Five Lousy Reasons to Put Off a Job Search

“I hate my job,” writes a young man in Boston. “Do you really hate it, or did you just have a bad week?” I write him back. “No, I hate it beyond all reason,” writes the young man. “It’s gotten to the point where I hate myself for still being here.”

That’s a bad place to be. I remember reaching that state in my last W-2 job. I would wake up every morning with my head throbbing and my jaw aching from grinding my teeth all night. A wave of various bad feelings washed over me: I felt guilty for working so hard at a bad-fit job, and guilty for wanting so badly to quit. The day I gave notice from that job, I felt as though a thousand-lb. weight came off my shoulders.

Lots of people hate their jobs, but they hate even worse the prospect of looking for a new one. It’s no picnic job-hunting while you’re working. It’s a lot of work, and people are tired when they get home from the job they’ve got. But staying at the wrong job is not a fate you want to befall you, either. If you stay at a place where your resume degrades by the day (in a job, for instance, where you’ve got nothing new to fill out your resume, year after year) or where your self-esteem is getting clobbered, you’d be wise to at least start building your job-search engine. Sticking in the wrong organization or the wrong role can squash your enthusiasm, destroy your professional mojo and devalue your skills.

Sometimes people say “I’ll wait to see what happens, and if I get laid off, at least I’ll get some severance.” That may be true, but do you want to hit the job market alongside the rest of your co-worker crew? Wouldn’t you rather be out on the job market (even if in stealth mode) when your whole team of colleagues isn’t also there? Wouldn’t you rather say to employers “Frankly I was getting burned out on the work I was doing, and was really interested in what you’re doing here”? That message is a million times stronger than “Well, I got laid off.” There’s no shame in being down-sized, of course, but how nice to be able to say “It was my choice — it was time to go. I want to keep learning and growing.”

You already know that you’re more marketable on the job market when you’re working. So if you know you need to move on — either because you’ve outgrown the job, you don’t trust the managers, your company is struggling to stay afloat or for some other reason — why not get the project going sooner rather than later?

“I’ll wait and see if I get laid off” is a bad career strategy, and here are five more terrible reasons for delaying what your gut knows is a job search that needs to happen.

1. I need the money.
Of course you need the money. Who doesn’t need money? You don’t need to put your income at risk to improve your working situation. Conduct your job search at night and on the weekends. Start at, the enormous jobs-aggregation site. Look and see who’s hiring for what. Get a feel for the market for people with your skills. If you hate your job, don’t quit in a fit of pique one day — start your under-the-radar job search and give notice when you snag a better gig.

2. My job is close to my house.
It’s nice to work close to home. You can set your commuting radius wherever you like — heck, you can even focus on telecommuting jobs when you launch the job search the universe wants you to jump into. You don’t have to drive two hours each way to get another decent job. You just have to decide to act (maybe this article will help with that, a tad).

3. I really like my co-workers.
I’m the first to acknowledge that working among wonderful people is a gift. Lots of people stick too long at inappropriate jobs for the sake of their fantastic co-workers. The trouble is that lousy employers bank on that phenomenon. They’ll say to their people, “Oh, you wouldn’t quit and desert your teammates, would you?” Really? When we’re all being underpaid and overworked? Don’t fall for that line — go out and find a better employer, and then start bringing your old workplace homies over to the new place, one by one.

4. I don’t want my boss to find out I’m job-hunting.
Could your boss legally fire you because he or she learned you’re job-hunting? Yup, unless you have a collective bargaining agreement or an employment contract to protect you. So what? You could get fired for breathing wrong, for preferring the Yankees to the Red Sox or vice versa, or for almost any random reason. The doctrine is called Employment at Will, and when you take away the legalese it basically says “Employees are dogmeat, and can be fired at any time for any non-discriminatory reason.” You can’t live your life in fear of your employer, for Pete’s sake. I’ve been counseling job-seekers for over twenty years, and I’ve yet to hear of a case where a manager fired someone strictly because that person was found to be job-hunting. (Imagine working for someone like that? Don’t you deserve better?) I’m sure it happens, but the chances of that occurring are pretty slim. With luck, you’ll have your new job offer and be on to the next place before Mr. Crusty or Ms. Awful gets wind of your side project.

5. I’m not sure how marketable I am.
A lot of people delay a job search because they fear that they’re not as marketable as they’d like to be. That’s okay — every job-seeker has a self-evaluation and -branding process to dig into. Apply for a few open jobs and see what happens. When you start putting your job-search engine together, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. You’ll learn more as you update your resume and start thinking about what you’ll write to hiring managers. All of this activity is incredibly useful for you (it’s always a great thing for working people to take stock and consider how an employer would view them — whether they’re job-hunting or not!). So, if you have concerns about your job-market desirability, all the more reason to start addressing that concern head-on, by writing your resume, launching or improving your LinkedIn profile, and starting to look at yourself through a prospective employer’s eyes.

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