“Don’t quit your job until you’ve lined up a new one.”
How many times have you heard that little chestnut? (In full disclosure, it’s advice I routinely dispense, myself.) But like all good rules, this one has some important exceptions. When you’re trapped in a toxic job, the path to “something better” can be a steep, rocky, exhausting – and increasingly treacherous – climb.
If you’re stuck there now, you simply may not have the luxury, mental energy, or emotional wherewithal to launch a winning job search. More importantly, though is this little fact that’s too often overlooked in the heat of the moment: you might not be in the best head space to really know what your next job should be. Figuring that out requires time, introspection, and ideally, a little healthy distance.
At times like these, it may feel like you only have 3 options:
- Latch onto whatever job you can snag in a hurry.
- Drop the mic with no idea of how you’ll make next month’s mortgage payment.
- Hunker down in your misery with no hope of finding something better.
But in most cases, this 5-step plan will put you on a better path forward.
1. Update your goals.
Seriously, don’t start with your resume. Start with your goals.
When you feel trapped in your job, it’s easy to get stuck in a flight mindset. Understandable. But don’t update your resume from that mindset. Sure, a rapid-fire resume that conveys hefty, marketable skills and experience might get you a quick ticket out of where you are. But don’t you deserve a better outcome than simply escaping your misery?
So let’s start there. Can you name the values, goals, and priorities for your own life right now? Now, can you name the kinds of work you really want to do (now or someday), the kind of employer with whom you really want to align your energies, and the kind of environment that energizes you more often than it depletes you?
If this all sounds too big and heavy, it’s not. Spend a little time thinking beyond what’s “better than here” and consider what’s right for you. No need to write an 3,000 word essay (unless you’re into that). A simple list of adjectives is enough to get you started.
2. It’s all about the financing: start your escape fund now.
What do you do when you realize that your kitchen is too cramped or your neighbors are too loud? You don’t run out and make an offer on another house without knowing what it will cost – and whether you can afford it. No, you figure out your finances. You weigh the risks and rewards of moving on vs staying put and improving where you are. More importantly, along the way, you go through the highly empowering exercise of ranking your priorities. For example, if you can’t afford the gourmet kitchen and the heated garage and the neighborhood closest to your kids’ school, what’s most important to you right now?
Apply that same thinking to your escape fund. In other words, don’t wait until you’re already in a career dead end. Start saving early and keep it up. Once a job has become so toxic and demoralizing that the only thing that feels survivable is to leap out, without a safety net, your landing will be painful and your next steps more limited. Don’t let your desperation dictate where you end up.
3. Reactivate (and consider redefining) your networking style.
Has it been a while since you’ve put any real effort into networking? What does networking really mean today? Does it have to be forced or can it happen naturally? I think you just answered your own question with that last one. Forced networking, or “honeymoon talk” is unreliable, and unnatural.
Make it a habit to attend conferences (virtual counts) and meet people in your field or area of interest. Connect with those new people on LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to reach out to new people at all states of their careers. You may be surprised at how receptive professionals in your space are to connecting with you.
4. Adopt an “Informational Interviewing” mindset
This step helps the most if you initiate it when you’re still satisfied in your current job. In fact, most of the successful, happily employed people I know are those individuals who don’t see their careers through the lenses of job, employer, or industry. Instead, they identify more strongly with the idea of staying engaged with fulfilling, worthwhile work. They’re always curious about what’s going on outside the walls of their current employer. As a result of this very different perspective, these folks are continuously gathering information through networking and interviewing.
5. What’s missing from the above list?
I didn’t use the word resume once in this list, yet. Why? You do need one (or realistically, several.) You’ll know that it’s time to update you resume when you find a role at a company that you’d like to go after. Then, you’ll update one version of your resume specifically for that role.
The truth is, before trying to slam together your new resume, you’ll fare better in the long run if you follow the first four steps first. If you’ve got something to add to the list, let us know in the comments!
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