- The US economy appears to be entering a recession.
- Some career experts caution against leaving your job during an economic downturn, especially if you don’t have a substantial safety net.
- If you’re miserable at work but worried about the implications of quitting, there are other ways to alleviate the daily stress.
- You can start tapping your professional network and researching new opportunities now. You might also ask your manager about shifting to a part-time schedule, so you can spend more time job-searching.
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Until a few months ago, it was a job-seeker’s market in the US. If you didn’t love your current employer, there was a really good chance that you could find another company that would treat you better.
Times have changed.
The new coronavirus pandemic has plunged the global economy into the beginnings of a major recession. In the week ending March 20, the Labor Department reported, 3.3 million Americans filed unemployment claims. Record-breaking is an understatement: The previous high was nearly 700,000 in 1982.
Which means that folks who are less than satisfied with their jobs should think very seriously before giving their two weeks’ notice. In the current economy, there’s no guarantee they’ll find anything better — or that they’ll find any employment at all.
This is the nature of a tough economy: “More often than not,” said workplace strategist Erica Keswin, “I strongly believe in sucking it up and staying put.” Keswin was an executive coach at New York University’s Stern School of Business during the 2008 recession, where she counseled dozens of alumni who’d been laid off.
If you’re unhappy at work but understandably worried that it’s an inopportune time to quit, there are ways to make things less miserable — and to start laying the groundwork for your next move.
The decision to quit your job during a recession depends heavily on your financial circumstances and your family dynamic
Most employees stay in their jobs during economic downturns. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the US quit rate bottomed out in August 2009, with about 1.6 million workers leaving their jobs that month. In January 2020, when the economy was stronger, that number was roughly 3.5 million.
People’s fears about not being able to find another job are generally grounded in reality. “It’s much easier to get a job when you have a job,” Keswin said. Even if you have a substantial financial safety net, keep in mind that hiring managers tend to perceive job candidates who are currently employed more positively than those who are out of work, even voluntarily.
“It’s a very personal decision,” said Christine Cruzvergara, vice president of higher education and student success at Handshake, a platform for college students to find jobs. Cruzvergara has worked in career services at Georgetown University and George Mason University; when she meets with people who are frustrated with their jobs in a difficult economy, she helps them consider the “tradeoffs” associated with quitting.
Specifically, she’ll ask the person questions like whether they’re currently supporting a family and how much money they have saved up. That way, they can get a sense of whether — or when — leaving their job makes sense.
You can start looking into new job opportunities even before you’re ready to quit
If you’ve analyzed the tradeoffs and the costs of quitting appear to outweigh the benefits, you’re hardly stuck. Career experts say this is the time to be proactive about shaping the rest of your career, by researching new opportunities and by getting in touch with people in your professional network who can potentially help you.
Keswin said one option, finances permitting, is to shift to a part-time schedule so you can spend a few days a week job-searching. Depending on your relationship with your manager, you may want to be candid about why you’re cutting your hours. If you’re a strong performer, Keswin said, your boss may be inclined to keep you happy. The cost of turnover is high — potentially higher than losing you for two days a week. “You never know,” Keswin said.
Remember, too: Regardless of the state of the economy, if you’re thinking about making a career change, it helps to have already built a brand, a platform, or a network of clients. That’s especially true if you’re planning to start your own business.
Alison Green, author of the popular Ask a Manager column, wrote in a blog post that she “had inadvertently spent the years before quitting my job setting up the perfect conditions for making this [transition] work.” Most significantly, she’d already started Ask a Manager, “which raised my visibility and got people familiar with my work.” Not to mention she’d saved up enough money to quit and start working for herself.
Consider the work you’ve already done to prepare yourself for another job — and what you still need to do
Even if you haven’t formally planned for a career transition, you may have already done some legwork.
On an episode of the Art of Charm podcast, marketing and strategy consultant Dorie Clark said it’s about taking advantage of your existing expertise and connections. “If you have been following one particular path and if you’ve become pretty successful at it,” Clark said, “the good news is that gives you a lot of social capital that you can leverage to be able to access those universes.” (Those universes are the new career fields you’re exploring.)
Clark recommended telling friends and former colleagues about the transition you’re making and asking them, “Who do you know that I should meet?”
You might also use this time to do “life design interviews,” which are coffee dates or phone calls in which you ask people about their career trajectories. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, Stanford engineering professors who have published two books about design thinking, have written: “You want to hear what the person who does what you might someday want to do loves and hates about his job. You want to know what her days look like, and then you want to see if you can imagine yourself doing that job — and loving it — for months and years on end.”
That way, when you do make a career move, you’ll have a solid idea of what you’re getting into.
Don’t slack off in your current role, even if you’re thinking about your next move
Cruzvergara mentioned the position she held shortly after finishing graduate school. A few years in, she was ready for a new challenge — but the economy was still reeling from the Great Recession. Cruzvergara is a first-generation student and the daughter of two immigrants, and she said “there is one lesson that my mom has hammered home to me in a very strong way, which is you don’t leave a job until you have a job.”
So Cruzvergara spent time outside her day job “re-evaluating and reflecting on what I enjoyed and what I didn’t like about my first position, and what it was I was looking for in my next.” She started to network with people who could point her toward new opportunities — all while “fully dedicated to performing my duties and my responsibilities” in her current position.
Ultimately, she landed a new role at George Mason.
The same strategy may not work for everyone, which is why it’s crucial to be realistic about your needs and preferences. As Cruzvergara put it, every job-seeker has to make their own decision, “based on the totality of all of the factors in their life.”