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Job hunting while still employed

June 8th, 2006 · 4 Comments

A great debate over at Lifehacker about hunting for a job while you are still employed, with a lively discussion in the comments about whether or not to let your current employer know you are looking for a new job.

Here’s my two cents worth on how to go about looking for a job when you are employed – which for most of us is most of the time.  It is actually wise, not only from a financial perspective, but also from a future employers persepctive, to be in a job while you look for the next one. 

1.   Do you tell your current employer you’re looking for a new job?  OK, if you check out the comments on the Lifehacker post, you’ll see that opinions differ widely from ‘absolutely’ to ‘never’.  And they both have merit. 

My take is that it really does depend.  It depends on your reason for leaving (career move because there are no further opportunities here versus I cannot stand to work here a minute longer versus spouse transferred interstate versus they really arent paying me what I am worth – two against, two for).  It also depends on your relationship with your boss, and where your boss stands in the heirarchy of the company.  In my book – if you report directly to the CEO then they are going to take it as a betrayal nine times out of ten.

Here in Australia the ‘norm’ is that you don’t tell your employer you are leaving until the day you resign.

2.   Resigning and notice periods.  Once again, it may be different here to what it is in the US (where most of the commenters seem to be from) but here it is usual to give one pay period’s notice – so if you get paid monthly, you need to give 4 weeks notice (and there is normally a minimum of two weeks).  You also may be bound by your contract, an award or an enterprise agreement as to how much notice you need to give upon resignation.  Any future employer worth working for should be flexible enough on a start date to allow you to give an appropriate amount of notice.  Of course, you may be walked out the door, or asked to ‘work from home’ for the duration of your notice – be prepared for this (start slowly taking little things home each evening once you make the decision to leave).

Resignation must be done in writing, but it is good form to do it in person first, with the letter to hand over at the end of the conversation.  As a lot of the commenters mentioned, face to face is the most appropriate, unless of course you dont work in the same city/state/country as your boss.  Even still – it may be appropriate to ask for a few minutes of their time and actually book a phone conversation so you can be guaranteed their full attention as you do the deed.

It is wise and appropriate to keep your reasons for leaving close to your chest.  Especially if they are negative about the company or the staff.  Make the reasons you give about YOU, and how you feel and what you want – rather than about what they did or didnt do or say. 

3.    Conduct the search for a new job on your own time.  It seems we all agree on this.  Dont make phone calls or send off resumes or check out internet job boards when you are at work.  It is very bad form, and can get you fired before you are ready to leave.  And take time off work to attend job interviews – dont try to sneak out!  NEVER use company email to send out your resume – most companies these days monitor emails to and from their organisation and you WILL get caught.  Ditto for phone calls – use your mobile number, and turn it off during core work hours.  They can leave a message.

4.    Don’t burn your bridges – even if you cannot stand your current boss, getting nasty with them as you leave is NOT going to accomplish anything.  And you never know when you are going to need a reference from them.  Remember also that word of mouth can follow you from job to job and you never know who is networking with whom and talking about you.  Keep it nice.

5.    Referees – some interesting debate here.  Most employers I have dealt with would prefer a current work reference, and this can be especially difficult where you have been in your current job for a few years or more.  One thing I like to suggest is to see if there is someone who recently left the company (and therefore is no longer bound by loyalty) who could provide a workplace reference for you.  If all else fails, some employers will offer you a job, provisional on a reference from your current employer once you resign.  This is only risky if you havent been doing a very good job lately, or have burned bridges behind you.

6.    Job interview wardrobe.  I loved the discussion about changing into your suit in a MacDonalds restroom or in your car…(how come no-one mentioned the phone booth? It worked for Superman!:) obviously the people who commented on Lifehacker dont wear suits to work, but feel they are necessary for a job interview.  I have found that it is appropriate to explain to a potential employer that this is how you dress to fit in with your current employer, and that you couldnt wear your interview suit without raising suspicions… but do it while booking the interview to determine whether it is going to be a problem or not.  (Just remember that if you are called in for a second interview, then you will have to wear the suit).  If you commute and have no-where to hide your interview clothes, then you’re really going to have to get creative with your wardrobe or rely on friends that work down the street!

7.   Going for job interviews while employed – wardrobe issues aside.  Here I would advise getting as much role playing experience as possible with recruiters or friends who have conducted interviews to brush up your skills (depending on the length of time since your last job search), all outside work hours.   If you are using recruiters, do your research then take a day off work and book in to see the top four or so who seem the best fit or who recruit for the companies you’d like to work for.

Secondly, be very picky about the actual job interviews you attend.  Get a full job brief first to make sure this is worth your time and energy.  When they propose an interview time, get a feel for whether there is any flexibility around that.  Also ask for some indication of how long they think the interview will go for.  As to how you get the time off work if all else fails – again, that depends on your current work situation and the flexibility and autonomy you have.  I find it is better to say you have an appointment, than to lie and say a dentist or doctors appointment.  Of course, we each have our own level of comfort around that, though.  And we may be desperate enough to leave that we’ll say anything!

A tactic I have found useful is to brazenly put on your suit and announce you are off to a job interview.  Then hint to the office gossip that you’re actually seeing a lawyer/judge/stockbroker and want to make a good impression… By the time you get back to the office, no-one will believe you actually went to an interview, even if you cheerfully announce you got the job and are ‘outta there!’

8.    One final thing – for all those who blog.  Dont blog about your job search if you are identifiable in any way on your blog.  If you really feel the urge to write about it – save it and post it all once you have secured your new job.

Tags: Worthwhile Work

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Emmer // Jun 9, 2006 at 9:40 am

    Hi Karen,
    You’ve made some excellent points. I totally agree, it does depend on an individual’s situation. I’ve gone on job interviews while still being employed and I found it to be very uncomfortable but necessary. I honestly believe if my employer knew I was looking for another job, they’d either fire me or treat me so differently that I’d become miserable if I wasn’t already. I always tried to go to an interview during lunch or on a personal day I’d planned ahead for. Change is never easy.

  • 2 Chris // Jun 9, 2006 at 1:13 pm

    Great post Karen. I’m passing this on to a couple of people I know.

  • 3 Karen // Jun 9, 2006 at 3:37 pm

    Emmer – interesting isnt it, how we feel that if our employer knew about us looking for another job they’d react in a negative way? Thanks for joining in the conversation!

    And Chris – thanks for the comment – really appreciate you passing this on to anyone it could assist. (And please, ask them to post a comment here if they have any questions about this, or anything else career related!)

  • 4 The Clearing Space // Jun 9, 2006 at 4:33 pm

    Telling the boss you’re not happy

    If you are a manager or supervise staff at work, how do you handle resignations and finding out that your staff are out looking for another job? This is a follow up to my post yesterday about job hunting while

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