Should One Quit a Job to Get a Job?

Busy, busy, busy.  Is anyone not busy these days?  Has anybody mastered the life simplification and/or zenlike practices needed to get by in the modern world and still enjoy an abundance of free time?

I bring this up because there’s a wrinkle in job hunting that doesn’t apply to everyone out there, but is a significant challenge a number of my clients are facing that I’ve rarely seen addressed.  It’s the process of “finding work when you’re working” and the question of whether one should quit an unsatisfying job in order to free up the time necessary to explore, research, and pursue a more fulfilling opportunity.

Now I know, many folks who are unemployed right now might not have a lot of sympathy for cases like these. But again, there are more people than you might suspect out there who are working full-time in a job that doesn’t suit them — and feel trapped, stressed out, and frustrated in their efforts to improve things, given that they’re so burnt out at the end of each day they have no time or energy left in the tank to improve their situation.

So what should one advise people in these situations?  Should we tell them to think positively, damn the torpedoes, and ditch that soul-sucking job so they can focus on finding a better one?  Or should we advise them to be practical, suck it up, and hold on to their paycheck at all costs and just hope something changes for the better?

Personally, I don’t think there’s a universal answer to this question.  I think it depends heavily on an individual’s specific situation, emotional state, financial resources, and risk tolerance.  For example, in working with somebody yesterday who has been stuck in a job he hates for three years — and can’t seem to break out — we analyzed the following factors and decided that yes, in his case, it probably made sense to tender his resignation.

Is there a less drastic option you may have overlooked?  (in this person’s case, I asked whether he could set better boundaries at work or convince his boss to let him shift to a 3- or 4-day-per week schedule; he said this wasn’t an option)

Could you just be in a temporary funk?  (having dealt with this issue for three years, as a constant burden, this person clearly wasn’t just “having a bad week” or overreacting to some temporary work problem)

Do you have a decent amount of savings and/or other sources of income?  (this individual had 6-12 months of comfortable reserves, but didn’t have a working spouse or any other income sources, such as rental properties)

If you quit, will you truly use the time freed up to address the challenge at hand?  (when suddenly faced with unstructured days of no job, nice weather, and endless distractions, will a person dive into the career exploration process with gusto or procrastinate and stray from the mission at hand?)

What’s your fallback position, if nothing better comes along?  (this one is huge; if a person isn’t able to find something more satisfying or fulfilling within a reasonable period of time, they need to consider how easy or hard it would be to go back to their “old” career path and restore some sort of income stream)

On this final note, my recent client said that there were always jobs available in his current field and that he was confident he could land one quickly if push came to shove — should his economic needs once again have to take priority.  And it was this “assurance” that tipped the equation in favor of quitting his current job, given that it would mitigate the risk to a significant degree.  Not everyone, however, has the luxury of the plug-and-play skills this individual appears to have, coming from the financial services field.  Many people (myself included) would have to think hard about what type of “survival job” they could potentially snag — be it waiting tables, substitute teaching, selling cars, or working as a temp — if again, the point was reached where cash flow needs again became critical.

At any rate, I thought it was an interesting discussion and one to which certain people out there might be able to relate.  While it’s no picnic looking for a job without a paycheck, it’s also not necessarily a walk in the park trying to do this while you’re fully engaged in a high-stress job, either.  Food for thought, and as always, I’d welcome your input!

P.S.  And back to the “everybody’s busy as heck” comment earlier, this whole topic reminds me of a fascinating book I read back in 2000 called Faster by James Gleick — predicting that society would start facing severe consequences based on what he dubbed the “time famine” resulting from technology and other factors.  Might be time to re-read…

5 Responses to “Should One Quit a Job to Get a Job?”

  1. Great post Matt. One should quit a job only when he/she had another job or interview lined up. If the person quits the job thinking that after quitting only he’ll get the job than its his misconception, may be he won’t get another job. So its very important for them to not to quit the job till they don’t get the offer letter.

  2. (received this note via e-mail and got permission to share it)

    Good blog Matt, although here are some additional thoughts I’d share on the topic. First, I personally think nobody should EVER quit a job before they have a new one lined up, no matter how bad the job is. This is nothing but a recipe for disaster (unless you are Bill Gates or Paul Allen) and after the economic situation we had a few years ago, I would not even think this would be a question. Secondly, I think one has to seriously consider the issue of healthcare. What are these people going to do for health care while out of work? COBRA is not cheap. And lastly, I think another factor you forgot to mention was age. I think it makes a big difference in job hunting due to some of the potential discrimination out there.

    I share all this as someone who was forced to move several times (due to my husband’s career) and every time I had to quit my job and find work as an unemployed person in a new location, it was not good. That said, I don’t necessarily have what you would call “plug and play” skills ( which seems to be the only thing people are looking for today, but that is a topic for another discussion.)

  3. Jennifer: You know, I initially had worked some discussion of that issue into the article, but decided to take it out due to length reasons — but you’re right, that’s another important consideration in decisions like these since yes, there’s definitely some “unemployment discrimination” taking place out there these days. And while I’m not sure that issue alone would be important enough to justify holding onto a high-stress burnout job, it’s certainly something to consider and should factor that into the risk analysis, as well. Not sure if you happened to see it, but I wrote an article about that issue last year that includes some thoughts on the matter. Here’s a link:

  4. Great post, but one thing you didn’t address that I have heard time and again is that you are in a much better position to get a job when you are currently working. Have you found that hiring managers have a bias toward those who are employed? What’s the best way to speak to a period of unemployment when you quit because of burnout or a bad job fit?

  5. Totally align with your thinking on this one. Best to do the risk assessment first, plan/prepare as much as you can, and then if things look in your favor, go for it. Happened to me twice…… first time, after total burnout in one industry it was time to make a radical switch (hospitality industry to high tech)…. so I quit with nothing lined up but the hope that a company I was interested in would come through pretty quick and hire me if I bailed on the earlier one…. and it did. The second time I had no leads and nothing lined up, but the risk assessment/planning had been done and it was just a matter of executing on it. Armed with what I learned from your Job Search PhD class and a lucky aggregator search result showing a position that was a solid fit, I was able to secure the position in short order. Focus is the key….. don’t take your eye of the objective….. then the risk is worth taking.

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