Exactly how screwed am I?
June 29, 2008 9:03 AM   Subscribe

How big of a deal is it to be looking for a job without a job?

Background: I resigned recently and will still be on the payroll for about 6 more weeks. I resigned somewhat under duress, but was not actually asked to resign if that makes sense (it's a loooong story). In other words, it wasn't a "we're going to fire you but will allow you to save face and resign" situation but could have possibly progressed to that in the future. We both did some really stupid things and, while I can't speak for them, I know I learned some valuable lessons I'll take with me to the next job(s). It was sort agreed upon by all parties that it would be best for me to leave but I obviously would have preferred to job hunt on my own time schedule while still coming to work every day. However, they threw some money at me to leave on the spot (literally) with a glowing letter of reference and anything negative removed from my personnel file. I agreed somewhat reluctantly but only for salary continuance so I could still list myself as presently employed on applications.

Fast forward to today: The job hunt is not going well. I had a good job so I guess I knew I wasn't going to be able to replace it overnight but it's been almost 3 months now. I sort of figured on getting something word-of-mouth through one of my contacts but nothing worked out so far. There are many potential reasons why I haven't found anything yet but that would be too broad of a topic for a MeFi question. Let's assume for the sake of this question I'm doing everything right and just having bad luck. My main concern is whether I should lower my standards or stick it out and risk being officially unemployed on paper.

How concerned should I be that I find a job while still technically employed? I know it's a red flag for someone to voluntarily leave a good job without having something else lined up, but how big of a red flag is it? I know millions of people have successfully recovered from my situation but I'm starting to get nervous. Since I'm already having no luck I don't want another mark against when I'm being compared to other candidates. My "current" employer said they will give me an honest reference (he was not fired, he has excellent reviews, etc.), but I wouldn't want to count on that to land a job. I have several solid references so I would never use my employer anyway, but they would most likely be contacted if I apply for something locally in the same industry (I'm looking locally and in 2 other areas where I'm willing to relocate).
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You're not screwed at all. It's not a red flag, if a shop wants your abilities and skills badly enough, they will consider you a good find and hire you. People lose their jobs and become unemployed for lots of reasons beyond their control, unemployment isn't considered that big a deal mostly. Don't worry about it.

And yes; lower your standards a little when looking for a new job if things aren't going easy.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 9:13 AM on June 29, 2008

I think it's more important for you than for a potential employer that you're still employed when you get the next job. There are a myriad of reasons to give the potential employer about why you're currently unemployed -- contract ended, looking for career change, whatever. Actually, from the other side of things, when I've set up interviews sometimes it's been a relief when someone is unemployed because it has been very easy to set up interviews, 2nd interviews, etc.

I agree about lowering your standards. Taking on a part time or stressfree job after you've been unemployed and sitting around the house for a while can do wonders for your motivation and attitude, and you can bank some money in the meantime.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 9:35 AM on June 29, 2008

My main concern is whether I should lower my standards or stick it out and risk being officially unemployed on paper.

You're doing it backwards... concern over how potential employers will react to your unemployment should only be a secondary concern. The real deciding factor should be a question of your finances. How long can you afford to go without work while you hold out for a better job?

If you can hold out without destroying your savings, then go for it. Otherwise take the first thing that comes along that will allow you enough free time to keep searching.

How you handle this in the interview is just a matter of spin.
posted by wfrgms at 9:36 AM on June 29, 2008

If you're looking for a similar job with possible competitors/customers/vendors of your former employer, being unemployed can even be a boon, as you won't be in the position of passing confidential information from an interview either way (assuming you'll stick to reasonable limits in your interviews). Some companies have "understandings" that they don't hire current employees of competitors/customers/vendors, so you might even get interviews in those situations that you wouldn't have, if still employed; be ethical if questioned about trade information you garnered at your previous employer, because how you handle such questions in this kind of situation reflects how you might handle their trade information, later.

But do as much informational interviewing as you can, now, while your knowledge of an industry/area/market is still reasonably current. If your job hunt goes on for a while, such knowledge ages, and you'll need to be pursuing other strategies later.

Good luck, and keep plugging. As to lowering your standards, before doing that, be honest with yourself about how hard and fast you are going at the job hunt. Hard as it is for many unemployed people to do so, working 8 hours or more a day at getting your next job is your job at the moment, but it takes a lot of creativity and attitude to do it in a workmanlike manner, if you're getting lots of rejections. Be sure you're putting in as full a day for yourself, every day of your job hunt, as you would for any employer.
posted by paulsc at 9:49 AM on June 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm agree with mariner-- it's not a big red flag. Finding a perfect job is always a pretty herculian task, so I wouldn't give up all hope. If you're not employed by the time your current job ends then it gives you an extra 8+ hours a day compared to the workers to spend dedicated to the task of finding that job, that's a pretty big advantage if you use it.

If it comes up in an interview, make up some random response...

"So why did you leave your last job?"

"I had achieved my major goals at company X, we had just implemented project Y with great success and it felt like a chapter had been finished. I felt it was time to move to another company to give me new challenges and opportunities.
One of the reasons I decided to resign was to force that option upon myself and allow me to work full time finding a job that would best fit my goals."
posted by Static Vagabond at 9:50 AM on June 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

As others have noted, I don't think it's a red flag. I think many companies would value the loyalty involved in *not* job-hunting while still employed by someone else.

