Your grandmother’s advice still stands: Don’t quit your current job until you have a written offer in hand.
Yes, it is a job-seeker’s market, with more perks and flexibility on the table than in past years. But it can take months, requiring multiple rounds of interviews with several levels of signoffs, to actually land a new position at a different company.
The “Great Resignation” — which sees people quitting in droves without having another job lined up — applies predominantly to hourly workers and not to tech experts, says Donald Burns, an executive career strategist and resume expert based in New York. “Most IT people aren’t leaving that way,” he says. For the majority of white-collar workers, “there are all kinds of delays [to finding a new job] due to economic uncertainty and extreme caution exercised by employers” because of bad experiences, he explains.
Even for IT pros with hot skills, “it’s very, very difficult” to look for a job while holding one down at the same time, says Jayne Mattson, principal of an eponymous career management consultancy. “If the process goes too quickly, that can be a red light,” she adds. The job you’re applying for is open for a reason; make sure you do your due diligence.
Still, if you believe that your existing job is no longer a fit for you, here are some tips for how to approach job hunting while keeping your current gig.
1. Look around, then take a deep breath
It’s always good to see what jobs are available, and to know what your skills are worth on the open market. And now’s a good time to take a self-evaluation to see what you really want to do or determine what you need in a job to be happy. “Over the course of the pandemic, people have had the opportunity to reevaluate their career paths and jobs, and think through what’s next,” says Samantha Lawrence, senior vice president of people strategy at online jobs site Hired.
2. Don’t overlook the possibilities where you already work
If the source of your displeasure is needing more flexibility — to, say, pick up your kids at school at a specific time — that might well be fixable. Or perhaps you want to work at home more often or receive more training opportunities. “Ask yourself what’s not working or what’s not fulfilling,” Hired’s Lawrence advises. “If it comes down to one or two things, and you can see yourself growing in your current company, have the conversation.”
Approach your manager with what you want and work out a plan together that will address your needs. Perhaps you need to figure out when you will make up any time away from the job, or how you’ll come up to speed regarding any meetings you miss. “Because there’s so much attrition, companies are more open to having these conversations,” Lawrence says.
And don’t forget to check out the careers section of your company’s website. It can be much easier to transfer to another division or team in your existing company than it is to start from scratch somewhere else.
3. Don’t burn bridges
No matter how frustrated you are, don’t storm off in a huff. In the long term, it’s never worth it. At the very least you’re going to want a decent referral from your existing employer, and you don’t want to create a reputation as someone who leaves co-workers in a lurch. At some point you might wind up working with your former colleagues again — or even report to one — at another company. As satisfying as it can feel in the moment, leaving with little or no notice can come back to haunt you for years to come. (See #4, below.)
4. Build your human network
The best way to find a job is through people you know who can vouch for your skills and knowledge, potential fit with their company, and work ethic. And while the pandemic has certainly isolated people, it’s a good time to pick your head up and join (or re-join) user groups, build or strengthen your university alumni connections, and attend relevant Meetups.
“If you’re a specialized Java e-commerce programmer, what groups do you belong to?” asks Victor Janulaitis, founder and CEO of Janco Associates. “That’s how you find your next job or figure out which skills to add to your inventory or meet someone who knows the quality of the work you do and can recommend you.” You need someone “who can advocate for you in a new organization.”
Ask people you know who recently landed new jobs how they did it, even if it’s in another industry. Also make sure to stay in touch with, or renew your relationship with, anyone who has mentored you in the past.
5. Pay particular attention to LinkedIn
Everyone should use this tool on a daily basis, Mattson says. “That’s where you bump into people you know, or might want to know, and it’s where the decision-makers are,” she advises. Ease into conversations and comment on posts from other people, she says. Make sure to schedule your posts before or after work hours.
Ideally you want to update your profile and start posting long before you start looking for a job, so you don’t tip off anyone in your current job that you’re in search.
Just don’t over-rely on this tool, or any other, experts say. Online communities are great helpers, but they don’t take the place of human connection.
6. Be discreet
Don’t advertise that you’re looking around. Avoid posting your resume on job sites, some experts suggest, because it might be sent to your current employer, even inadvertently. Instead, make those one-on-one connections (see item #4) and send your resume to people you know. “Explore, but do it under the radar,” Burns says. Figure out where you’d like to work, then approach people in that company privately.
7. Be smart
Use your personal, non-work phone and computer to contact potential employers, set up interviews, and send out your resume. Don’t put any personal email on your work machine. “Everyone should have their own desktop and cellphone that are airgapped from the job,” Janulaitis says.
Any gear your company gave or sent you when you started working there, or anything they help pay for (like your phone bill), means that equipment is theirs. Not only can the company demand it back at any point, but there might be a ‘big brother’-type app that monitors what you’re doing. And if you have to hand everything back, there go all your connections, text messages, and the like.
You might also need to ‘airgap’ your professional associations. If your company paid for those, and you find them valuable, then spend your own money on those fees so you can legitimately take membership lists, minutes from any meetings, and conference proceedings with you to your next post, or to help you land that new job.
8. Don’t neglect your existing job…
Remember it might take a while to find your new role, and you must continue to tend to your existing job. “At the end of the day, you have a commitment to your current job and are still expected to meet the requirements,” Hired’s Lawrence says. Go to the meetings, nail those deadlines. You don’t want your inattention to detail to be a tell to your boss or co-workers that your brain has left the building even if your body is still there.
9. … but make time to search
“Some people are so sucked into their jobs, like gravity, that they need willpower to make the search work,” Burns says. The good news is that with so much remote work going on, you probably won’t need to physically travel anywhere to interview. Pre-pandemic you’d need to take vacation time, or work through lunchtime and leave the office early. Just schedule any online search-related meetings or interviews at times when you won’t be missed.
Janco’s Janulaitis calls it “taking time to plant your roses,” and suggests that you can spend 5% of your work time on a job search, as long as you’re still doing your job and performing well.
Hired’s Lawrence says that how much time you spend searching, and when, depends on how badly you want — or need — to leave your current job. If you must leave imminently for any reason, then consider taking time off to update your resume or portfolio, identify or learn any new skills you might need, or conduct that assessment of what you want to do next. But if you can make it a more leisurely search, you might be able to fit it all in without taking vacation time.
10. Be clear with potential employers
Understand what you must have in your new role and do all you can to make sure these needs will be met. Don’t inadvertently take a new job that has the same or similar downsides to your current job. It’s easy to get caught up in a shiny new title, or more money or perks, and forget why you started looking in the first place. “Make sure you stay true to your north star in your job search,” Lawrence says.