How to Safely Job Hunt Today While You're Still Employed — So You Don't Get Fired Later (Issue #394)
A safe strategy for exploring new opportunities
“You know, I could fire you.”
I stood up, put my hands on the conference table, and leaned closer to my seated boss.
"Oh, really? You're gonna fire me after all I've done for this company? The sacrifices I've made?"
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "I'm not going to fire you. I'm just upset that you're quitting."
I guess my resignation came as a surprise, but I'd done nothing wrong. I had used a couple of vacation days to take time off from work and used that time to interview for a new job.
The interviews had gone well, and I had two job offers to consider. I hadn't decided which one to accept yet. But, a re-org pushed me to accelerate my timing, so I gave my two-weeks notice early.
However, my experience highlights that you do have to be careful when you look for a new job while you're still employed.
Here are my five Do’s and Don’ts to help you be strategic and safe with your job hunt.
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Define your ideal job
Identify your ideal employer
Activate your network
Be intelligently visible
Let’s dive into each of these items in a little more detail. By the way, I’ll expand on these points a lot more in the audio version of this newsletter article. If you’d like to hear that, scroll up to listen! 🎧
1. Define your ideal job
You don’t have a lot of free time on your hands when you’re already employed in a full-time job. So, you can’t afford to waste your time — or anyone else’s time — with a vague conversation about what you’re looking for with your next opportunity.
Before you dive into a job search, start talking with people in your network, and applying for open positions, spend some time capturing what you want most for your next career move.
Create a clear answer to the question:
“What kind of job are you looking for?”
2. Identify your ideal employer
Expand on your previous answer by doing research into your ideal next employer. I want to help you minimize the time you spend in the next phases of the job search (e.g., talking with your network, contacting potential employers, applying for jobs, interviewing). The shorter those phases are, the sooner you can receive job offers and reduce your exposure.
Do you want to stay in the same industry (e.g., finance, e-commerce, gaming)?
Do you want to work for a similar type of employer (e.g., quitting eBay to work for Amazon)?
Do you want to work for a startup, a small company, a larger corporation, etc.?
Does the employer need to be based where you live?
Would you be willing to relocate?
Are you open to a remote role?
Create a clear definition of your ideal employer — almost like building a “persona” that describes the ideal company for you. Start building a list of potential employers that come close to what you are seeking.
3. Activate your network
Ok, now that you know what your next ideal role should be and the type of employer you are seeking, you’re ready to engage with your network. When you tell people you’re looking for your next job, they’re going to ask what you want.
However, you have to be careful with giving your trust. I’m not saying your friends and connections might betray you. It’s more like some people have a hard time keeping a secret!
My last job search — which ended in great competing offers from both Yahoo and Google — was accelerated because I reached out to a select few people in my network. I intentionally talked with those who were in positions of influence (e.g., they could directly hire me or share my info with the right hiring managers) or great connectors (e.g., they knew about opportunities, were connected to hiring managers, and could ping their networks for me).
I knew I could trust them to be professional, check around, and not reveal my job search status to the wrong people. I didn’t want that information to get back to my manager too soon.
4. Be intelligently visible
With my “Invincible Career” strategy, you should always be visible online and in your industry. People should know who you are, what you do, what you’re capable of achieving, and how amazing you are.
Write articles, publish and post on LinkedIn, be a guest on podcasts, post smart insights on social media, etc. When you do this regularly, it doesn’t seem out of place.
However, if you are rarely professionally active online, someone will notice the sudden increase in the velocity of your engagement. “Gee, why is Bob suddenly posting on LinkedIn multiple times a day? Is he looking for a new job?”
5. Be selective
I am not a fan of blasting your resume to hundreds of companies. I also don’t believe in applying for hundreds of open positions, hoping that one will just love your resume.
If you use the “spray and pray” approach for your job hunt, way too many people will know that you’re unhappy with your job and looking for your next move. Most industries are surprisingly small, and you’d be amazed by how quickly news travels. Someone at your company will find out. Are you ready for that?
Instead, focus your efforts on a few ideal employers. Leverage your network to get warm introductions. Do this well, and your interview process will be smooth, fast, and efficient. Again, the longer you’re in job search and interview mode, the more likely your employer will find out.
Don’t do this
Some of this advice should be obvious, but the mistakes people make when job hunting has surprised me.
Don’t use company resources
Don’t be “open to work”
Don’t be interviewing when you should be working
Don’t count your chickens
Ok, let’s dive into each one of these mistakes.
1. Don’t use company resources
This advice should be obvious, but people break this rule all the time. Never look for your next job or interview using your corporate laptop, phone, or network. Use your own devices on your own internet on your own time.
