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How to balance applying for new jobs while you’re still employed

It can be tricky to hunt for a new gig when you still want to succeed in your current role.

How to balance applying for new jobs while you’re still employed
[Photo: cottonbro/Pexels]

Staying motivated when you’re working remotely can pose challenges even under the best of circumstances. But when you’ve got one foot out the door, the temptation to give into distraction skyrockets. You think: No one can see who I’m writing, hear who I’m calling, or notice what I’m doing. And before you know it, you’ve spent hours on your job search but not completed your important deliverables for the day. Oops.

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It’s understandable that when you’re looking for a new job you will want to spend some time each day on the process. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of the time needed to perform in your current role so you don’t risk a bad performance review or even unexpected unemployment, or have excessive pressure to meet deadlines, or simply the icky feeling that you’re not living up to your own integrity.

As a time management coach, I’ve helped my clients manage this balance. Here are a few strategies that will help you continue to succeed in your current job while simultaneously looking for new opportunities.

Decide when to focus on a search

One of the most common issues I see with personal tasks encroaching on work time is people not defining when they will have time to do them; otherwise, they think if they don’t attend to them now, it won’t happen. To save yourself from that anxiety and justification for distraction, designate regular “job search” times in your calendar. That might be 15 to 20 minutes prior to work to review job boards or connect with people on LinkedIn, or an hour at lunch to work on an application. Or that might be some set time on an evening or weekend to update your résumé.

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If it becomes your pattern to know you’ll always have a little time before work, at lunch, on these specific evenings, or specific weekend hours, there’s less worry about when you’ll move forward on your own goals. And you’ll also feel less resentment that “all I ever do is give time to my day job.”

Know when to wander and when to focus

It’s okay to spend some daytime hours on your job search, such as during your lunch hour. But when you’re investing more time in looking for new work than you are in doing the tasks in front of you, there’s an issue.

To help you avoid this temptation, I recommend setting some predetermined limits for yourself, such as no random job search items between 9 a.m. and 12 noon and between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. If you have a special circumstance like an interview, you can flex this time. But as a general rule, stick to your limits. This not only keeps you from spending too much time on your job search when you’re on the clock, but also saves you loads of time in indecision. You no longer have the constant inner monologue of whether it is or isn’t okay to work on your job search now because the boundaries are clear.

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In light of this, I would restrict your communication about job opportunities to these hours as well. For example, message back recruiters and reply to search-related voicemails during your lunch hour. This not only increases efficiency for you because you’re grouping together similar tasks, but also it ensures you’re not getting carried away with time-consuming off-the-job conversations and falling behind on the on-the-job work.

If you’re serious about imposing time constraints, you can install blockers on your computer and phone, such as technology-blocking tool Freedom, to keep you on track.

Pace your meetings

An important part of the job search process is networking with individuals who may connect you with opportunities. This includes recruiters, former colleagues, friends, and new acquaintances. These types of activities usually make sense to do during the day but can end up eroding your quality work time if you’re not careful.

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I recommend pacing yourself when it comes to networking meetings. Unless there’s a very special circumstance, you’ll want to have no more than one per day. And if you schedule in-person meetings that can take a couple of hours, have these no more than once a week.

Also think about the optimal amount of time to spend on these meetings. For many virtual networking chats, 30 minutes is sufficient. That gives you time to not only connect with someone, but also grab a bite and send a follow-up email all within your lunch hour.

Take some personal time

In most circumstances, with thoughtful planning, you can get job-search-related activities done outside the edges of your day job. As I shared above, you could designate 15 to 20 minutes before work to search for jobs, get meetings or applications done on your lunch hour, and schedule time in the evenings or weekends to work on longer projects like updating a résumé or revising your LinkedIn profile.

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I find that with the clarity of what you will do and when, you can accomplish a great deal in a relatively short amount of time.

But sometimes, no matter how hard you try, your job search will take a lot of extra time. For example, maybe you need to do multiple in-person interviews in a day. Or maybe you need to attend a high-impact networking event that’s an hour or two commute each way. In those instances, instead of trying to stuff in your work around job search activities, just take a personal day. Sure, it’s preferable to use your time off for lounging on the beach. But trying to pretend you have eight hours to get work done, when you definitely don’t, is stressful. Just be honest about the fact that you’re not getting much, if any, work done that day, and keep moving forward.

The siren song of unexplored horizons will always be a pull when you’re looking for a new job. But with these strategies, you can stay honest and still deliver on your current day job responsibilities as you pursue other opportunities.

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