In the June 2, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader worries about being too busy to find a new job.


too busyBefore this coronavirus thing hit I had decided it’s finally time to leave my crummy job. I say crummy but it pays the bills. With record numbers of people having no job at all, believe me, I’m grateful I have a job. I took on more tasks from people who were furloughed. But I could become one of those millions out of work any day now. Guess you could say I’m scared. The thing is, even though I’m working from home, there’s no time to look for a job! Is it unreasonable to want a better job right now? How do I do it while working and during this COVID-19 disaster? Thanks!

Nick’s Reply

The world could be ending and you could still hate your job. One has nothing to do with the other. I’m glad you’re able to separate how you feel about your job from the fact that you need it for an income. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get a better job even when jobs may be hard to come by.

You cannot ignore the coronavirus and the shutdown and the gradual reopening of the economy, but you can’t control any of that, either. Let’s focus on a problem many people have whether times are good or bad: they’re going about their job search all wrong. You can do something about that!

Too busy to search for a new job

My favorite excuse for conducting an inept job search — or for not starting a job search at all —  is, “I’m too busy working to find a new job.” Don’t blame your busy schedule for your career woes. You must make time. (Believe it or not, employers have a complementary problem: Small Business Owner: I’m too busy to hire help!)

People offer this excuse because they have the wrong idea about what constitutes a job search. You may be surprised to learn what smart “job hunting” really requires. It isn’t scouring job postings or sending out resumes. It isn’t going on informational interviews. It isn’t taking a sick or personal day when you can, to contact your network and to call prospective employers.

You can practice the best form of job hunting while you do your job.

Make time, take time, steal time

I make no judgments about it, but people shop online, read the news, check their social media and manage their investments while they work. Some even play games. Right or wrong, they literally create time for those tasks and still get their jobs done.

Even if you don’t do any of those things, even if you are hard at work all day long, you can make time to search for a job because you must if a new job is really important to you.

This might mean stealing time from other pursuits during your workday, and it might mean doing a bit less work for your employer. There, I’ve said it.

Every work day has its limits. When you agreed to do the work of others who were furloughed, you somehow blasted through those limits. Now you must retreat a bit, and still do your job. As you’ve noted, you could lose your job tomorrow, whether you’re doing your own job, or one and a half jobs, or two. So you’re at risk anyway.

As long as you’re doing a good job, you’re not stealing time from your employer. But you must do a bit less of your job to protect your having a job at all. Make time, take time or steal time from your day.

Job hunting on the job

So, how do you search for a job while working?

You might understandably respond that it’s not appropriate to search for a job during your work day. You might worry that it’s awkward or risky to have such conversations with people you work with. This is all about being thoughtful, tactful, discreet and careful. Don’t do anything that would risk your current job. Don’t do anything that feels wrong to you.

It involves talking with others about their work in the context of your work. If you talk with customers during the day, it’s about discussing your work and their work, and discreetly asking questions about their company — which could be your next employer.

If you deal with vendors, consultants and other professionals, remember that they have other customers like your company. Job hunting is about gently inquiring what other companies are doing. Which companies does your vendor or consultant admire and like doing business with? How’s that company doing during the crisis? Who are the “shining lights” at that company?

How to Say It
“I’d love to meet some people there — can you recommend a specific person I can talk with?”

If you use online resources to do your job, reach out to those resources differently. E-mail them. Call them. Have a good business reason for the call, then pause and ask them, “How are you doing through the crisis?”

You’ll find some are doing okay, some aren’t, and some face problems and need help. But almost every one of them will pause and share the moment with you. Take the opportunity to talk shop with them, express your interest in their work and in their company’s business, products or technology. (See Shared Experiences: The key to good networking.) Every one of those people knows other people in companies that might be your next employer. Ask for a casual introduction.

Don’t be surprised if they pick up on the opportunity to open up a bit with you, and wind up asking you for introductions to people you know.

Tap into the grapevine

Anyone you’re in touch with during your job is a potential link to a new job, as long as you don’t lead your discussion with “I need a new job.” First, you need insights and advice about other companies and managers that need help, even if they’re not hiring. Such discussions can turn you into the insider who’s “wired for the job” when one opens up or before it’s even advertised.

There is a grapevine of information about companies and managers that need help — and about who’s a good person to talk with about it. Don’t be too busy to set aside a few minutes every hour and tap into the grapevine.

Advice, insight & referrals

If you want to be more blunt and direct, make a list of people you talk or e-mail with (or with whom you could do so) in the course of doing your job. Make guesses about which other companies they likely have contacts in. The next time you communicate, try this:

How to Say It
“Hey, would you mind if I ask your advice about something not related to our work? If someone like me were interested in working for [company X, which your contact may work for, or which your contact has other business with], what kind of advice would you give me?”

If the response is helpful, take the next step:

How to Say It
“Is there someone at the company that you might suggest I get in touch with?”

We all know far more people in the world than we think we do — and every one of them is a potential introduction to your next boss. As long as you don’t come across as an opportunist who abuses relationships for personal gain, you can ask for advice and insight about other companies to get useful introductions.