It's only a red flag to your spouse, family, friends, etc.; not to employers. :) ("What were you thinking? What if you can't get another job in time? How will we pay our mortgage?" Etc. But for the record, I think you did the right thing in your situation.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 10:08 AM on June 29, 2008

I always thought the advice about not quitting a job until you have a new one had more to do with the concern that, without a current job, you would be more desperate to take anything that comes along rather than waiting for the right opportunity.
posted by troybob at 10:25 AM on June 29, 2008

I've said it before but I'll say it again: I have never had a job lined up when I quit the job I had, except I guess this last time when I left to become a full time parent (but some of the stuff I have to do for my boss... well, let's just say it's got its ups and downs). I've very much with the crowd that says this is not a red flag for potential employers.

Periods of unemployment are extremely common, more so recently. I really believe that all your not having a job is going to mean to a potential employer is that you can start right away. The endorsement of your former employer will be taken at face value.

I wonder when you last job hunted. When I was looking for my last regular job things I discovered that economically things had changed significantly during the intervening years from the job before that and it was disheartening and scary - I went from having several offers to choose from and getting unsolicited calls from headhunters to not getting called back on several interviews I felt pretty confident about, big demoralizer. Sure, partly the former economic upswing had made me overconfident in my super-hire-ability, but it was also just a sucky economy (it's possibly even suckier now, though the later search was just a few months post 9-11). And yeah, I did end up taking a bit of a pay cut in the end, no fun. But I got back up there within a couple years.

Consider all the options besides lowered standards (relocation etc.) and think about whether there are options (temporary or contract work) that could extend your search before you have to accept a downgrade. Another thing to look at are unconventional upsides, i.e. the lower salary job I ended up taking last time ended up having some pretty generous continuing education benefits.
posted by nanojath at 12:03 PM on June 29, 2008

don't worry about it at all. people leave jobs all the time for a variety of reasons, and especially in today's climate, they may just assume you were laid off, depending on your field. don't sweat it. keep looking, and good luck!
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:23 PM on June 29, 2008

If you can pick up somee consulting work, that's a way to support a longer job search, and it justifies the time gap: "I was interested in exploring the consulting field, but I've realized I like a more collegial work atmosphere and being able to learn from my coworkers."
posted by salvia at 2:02 PM on June 29, 2008

here's some devil's advocate advice: it is easier to find a job when you have a job.

that's not a cliche, it's actually true. it's STUPID beyond all possible belief, but it is true. It has a lot to do with the subconscious messages you send out. It's like how you can be single for months and as soon as you find someone you get involved with, suddenly many men or women are amazingly interested in you.

There's also a perception (again, misguided) with many employers that being out of a job is hiding something. Sure, they can call your employer, and check references, but it's suspicious.

I don't think all employers think this way, but the fact is that unfortunately MOST of them do.

Companies don't care about the "loyalty" about not job hunting when employed by someone else. You know why? Because EVERYONE IN THE WORLD DOES IT, and they do it because there's no ethics involved in moving on. that's got to be one of the most misguided things I've ever read. You are not an indentured servant. You are an at-will employee, or you are under contract, and both of these allow you to look for other employment. I won't take calls at my desk and I won't call in sick for an interview, but my goodness, you are more than allowed to look for another job while you have a job. Please do not think otherwise, ever, and you won't get brownie points for quitting a job and then starting to look for a next one. In fact, quite the opposite.

(It's kind of like how landlords in NYC won't take anyone who doesn't have a job... but yet they want you to come sign paperwork IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY, involving you... taking time off from your job. A generalization there but you get my point)

I would be worried about you not having a job when this honeymoon period ends because you had it and things didn't work out. So I would say, yes, lower your standards, because we are heading into a recession, and things are starting to get ugly out there. I don't know your industry but every industry has ebb and flow as to positions available, or not. It also depends on the type of position and the salary you are looking for - if you're making six figures, three months is not unusual.

Remember that job hunting is a numbers game, and that most of the jobs out there aren't in the want ads. Be resourceful. Write a great cover letter that markets yourself and your abilities and send it to companies who you'd like to work for but don't have a posted job, with the closing line, "I know you're not currently hiring for this position, but if you ever are, please keep me in mind." You will be surprised how many people call to say "Um, actually, we ARE hiring for that position right now... just haven't written the req/revised the job descriptoin/bugged HR to get it on the web site."

When I got laid off last summer, I got home at 11am. By 7pm that night I had 57 resumes out the door. I never sent out less than 20 resumes a day and got up at 8 each morning like I was going to work and stopped at 7pm that night. I found a job that paid me $10k more than the job that laid me off in THREE WEEKS (and the job paid a six figure salary). I couldn't afford to get laid off (it was out of the blue and we had made some financial commitments) so I found a job. Now, if you don't have to worry about money and don't care, then, well, take your time. But unless you know what your dream job is and have a plan in place to pursue it, take the less-than-perfect job to pay the bills until you do.
posted by micawber at 1:48 PM on June 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was involved in hiring at my previous job, if we found a good candidate who was presently unemployed our reaction would have probably been, "SWEET! He/she can start TOMORROW!" But we were a pretty small company.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:53 PM on June 30, 2008

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