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