Looking for a job can be discouraging and embarrassing, if not downright humiliating. You can be rejected without reason, asked questions you'd rather not answer, or be judged based on criteria you don't understand. Not to mention you're putting your career — and even your sense of self — on the line.
That may be why so many people delay putting themselves on the job market even when they know they should act. For example, I once mentored a customer service representative who knew he should leave his job. After two raise-less, promotion-less years, he found himself feeling undervalued and bored. He had plenty of excuses for delaying action: Why look for a new job when his last job-search experience was a nightmare? Why look for a new job when everybody knows that jobs are scarce in this economy? So he remained at the company — and the next time there was a restructuring, he was laid off.
Of course, I'm not suggesting you jump ship every time you are bored at work. But it's often a good idea to analyze your current situation for signs that there could be something better. If you're stuck in a bad job, your symptoms might be: boredom, complaining, blaming, feelings of frustration and anger, or even a sick feeling on Sunday evenings because you dread going to work on Monday. Your organization's symptoms might include: layoff after layoff, repeated outsourcing, or multiple management changes. In either case, it's time to take action.
Here are some suggestions that will allow you to work with your current work situation without committing to a job search:
Be prepared. Make sure your resume is up to date and clearly shows your career interests. Make sure it's informed by what you want to do and learn next. Start talking to colleagues in a judicious way about your interests. You don't even have to mention job search, and some may be willing to help you achieve your general career goals.
Change at least some of the content of your job. This approach can re-motivate you even if you can't leave your current situation. There is usually lots of extra work in companies that have been downsizing, so volunteer yourself to take on something new. In particular, volunteer for any cross functional projects that put you in contact with senior colleagues. If you succeed, you may be relieved of some of your current duties. Keep asking for more responsibility, whether or not you are compensated for it. If the project builds your resume, the compensation will come. Ever hear the expression, "You have to have the job before they will give it to you"? Well, this is how that happens.
Look for a new job at your current employer. This is usually easier than looking externally for a new job. At least once a month, look at the jobs or employment section on your company website. Where are new jobs being created? Are there some possibilities for you there? If your organization is laying people off, they are probably hiring in other areas. Make some connections where they are hiring, and apply for those jobs.
Closely track your network. It's Networking 101: Keep a list of all the people you liked who left your workplace, or who went to college or graduate school with you, along with their contact information. Stay in touch periodically, so you can activate this network when you need to.
Do something new every year. Join a club or activity, take a course, or volunteer somewhere. Make sure you meet new people and have their contact information. If you are thinking about a new career, focus this activity in the new career area. If you are interested in moving from sales to marketing, for example, take courses in marketing and join marketing organizations.
And if you're still stuck, try disconnecting from your job a little. Make sure to have other things in your life that are important to you — family, friends, an organization, a hobby, etc. Do the job, don't be the job. You'll notice that people who have outside interests and contacts — people who have a little independence from their jobs — carry themselves differently. Often more confident, powerful, and resilient, they are the ones who find it much easier to brave the quirks of the job market.
Searching for a new job doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing activity. These actions will put you more in control of your career and reenergize your work life.