While talking with people you interact with during your work day, there’s nothing phony if you ask:

  • Who do they think are the “shining lights” in the industry or business?
  • What articles, books or people influence how they do their job?
  • What are their thoughts and predictions about the industry?
  • What are their interests and aspirations? (Then you can share yours.)

This often — but not always — opens the door to discussions about careers, jobs, and — most important — about companies that need help.

Where jobs really come from

You can do all this in the course of doing your job, because the right people to talk to might be the ones you do business with: co-workers, customers, vendors, consultants, accountants, bankers and even investors, to name a few. These people are where jobs really come from.

If you’re busy doing your job, you’re not too busy to job hunt — because you’re probably already talking with someone that knows your next boss.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of thinking that actively searching for a job requires hours of surfing job boards, writing cover letters and filling out job application forms. That’s not how most jobs are filled.

Help managers find you

I think that, especially in a time when tens of millions of people are looking for work, managers are overwhelmed with incoming job applicants. The people they know and trust in their field are the most efficient and accurate sources of good hires. Your challenge is to tap into those channels of trusted referrals. While there are many such channels, don’t ignore your work contacts.

Make, take or steal time to protect your livelihood. An active job search is about taking an extra moment to connect with people you do business with on another level. It’s not about asking for a job lead, or even about disclosing that you’re looking. It’s about asking for their advice, their insights, and for introductions to people they know who might offer more advice, insights and information about companies and managers you might be able to help and want to work for.

How does anyone make time to search for a job if they’re too busy working? How can you be more efficient and productive when hunting for a new job? What are the best paths for getting to hiring managers? Is what I’m suggesting too risky?

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  1. In the fall of 2019, my employer at the time in their newsletter quoted the CEO saying that we needed to go into “crisis mode.” This is a European company that is very pragmatic, and it is privately owned. I was alert but not worried. I increased my job search efforts at the beginning of the year when my new manager gave me a so-so review and no raise. (My previous manager gave me good reviews but he got demoted – he only had 4 employees and staying a manager required 5 or more.)

    I had some interviews including one that did not go well at all. The immediate feedback is that they were not interested. Fast forward to the beginning of March 2020 and I got a call from the headhunter that I got the job. The following Monday I had a frank talk with the guy who is my new manager. We talked about concerns and what followed. Since he was honest I accepted the job. I awaited results from my background check and gave my old company 2 weeks notice. I worked hard to finish up tasks.

    A day or two after I submitted my resignation, we were notified of an upcoming temporary pay cut of 20% due to the pandemic. One of my now former coworkers said I dodged a bullet. I am now very busy.

    The moral of the story is: If your company is not doing well, find another job.

    • @Kevin: My compliments. It’s too easy to rationalize that things will get better when one knows otherwise. Worst thing in the world is to face the surprise of having to start a job search after it’s all gone south.

      Everyone should be job hunting all the time, especially now.

      I heard the “phenomenal” new jobs numbers this morning on the news (6/5/20). I’m still LMAO. If anyone puts stock in this to stop worrying about the economy and their own job prospects, I’ve got a beachfront house I’d like to sell you in Kansas.

  2. This person’s mindset and attitude is such, he/she is reactionary and not proactive. As such they seldom get beyond the morass they create for themselves. There are a few logical, commonsense questions this person should have done to shed light on their current situation. #1. Who got furloughed and why? #2. What department(s) got impacted and again, why? #3. Where there indicators prior to the COVID pandemic that gave insight of potential cuts? This in essence is observing your employer and an awareness that often isn’t spoken yet nonetheless is real. If this person doesn’t have the capability to make these observations, they don’t have the capability to search for a better position. Often the mindset of this type of person is, no matter what job they have it always is “crummy.”
    When more of the country resumes full operations, there will be many changes to the workplace. Many companies currently are assessing their methodology and operations and will “trim the fat” in areas that simply got out of hand. Some companies are determining where new opportunities will exist and what innovations are required to capitalize on the new marketplace. Individuals such as today’s guest will probably get put out into the cold because of their lower skill level or inability to adapt to the new changes.
    Instead of looking for a job, this person should assess their skill level and determine how to upgrade to be viable for the changes that will take place, and in some cases already are happening. In reality, the current pandemic isn’t any different than “normal” marketplace changes that occur as a result of innovation and invention. Technology always has been the driving force in the marketplace. Those with foresight adapt and those without flounder like a fish out of water.
    In the ’80’s it was predicted that people wouldn’t just change jobs over the course of their work life, they would change careers at least 3 times during that timespan. Fast-forward to today, and that prediction remains intact.
    In my capacity of working with employers of small to mid-size companies, I’m getting inquiries that reveal the aggressive companies that smell opportunity are making plans now to seize the opportunities that await. Part of their planning is incorporating new technologies that equate to sustainability, profitability, and increased market share. These companies all have a similar theme, do whatever it takes to get ahead of the competition. They have indicated the NEED for more talented, higher skilled individuals to assist in accomplishing their goal. Today’s guest does not fit that profile and should take the necessary steps to get ahead of the drone workers who will comprise that sea of floundering fish.

