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Should you take time off to job hunt?

About the author

Alina Dizik is a freelance journalist who covers consumer trends, careers, lifestyle and small business for national publications. Her work appears in the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Men's Journal and BBC.

Seeking a new job while still employed at your current one is tough (photo credit: Fuse)

Seeking a new job while still employed at your current one is tough (photo credit: Fuse)

Eager for a career switch, public relations specialist Jonathan Carl spent months looking for a job as a copywriter. But the demanding and unpredictable hours at his PR job made it impossible to make networking calls or apply for positions, even in the evening. “My [phone interview] place was my car,” said Carl

Finally, he quit to pursue his career change. “It’s a close knit community, and job searching without trying to alert my current job became difficult,” said the 29-year-old who lives in Atlanta and is now focused full-time on the search. “Coming home to start the job search took a toll on me.”

With many workers putting in 80-plus hours per week and under constant stress, it can be difficult to balance a job search with a demanding work schedule. That forces many to burn the midnight oil. Americans spend seven extra hours per week checking their emails and doing work outside of their regular hours, according to a 2012 by Good Technology, a security software manufacturer. And 69% of Singaporeans check into work during non-work hours, according to a 2011 survey from search firm, Robert Half International.

Additionally, social networking sites including LinkedIn, can make a job search more public, alerting current colleagues or higher ups that you’re unhappy at work through common acquaintances or profile postings. Many people like Carl, find that quitting or taking some time off to job search is the only choice.

There are some alternatives, however.

Book a ‘staycation’

Rather than calling it quits right away, career experts recommend taking shorter concentrated breaks where you can be fully engrossed in looking for your next job. “Even with a week off, you can do an amazing effort,” said Dana Manciagli, a career consultant who works with job seekers in countries including the UK, Brazil and Mexico.

A weeklong vacation allows you to do some in-person networking. Take off non-busy times of the year such as in mid-December or mid-summer, which means you’ll have a better chance of fitting in networking lunches, breakfasts or happy hours, said Laurence Stybel, co-founder of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, a Boston leadership consultancy. Use that time to “launch a campaign” which includes reconnecting to those in your network about opportunities, said Stybel.

Opt for formal leave

Many companies have formal policies that allow employees to take unpaid leave without quitting. This can be a better bet than leaving altogether and there’s no need to tell them the reason, said Dana Manciagli, a global career consultant who works with job seekers in countries including the UK, Brazil and Mexico. Unlike resigning, taking unpaid leave doesn’t result in a gap in your work experience on your resume, which is a red flag for hiring managers. “You can tack on unpaid leave to vacation time,” she said.

These days more women are also job searching on maternity leave, Manciagli added. “Maternity leave often triggers the desire to look,” she said. It’s important to check with your company whether employees need to stay with the company for a period of time after returning from leave.

If you’re job searching while on leave, you do not need to explain your situation to a potential employer or contact. “Don’t over share,” Manciagli said. “People are too honest and volunteer information that’s not relevant.”

Draft a plan

If you decide to quit, wait until the last possible moment, says Cliff Dank president at Elm Talent Group, a recruiting firm located in New Haven, Conn. “Do the thinking up front and only leave once it’s going to cause real risk,” said Dank.

Create a timeline for your search, with weekly goals. Consider variables including what attributes you’d like to find in your next job (anything from function to industry), higher salary and even a shorter commute. Assume months of job searching. “Multiply how long it will take you to find a job by two or three,” he said.

Mind the resume gap

If quitting is the only way to land a new job, come up with a compelling story to tell recruiters and companies, which speaks to how you’re building professional experience without a full-time role, said Dank. Consider starting your own consulting practice, getting involved with a nonprofit or pursuing some high-quality continuing education. If you’re switching careers, it can be especially beneficial to conduct a search fulltime. “As long as you can preserve your story and have the financial cushion, then pursuing your job while unemployed will probably lead to a faster outcome,” said Dank.

Carl doesn’t regret his decision and says his former bosses have tapped their network of advertising contacts in order to help him find work in his desired field, something they wouldn’t have done had he stayed with the firm. He’s also not sneaking behind his former firm’s back to find employment. “I now have people that I can confidently list on a reference sheet,” Carl said.

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