Ready for a new job? Most career experts would tell you to start looking while you’re still employed. And when you do—you must tread carefully.
“I totally agree with this,” says Andy Teach, a corporate veteran and author of From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time. “When you're working, your professional network is working for you because you're constantly interacting with your industry contacts. They can inform you about jobs you may not be aware of. If you're not working, you're out of sight and out of mind.”
Sara Menke, the founder and chief executive of Premier, a boutique staffing firm in San Francisco, says having a job while looking for a job makes you that much more attractive to a potential employer. “Companies want to hire the best of the best and [those people] are usually employed,” she says. “Plus, quitting your job before having a job is a big risk that you should avoid. Most people do not have endless streams of income, so you should stay in your position until you get that firm offer for new employment.”
Teach agrees. He says most potential employers prefer job candidates who currently have a job because it gives them more confidence that you'll be a good hire. “If you don't currently have a job, it raises a lot of questions and puts you in a defensive position, and you won't be coming at them from a position of strength,” he says.
Furthermore, when you look for a job while you still have a job, there tends to be less pressure on you, he adds. “If you don't get the new job, you have your current job to fall back on and you can just try again. Having a job gives you confidence because you're not in a desperate situation. You may need a new job, you may want a new job, but you don't have to have a new job, unlike someone who is out of work.”
Another reason to start looking while you’re still employed: Having a job while searching for new employment gives you leverage when it comes to negotiating terms for the new gig, Teach says. “You're in a greater position to make demands and get what you want. Without a job, this leverage goes out the window.”
While the experts highly advise against quitting or waiting until you’re fired to start your job search—there are risks associated with job hunting while you’re still employed.
Perhaps the biggest danger of looking for a new job while you have one is that someone at your company will find out and tell others, Teach says. If your boss finds out, he or she may take it personally and see it as a lack of loyalty to them and the company. “They will assume that you're unhappy and worst case scenario, may start taking steps to terminate you. Supervisors want employees who are committed to the job, not to a job search.”
Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, author and president of Humor at Work, agrees. He says the biggest danger is the optics and the fear of a backlash from your employer, who may view your job search as being “almost treasonous.” Depending on the maturity level of your immediate supervisor, “they may seek ways to punish your efforts, such as freezing you out of discussions and opportunities. And obviously, if the new job you are seeking is with a major competitor, then certainly ethical issues will arise and even legal issues around conflict of interest. Depending on the job and environment, you may even be perceived as a security threat,” he says.
Another danger is that if you start to focus too much on getting a new job, you may not be giving your full attention to your current employer, says Teri Hockett, the chief executive of What’s For Work?, a career site for women. “You’ll not only be impacting your company, but your own professional credibility. You may no longer be considered for prime assignments and projects, and this can hurt you in a multitude of ways from your confidence level to your networking capabilities when you need them at an all-time high.”