An Expert-Backed Guide to Finding a Job While You're Still Employed

The 3-month Guide to Running a Job Search (While You Still Have a Job)
by Kit Warchol
February 08, 2017
All signs point to it being time to move on. You’re faking sick, doing the bare minimum work, and dreading Mondays.
But your job also pays good money, and you’re living an OK life on that salary. So you put off launching your job search week after week, trying to ignore the frustration you feel at yourself for doing nothing.

It’s one thing to find a job when you’re unemployed. Sure, it’s terrifying—but when you have no choice and all the time in the world, you can dive into finding your next great gig with a sense of immediacy and purpose. How do you apply that same feeling to job searching when you’re gainfully employed?

We asked a couple of our mentors to give us their best pointers. Below, we’ve got a guide for how to run your job search successfully in just 90 days, all while working your full-time job. Happy hunting.

weeks 1-4: The Prep Phase

Start Off with a Soul Search

Set aside a couple hours to do some soul-searching. You can’t be strategic about finding a better job if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for (and what sort of position will make you happy)—and also what you don’t want. Says Career Contessa mentor, Alyson Garrido: “It's much easier to find the right fit if you know what you're looking for, not just focused on leaving a bad situation. Try looking at what's not going well and imagine what things you'd need to make you happy. Knowing what you want also helps your network help you.”

So before doing anything else, block out a couple of hours where you can spend some distraction-free time considering exactly what you want. We suggest a Saturday morning when you’re not distracted by other commitments. Jot down a few things:

  • Make a list of what you don’t like about your current job
  • And a list of what you do (even if you hate your current role, there are aspects you like and those are what you should focus your next search on)
  • And your job must-haves (benefits?), good-to-haves (flexible hours?), and not-a-big-deals (nap pods, ping pong tables…)

Do Your Company Research

Do some research into company cultures that fit your needs. Says Cassie Chao, another Career Contessa mentor and Uber recruiter: “You don't want to end up hopping from job to job, company to company because you didn't take the time to focus on what you want. Make sure you find the role that best fits your interest, experience, and where you can see yourself grow over the next couple of years.” The best way to do that? Focus on the company, not the job title. More on that here.

One tip: Don’t do this research at work!

Time to Update (and Optimize) Everything

Many people start a job search by immediately updating their resume. But waiting until after you’ve done an exploratory phase means that you can tweak your updates to reflect exactly the sort of job and companies you’re targeting. Now that you know what you want (and what you don’t), play up the parts of your resume that you want to take priority—and remove skills and expertise that doesn’t apply to the roles you’re after.

Next, hit your LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the single best opportunity for you to showcase your skills and to come into direct contact with recruiters. You can also use it to reach out for informational interviews at companies you love and to touch base with your current network to let them know you’re on the hunt. Spend a weekend aligning your resume and LinkedIn and editing (or writing) a killer personal summary. One thing to keep in mind, though, says Garrido: “Be sure to turn off notifications so your network isn't emailed every time you make a modification. That's a red flag to your boss and colleagues if you're not someone who is regularly updating their info.” This will keep your job search on the DL while you’re still at your current company.

Last but not least, update your personal portfolio. If you don’t have one, we think you should. Here’s our argument why

Network, Network, Network

Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? Well, it applies here too. So spend only 20% of your time applying directly to job postings. Spend the other 80% of your job search getting creative and finding ins.

Now that you know what you want and everything’s updated, it’s time to take advantage of your greatest asset: your network. Says Garrido: “A 90-day exit would be very difficult if you are relying on job boards and online applications. Don't be afraid to reach out. Your friends, family, and colleagues really want to help. We tend to be quick to offer and provide help, but we forget that people are also willing to lend a hand if we just ask.” If you’re worried about being discreet, going through people you trust has an added bonus: “You won't have to wonder if you're sending your resume to someone your boss or a coworker knows,” says Garrido.

If you’re not sure how to get started reaching out, try using some of our networking email templates.

Now is also a good time to start looking into events and networking opportunities around you where you can start to expand the network you already have. Doing so is a good way to reach new opportunities without doing what we call the “Spray and Pray” i.e. applying for every job opening you find without employing any strategy.

Says Chao: “After realizing what it is you want to do for your next job, and the type of company you'd like to join, try and find networking events that can connect you to the right people in your industry of interest. The fastest way of entering the job interview process with a company is to be referred.”

weeks 5-8: The Take Charge Period

Master Those Initial Phone Interviews

It probably goes without saying but: you want the perfect job for you, not the first job offer you get. Spend the next month taking any and all phone interviews that interest you, but make sure that you’re being as critical of the company and role as they are of you as a candidate. It’s easy to feel desperate when you’re stuck in a job that you hate but that’s just it—you have a job. That means you’re in a better position than someone who finds herself suddenly unemployed.

Make sure that you prepare your personal pitch and tailor it to each interview you take. You need to be able to explain your why as much as you need to explain who you are and what you’ve done. What makes you stand out?

Remember that phone interviews with recruiters should be treated like standard interviews. Treat them as such. Says Chao: “Try not to take interview calls during the work day. If you need to, make sure to schedule a private place or step out of the office, but make sure it is in a quiet location so that your interviewer can also hear you. Obvious, but important: don't research jobs while at work!”

Walk Into Your Interviews with a Custom Project

That's right, the custom project. If you’ve applied for a position at one of your dream companies (even with a referral) but haven’t heard back, or if you’re facing an in-person interview in the coming weeks, consider a custom project. I have a friend who shifted industries and scored a higher position despite the change because she walked into her in-person interview with a mock marketing plan. Putting in extra work will all be worth it when you score the ideal job—and you’ll have the opportunity to show your skills rather than tell them. Key.

Weeks 9-12: The In-Person Interview Period

Focus on Giving Great Interview Answers

You’re so close. Chances are you’ve scored a couple of follow-up interviews for the positions of your choice. The regular advice applies (like bringing multiple copies of your resume—check out this checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything) and preparing answers to the most common job interview questions. You’ll also want to research some questions of your own.

But according to Chao, you should be prepared to explain why you’re on the hunt when you’re already gainfully employed. “I would recommend staying focused on what you want to do next and make sure you're leaving your current role for the right reasons. Recruiters will dig into reasons why you're looking to jump ship, so be laser-focused on why you're interviewing at the new company.”

Don't Forget to Be Gracious

Send thank you notes! Many places appreciate a handwritten thank you note, and we know some people who have made hiring decisions based on notes they received. That being said, even if you intend to send a written note, make sure to email a thank you to your interviewer ASAP (we think you should do it by end of day, but definitely within 24 hours).

Near the end of 90 days (if you’re still hunting)

By now hopefully, you’ve had multiple interviews and are faced with some strong leads. But if you’re not getting as many responses as you’d like or you haven’t heard about an interview for a while, now’s a good time to reach out to your network again. They may not know that you’re still looking now that a couple months have passed.

If you’re running up against the 90-day wall, and haven’t landed a job offer, don’t let yourself get too discouraged. “Don't get down if you don't see results right away. It's like planting seeds sometimes—it takes a while to see them grow, but one surely will,” says Garrido.

So is a 90-day time frame actually reasonable? “Absolutely!” she says, “It takes focus and determination. It is important to remember, though, that you are looking for the right job, not just any job. If you jump into something that isn't the right fit, you may be looking again sooner than later. Have faith that any effort is a step in the right direction and be nice to yourself.”

Did we miss anything in our search guide? Let us know in the comments.