater gain. Don’t get a crappy resume because you think that’s all you can afford — that’s very bad savings.)

    I didn’t pay for job coaching, career counseling or virtual assistant because I had access to free help, nor did I pay for job boards. But I did have a budget for other resources, such as books on job search, career development, specific tools, business cards, letterhead, thank-you cards, etc. I would guess that it’s hard to get under $200 and can go much higher; I’d suggest $250-$500 total budget, or maybe $150 start-up and $50 a month after.

    Your estimate of in-town travel for networking and interviews is probably a low-ball estimate for most large urban areas. Parking alone can really ratchet up that total. Out-of-town travel is a toss-up: if one is paying out of pocket, than that’s an underestimation; but for me it was pretty good because potential employers paid for the bulk of expenses.

  3. It’s important to remember that these estimates (however you might adjust them for yourself personally) do not include basic living expenses, so the amount you would like to have saved should be larger that this.

    Tally up your monthly expenses that you’d have to pay if you lost your job, and then add the expenses for the job search. That would be your savings cushion you should be saving for.

  4. As one who has not had a job for nearly 25 years and with no thoughts about looking for one, I found you analysis quite interesting.

    As I tell people, as a Computer Consultant/ Technology Guru, I am unemployed every morning. I am continually looking for a “job” to do.

    You’ve made me want to see how your numbers align with what I spend looking for my next “job”.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about.


  5. If I were a job seeker reading this post, I would be overwhelmed by the numbers. I’d keep looking for the free solution, even though I’d probably spend a lot of time trying to figure things out for myself.

  6. Daniel, you’re very right about looking for free/affordable solutions. I think one of the key decisions is prioritizing: some of these expenses can be brought down (e.g., shop for business clothes at bargain prices, carpool with a friend to networking opportunities, buy books used or borrow from the library, etc.) but every job seeker must decide for himself or herself which of these expenses are most important.

    For example, like Jason, I didn’t feel that I needed career counseling; and I had access to free job search coaching. I have a friend who did pay for those services because they were what she really needed, and she was very happy with the results. For me those were not priorities, but clothes were, as was travel to interviews, and I also felt like paying for the pro version of JibberJobber was a very worthwhile expense. I did not end up using a professional resume writing service, but in honestly, if it was to do over again I probably would because this $500 might save me a few weeks of tinkering and help me target better. It all depends what you need.

  7. Think about saving money for professionals – as noted by Sophie’s post above. You can save the $500 – $1000 for a resume – but if your search takes 2 weeks more (very little more) or if you end up with a lower salary by saving on the job search/interview coaching – the savings you have made can cost many, many thousands of dollars net-net at the end.

    Therefore, when you cut costs – you need to consider the Return on Investment. Even though it is more difficult in these times, it is worth it to cut back on other things (if you can) to be able to afford professional help. The costs, versus the potential rewards are reasonable.

  8. I agree to Sophie I have never felt the need to spend on career counseling since I know fairly well my career paths & choices, etc.. However, given this extreme tight job market I’m considering seeking additional help in the interviewing skills. It is however essential to cushion with adequate savings so one can afford reasonably living expenses under down-economy.

  9. Hi Jason,

    Career Coaching fees are more in the $250-500/month range to work with an individual. $1000 is more of what a coach would charge a corporation.

    When I read this I thought the fees for career coaching were high so I checked by doing a search for certified coaches with focus in careers at Coach Training Institute, a large and well respected school. There were well over 1,000 listed and a quick scan confirmed my intuition about fees.

    I’m a certified coach myself, as well as a career and small business consultant, and I know many other professionals in the field. Many work on a sliding scale and/or save a number of slots at lower fees for people who are lower income.

    Also, you’ll find career assistance at non-profit agencies on a sliding scale (that can slide lower) as well as through private practitioners. There are also job search support groups at churches and many other locations.

    Best wishes on your searches.

Comments are closed.