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The Best Time to Look for a Better Job is When You Already Have One

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The difference between a proactive vs. reactive career strategy is success and mediocrity.  

Too many people look for work at all of the wrong times and accept jobs for all of the wrong reasons. The following ideas can help you figure out when and if you should change jobs and how.

Start by determining if now’s the time to start looking.

Use Career Zone Analysis to Determine Your Job-hunting Status

Your current job satisfaction and career trajectory should be the primary determinant of your job hunting status. Use the Career Zone job satisfaction curve shown in the graphic to help figure this out. If you’re highly satisfied in your current position and it continues to offer lots of growth for the foreseeable future you’re somewhere on the left. If your career is plateauing you’re somewhere in the middle. If you find little satisfaction in your work, the future is questionable or you’re underemployed, you’re somewhere on the right of the midpoint.

The best time to look for a new job is when you don’t need to since career growth will drive your decision-making, not the economics. That’s why I suggest everyone should keep their options open. This is how you implement a proactive career strategy.

Implement a 60/20/19/1 Job Seeking Program

Active job seekers should spend 60% of their time networking. They’ll find better jobs this way. Recognizing that real networking isn’t meeting as many people as possible; it’s meeting a few people who can vouch for your performance and who are willing to introduce you to a few other people who might have an open opportunity. Making sure your resume and your LinkedIn profile can be found by a recruiter looking for someone just like you should represent 20% of your effort.

Nineteen percent of your time should be spent finding open jobs and using the backdoor to gain entrance rather than applying directly. The backdoor is finding someone who can refer you to the hiring manager or department head and getting the chance to demonstrate your ability with a micro-project of some type. Applying directly is a 100 to 1 shot and should be limited to 1% of your effort.

If you’re on the left side of the Career Zone curve I suggest implementing a 50/50 open-minded job hunting plan. While the overall time is a lot less, half of the 4-6 hours per month spent planning your next move should be focused on networking and the other half on making sure you can be found. Then when a recruiter calls, take the call, and ask about the job itself and the company’s growth plans, not the compensation package.

Don’t Make Long-term Career Decisions Using Short-term Information

Here’s a short list of the criteria candidates use to compare offers and accept one or another. As you look the list over highlight your top five.

  • Compensation
  • Location
  • Company
  • Job Title
  • Benefits
  • Content of the work itself and if it’s intrinsically motivating
  • Importance of the work to the company’s strategy or mission
  • Leadership qualities of the hiring manager
  • The people you’ll be working with regularly
  • Company’s growth plans and business opportunities
  • Company culture
  • Chance to learn and grow more rapidly
  • A bigger, more important role
  • Work/Life balance
  • Industry

Now categorize your top five factors into one of these three buckets: 1) what you get on the day you start, 2) what you’ll be doing during the first year and who you’ll be doing it with or 3) the long-term growth opportunity. Be very concerned if most of your top five are short term or the mid- and long-term are poorly defined. A good career strategy needs to emphasize what you’ll actually be doing, learning and becoming, not what you’ll be getting on the start date or hope to be doing. Too often candidates, in the rush to accept, take the job that’s most convenient or the one that offers the biggest compensation package. This leads to a common career malady known as “job-hopping syndrome.” Here’s the cure.

I suggest candidates compare all of their job opportunities on all of the short-, mid- and long-term factors. What I’ve discovered is that rapid compensation growth follows rapid job growth. It rarely leads it.

Don’t Close the Door Before It’s Opened

While turnover is no longer the stigma it once was, what’s becoming the stigma is taking a bunch of lateral transfers for more money rather than more job growth. That’s why I always ask candidates during the work history review why they changed jobs and if they got what they were looking for in the job they took. Without the growth, job satisfaction declines quickly, performance is problematic and turnover increases. That’s why when a recruiter calls and asks if you’d be open to chat about a career opportunity, take the call and say yes. Saying you’re not interested in changing jobs doesn’t mean you’re not interested in changing jobs sometime in the future. That’s why the best time to change jobs is when you don’t need to change.