The title is obviously tongue-in-cheek: only you can decide which way to search for a job is right for you.
But, as I’ve spent fair time over the last years thinking about hiring and looking for a job, and just recently emerged from a somewhat intense job search, I have some more thoughts to present.
As I was looking, some of my friends had told me that I was approaching it exactly the right way, and some other friends had told me that I was approaching it exactly the wrong way. Clearly, there is no consensus in our industry.
My search was quite intense—by my standards at least. I spent two months looking at over twenty companies, and had around a hundred meetings, phone calls and interviews over that period. Ultimately, I managed to line up multiple offers at the same time.
According to conventional wisdom, that was exactly the right thing to do. Now I was supposed to relax, sit back, and pick the best offer, while using all the other offers to negotiate up.
This was not at all how it actually played in my head. Choosing the best offer turned out to be the most stressful and the least satisfying part of the entire process. It was next to impossible to compare them. They were all good solid offers—otherwise I would not have asked for them. Some were made by friends and former coworkers, who wanted to work with me again; in all cases, the future employers clearly needed me and expressed their trust in my ability to make a meaningful contribution. I felt bad that, trying to line up all the offers, I rushed them (and myself!) against some artificial deadline, and in many cases did not allow us to spend enough quality time learning about each other. In the end, I felt like my approach had emphasized quantity over quality—not my style at all!
Obviously, by going down that route I forced myself into having to decline all the offers but one. I ended up profusely apologizing to everyone else. I sure hope I haven’t burned any bridges in the process!
In my previous posts I have talked at length about my strong belief in establishing the right fit as the guiding principle of finding a good job and a good employee. The right fit consists of many facets: technical, cultural (for the lack of a better word), even stylistic—but overall, it is something which is hard to formalize and very difficult to assess over a standard hour-long interview. Establishing the right fit takes time and building meaningful relationship. In a sense, it is completely antithetical to the “grab as many offers as you can and play them against each other” approach.
To bring back my favorite job-search-as-dating metaphor, you wouldn’t date many people at once with the explicit goal of stack-ranking them and marrying the best one. (My kids tell me that my views on dating are decidedly old-fashioned, but I stand by them!) Instead, you would approach them one by one, take your time to get to know each other well, and then, if the relationship looks promising, take it to the next level.
This is exactly how the ideal job search process looks the me. To be certain, I had a good reason not to follow it this time. I lost my previous job; I was not prepared for it; I could not afford a prolonged, open-ended market exploration.
We have, thus, an open conflict between the desire for a slow and deliberate exploration of market opportunities on one hand, and the need to actually have a job rather than spending many months (if not years) looking for a perfect match, on the other hand.
In my mind, there is only one solution to this problem. You have to start exploring and talking to the potential employers long before you actually have to look for a job. Be completely transparent, of course; explain to them that you just want to get to know them and keep the connection warm. In this context, you definitely can and should talk to many different companies. Take your time; be as slow and deliberate as you need; get to know them well and give them an opportunity to get to know you well, too. If you do it right, by the time you actually need a job you will have a few well researched, well qualified opportunities. You will only need to find out who is actually hiring at that point and agree on the compensation package.
A long time ago, my old boss shared a pretty important insight with me: unless you actually feel unhappy and miserable at work, be careful about making a decision to start looking for a new job. To do it well, you’d need to convince yourself that you are not satisfied with your current job anymore. This conviction is psychologically hard to reverse; it might just so happen that you don’t find anything better and decide to stay at your current place, but you won’t like it as much anymore. Unless you know you want to leave, it might be wiser not to look.
There is a lot of wisdom in this advice, but also a danger to waste time and to miss out on legitimately good opportunities. I think that the framework I am proposing here solves that nicely. You are looking around, for sure, but at the same time you are explicitly not looking for a job: remember, you have to start way, way before you need to look for a job. This way, you get most of the benefits without any psychological damage. After all, you just keep in touch with the old friends and coworkers, and learn about the professional landscape in your area.
Coincidentally, you current employer should be completely fine with it, since you are just networking, and not looking to jump the ship. You will have nothing to hide from your boss! If your boss is not OK with you just talking to other people, though—well, in this case maybe you actually do need to get a new job!
What would your potential future employers—the people you are talking to—think about your unconventional approach? If they are smart, they will really like it. For one, it will show them that you are smart and thoughtful: exactly the kind of person they want to keep in their orbit. They also have problems similar to yours: they may not be hiring now, but at some point in the future they will. They understand that it would be kind of late to start sourcing their candidates and building a hiring pipeline at that point. It is much better to already have well-known people around—people like you—whom they can just call and offer a job when it becomes available.
So, that’s our plan, then.
- Invest time to get to know potential future employers well, understand the nature of the work and assess the fit.
- Do most of it on an ongoing basis before we actually need to get a job.
- When we do, take each interaction seriously, go for quality over quantity, find the right one and seize the opportunity.
Agreed? Let’s keep in touch!