Speaking of company property, don’t share your employer’s intellectual property during a job interview. You probably signed a confidentiality agreement as part of your employment agreement. That means you can’t share any information that isn’t publicly available, unless your employer gives you explicit approval to do so (which you won’t ask for anyway, if you’re keeping your job search under wraps).
I know this makes it harder to share your portfolio of work or talk about your latest projects during an interview presentation. But it’s not worth the risk. You should find ways to discuss your most recent work without violating your employment agreement.
2. Don’t broadcast
Now, I’m fine with the modern practice of sharing that you’ve been part of a large layoff. That’s not your fault, and I don’t think it looks bad to admit it. One of the quickest ways to get a job lately has been to announce on social media that you were laid off.
However, broadcasting that you’re seeking a new job while you’re still employed is not a good idea. The more you do it, the more likely your manager will find out and there could be unpleasant repercussions.
Also, desperation never looks good. I’ve witnessed people begging for a job online, which makes you wonder why they aren’t in demand? How weak is someone’s network if they have to broadcast to strangers that they are desperately hunting for their next role?
3. Don’t be “open to work”
Linkedin has an “Open to Work” feature that lets recruiters know you’re looking for a new job. Your profile will show up with priority in searches, and your profile photo has a green circle around it.
I think you can guess that this is a bad idea if you’re currently employed. You don’t want your boss or coworkers to see that you’re “Open to Work.”
You can choose to restrict the setting, so only recruiters see your status, instead of all LinkedIn members. That way, your profile doesn’t get that snazzy green circle. But this can work against you. Again, I think it looks a bit desperate.
As Robert Hellmann explained in his article about the feature:
The “open to work” indicator turns off some employers and recruiters because they prefer passive candidates.
You may receive more attention than you want from recruiters and employers that aren’t a fit for what you want, which wastes your time.
4. Don’t interview when you should be working
When I used to work in a corporate office, I would often hear people being interviewed for a job in our “phone booths” and conference rooms. The walls were thin, and some people were loud. Not smart.
The smart folks took a break and walked outside during their job search conversations. We still suspected what was going on, but at least no one could hear the conversation to confirm those suspicions.
Now, the boundaries between work and life are incredibly blurred since so many of us are working from home. But, you probably know when you should be working for your employer and when you are on your own time. Schedule work breaks for your job search activities and make sure you’re still giving your employer the time you should be.
When you’re scheduled for a full day of job interviews, don’t use a “sick day” to take time off from work. It sure won’t look good if you’re supposed to be sick at home, but someone runs into you in the grocery store after your job interview.
If you have a flexible work schedule, you can arrange your meetings and work time around a job interview. If not, you can use personal days or vacation days to take the day off and interview.
It’s ok to say, “I’m taking a day off for personal business.” You don’t need to come up with some wild and crazy fabricated excuse (e.g., “I’m attending a funeral for my cousin’s iguana.”). If some presses for details, just say, “It’s personal.”). That’s why it’s called “personal business.”
5. Don’t count your chickens
Finally, don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched. Way too many employers are rescinding offers now. The economic downturn has made the whole job hunt process more unpredictable than ever before.
Don’t pull the trigger on your resignation until you know for sure you have that new job locked in. That moment used to be when you had signed the written offer and returned it to the recruiter, manager, or HR rep. That’s no longer the case.
When an employer makes a job offer of at-will employment, they can rescind that offer for any reason at any time — including the period after you accept the offer but before you begin work — without legal consequence.
So, I suggest that you don’t resign and give your notice until you have a start date. But, I also recommend waiting until it is exactly two weeks before that date. There are no guarantees, but this should hopefully reduce the chance of your offer being rescinded after you’ve quit your job.
Always be looking
You should always be looking for your next opportunity and be ready if something amazing comes along. But you want to be strategic about your approach to the hunt, so you don’t risk your job when you’re currently employed.
In a perfect world, your boss would understand that you’re looking out for yourself when you keep your eye on the job market to see what the next step is for your career (i.e., stay where you are and advance your career internally or look outside for something better). Heck, a great boss would help you assess job opportunities and review offers to make sure you’re making a wise decision.
But, we don’t live in a perfect world, and sometimes we don’t work for the best bosses. So, take care of yourself! Be smart about your job search, stay in contact with the right people in your network, and explore opportunities in a way that won’t jeopardize your future.
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Larry Cornett is a Personal Coach who can help you optimize your career, life, and business. If you’re interested in starting a business or side hustle someday (or accelerating an existing one), check out his “Employee to Solopreneur” course (launching later this year).
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.