  3. I left a company after 3 years to go work for a new one. I knew it was a small company and I was excited about it. Igot an office with a door. I started in February and by May, there were layoffs. I was spared because I had a skill that was billable. By the summer, we would sit around the lunch table and watch for the mail so we would know if a customer had paid us for work so payroll would be met.

    I didn’t want to leave but with a child at home and a baby on the way, I knew that I had to look. By September, I had an interview and a job offer. My last day was 9-30-98, I started my new job on 10-1-98 and my son was born on 10-22-98.

    My point is to not ignore the signs around you that it’s time to go.

    Epilogue: shortly after I left, there was a fire in the building. There was around 5 left in the Iowa branch. The options were to either move to Colorado Springs or find a new job. A few months later, the company was purchased and no longer exists under that name.

  4. Thomas Schaffer is spot on right in his analysis. Further, if it wasn’t for the small to mid-size companies, I’d be out of a job.
    When I started with my current employer 7 years ago (wasn’t my first choice, but then, my only choice) they had two locations and 70 employees. Today they have one location and 18 employees. I’ve been told I’m in good standing, but it’s at will employment, so I discreetly keep looking while keeping my “Mr. Rogers” face on, and keeping my nose to the grind stone, and stepping up to the new lean and mean dynamic.
    In the past I’ve been the guy kicked to the curb in lieu of the dolts and donut dunkers being retained. Now much older, I don’t want to go there ever again.

    • “dolts and donut dunkers being retained.”

      Hilarious, but also depressing and true at the same time since that is how some companies run their stagnant operation.

      • We’ve all seen that. I was with one company (for ten years) that had several people on staff as “directors” but with no reports. (Unlike Kevin’s manager that had to have at least five). These people would occasionally be invited to project meetings but they had no clear purpose, deliverables to produce, or even any oversight duties. I haven’t worked for that company since ’09 and at least one of those “ticks” is still with the company, still a director, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he *still* had no direct reports.

  5. From Inc Magazine, article telling readers resumes are a waste of time and to target companies, not jobs.

  6. Nick is spot on. You HAVE to make time, but in so doing you have to use that time wisely.
    In my experience before you think of changing or looking for a job you need to do something 1st & it has little to do with time. And if done, it fits into Nick’s advice as it can be applicable to your current place of employment. And I think it’s one of the hardest parts of job hunting.

    You need to wrestle yourself to the ground and answer this question? “Just what is it that I want to do? I don’t mean a job…I mean more to the career side. And this applies to myself. Over time I became more and more a generalist. The Corporate World has always sent a mixed message. “Generalists are valuable…but they search for, and hire specialists.

    You are most likely going to find your next adventure through personal contacts. And as Nick noted you’re usually walking around in a company full of them. And most likely ignoring them as a contact.

    You need to equip those contacts and new ones you’ll make, to help you. And it’s not handing them a resume. You need to control your paper and the conversations that goes with it. Handing someone a resume is like saying “I want a new, you figure out what to do with me.

    Make yourself answer these questions:
    1. What company(s) (plural) do I want to work for?
    2. Where? (here or…preferably at XX
    3. Describe the management style & people skills of the person you’d like to work for
    4. Doing what? You don’t like all those job descriptions you’ve seen?. You take a shot at it.
    If you’re going to do all the work of job hunting, might as well take a shot at something you’d REALLY
    like to do. If it involves a change of profession..there’s a trade off usually in pay so set expectations accordingly for instance the writer says his/her job was crummy. Well, what’s not crummy? If you can’t answer that can someone else to do it.
    If all you want is a paycheck, you’ve got that. If all you want is more money i.e. a better paying job, as a personal contact I can’t do anything for you.
    5 Doing what 2nd choice. Is there an attractive alternative. If it’s doing what you do now, say so.
    6. And as Nick build. Which means it’s not all about you. Do things for others
    7. And yeah, based on the above, develop a core resume & cover letter that reflects it. The cover letter’s best use it to provide your contacts a short primer on how to be an advocate for you..what to say, how to sell you.

    Wrestling yourself to the ground means develop a focus. If I was one of your contacts and you provided a focused target, I can really help you with a minimum use of my time. Because of the way networks work best…I’ll work my network, because I have something to work with. Minimum of time is important, because once you have this stuff in place you can engage your contacts with a minimum amount of your time and as I said, position your network to do likewise.

  7. Just wanted to say thanks for this article – I’m in a similar boat as the person who sent in the question and had started to feel guilty about taking some time out of my work day, but this definitely helped reframe things. Also, I’m definitely going to be using those scripts during calls with our partners, etc. – many of whom are more eager to talk nowadays.

    Really appreciate everything you’ve been putting out over the years – now more than ever. Thanks Nick!

    • @Thanks, JB. Glad Ask The Headhunter has made a difference for you.