The perpetual job hunt

Yesterday I read an interesting post from Alex Chesser on job hunting. After reading I followed up with a few tweets, specifically responding to this point in the post which I thought was spot on:

I’m telling you that the absolute very best time to talk to a recruiter happens when you’re not looking for a job.

I have a strong hunch that a common mistake people make is only looking for a job when their existing one is no longer making them happy. This makes sense when viewed one way. If you’re happy in a role, why change? If things get bad you can always start looking at that point. What’s more, the job search and recruitment process can be time consuming and anxiety inducing, so only start when it’s absolutely necessary. I get it, but there are a number of problems with this model.

First, you’re limiting your view of the job market to what is available at that moment. Second, you’re entering into the recruitment process with the additional baggage of whatever stress your current job is causing you. Third, comparing the job in front of you with one you dislike does not set a high bar. Finally, if you only look for a job when your current job sucks you’ll do less interviews, meaning you won’t get a chance to practice, and therefore perpetuate the belief that the interview process is awful and anxiety ridden.1 None of these things mean you won’t find a job you like, but they decrease the chance that you will, and conversely increase the likelihood of you taking something you don’t really love.

Job hunting shouldn’t be a mode you enter. The better alternative is a state of perpetual job hunting. The only way to ensure you’re doing a job you really love is by looking as often as possible at the alternatives. You’ll learn about companies and roles that interest you, find out what a competitive renumeration package looks like and gain practice at interview technique – vital for when the one job comes round that you really want. Moreover, if you’re enjoying the role you currently have, you’ll be happy to walk away from a prospective role if the terms of the deal aren’t quite right. I wonder how many people accept a sub-optimal contract because they can’t wait to get out of their current one? Being able to walk away puts you in a position of power, and is likely to make you a more enticing candidate too.

The Problem with Recruiters

The quote from the Chesser’s post I included in my intro got my attention because he is encouraging you look for work when you’re happy in your current role. A idea I wholeheartedly agree with. The idea that you should talk to recruiters, however, is a bit harder to untangle.

First, there is the distinction between internal recruiters and external (third party) recruiters. As a matter of course the latter should be avoided. They have a limited view of the market and they are incentivised to fill the job they have in front of them, not find the right role for you. Similarly, if you start turning down roles because your current role still suits you, you’ll soon get marked as someone who “isn’t serious” and therefore get overlooked for any interesting roles that might (randomly) come their way. Internal recruiters are different. There are two ways you might end up speaking to an internal recruiter. You spot a role that is of interest and decide to apply directly; or, you are approached about a role and decide to take the call. The key difference is that you’ve screened the job ahead of time and have decided it looks cool. You haven’t called up a third party recruiter asking what jobs they have on their books. Sure, internal recruiters aren’t going to give you independent advice – they work for the company after-all – but if you’re interested in the company, and the company has roles that fit your skills, they are a connection worth making, even if you decide to pull out after speaking to them.

The Best Way to Find a Job

Recruiters are a sugar hit. They are a shortcut to solving your job problem and are less likely to result in long lasting benefits. The truth is, if you want to adopt the kind of perpetual job hunting strategy that I’ve outlined above you need to put the time in. So what does that look like? What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of things you should do to ensure you find a great job, but I think it should get you headed in the right direction.

First you need a list of companies that interest you. If that is a challenge consider the problems that interest you and the industries tangential to those problems. Crunchbase is a good place to start. Their data includes financing information, and companies that have been funded recently tend to go through a glut of hiring shortly after. You’ll also find these kinds of announcements in Pro Rata the Axios email newsletter too.

Next you should create job alerts for all those companies. Indeed is the best place for this, but Google Alerts will also do a good job of that too. Otta, a British jobs startup focussed on tech, also has a good alerts product, however remember that their view of the market will be limited to those on their platform. You suhould also follow your list of companies on Twitter as many of them will have dedicated careers accounts. I suggest creating ghost profile so you don’t fill up your main feed and consider piping that into something like Feedbin.

Finally, and this should be pretty clear from the section above, but you should always apply direct. Companies love people who apply direct. It shows consideration and initiative, and, what’s more, means they aren’t going to be hit with any recruitment fees. Only apply for jobs you could see yourself taking with the information you have, but don’t set that bar too high. Phone screens are a good way to learn about the kind of work you’ll be doing and the salary expectations. Those calls typically last less than 30 minutes and if you’re unsure after that I wouldn’t bother carrying on. The trend towards remote work is you friend here too. Book the call on a day when you’re able to work from home and do it as part of a regular day, you shouldn’t need to take time off to job hunt any more, at least not in the early stages of the interview process.

Walking Away

Being able to confidently walk away from a job offer is one of the most freeing parts of adopting this strategy. Should the time come that you are able to do this the key is to not undo the progress you’ve made building a relationship with the hiring manager. Remind them that you applied because the company really interests you and you wanted to know more. Reassure them that you liked the people you met, the role, and problems they are trying solve. But your current role has lots going for it to and that you’re going to stick with it for a while longer. Having some very specific reasons prepared for why you love your current role will come in handy throughout the process, but especially if you decide to walk away. End by agreeing to check-in in six months, add them on LinkedIn (they may change company after all) and set a reminder to email them when the time comes.

People spend so much of their lives working. And yet despite this, my guess is that most people do not spend an amount of time looking for work that reflects its importance. A first step to changing this will come from explaining that you should always be on the hunt for new work – not only when things get shitty.

1. This is not to say job hunting and interviewing is particularly fun. In fact I'm pretty sure that the whole theatre of it is pretty broken. But that isn't something you'll be able to change quickly, so practice is your next best option.

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My name is Dan, I'm a product manager and entrepreneur living and working in London. Check out my blog archive or read more about me.