Is It Wrong to Look for New Job When You’re Gainfully Employed?

by Thursday Bram · 10 comments

My husband just landed a new job. He hasn’t been out of work or anything like that — an opportunity dropped in his lap that led him to leave his old job and take a new one. But it’s lead me to the question of just how appropriate it is to go looking for a new job when you’ve already got one. I know my grandparents would likely have stuck with a job they already had as long as they could, but it’s now commonplace to be almost constantly looking for a new gig. What do you think?

The Question of Appearances

What does an employer think about applicants who obviously already have a job when they’re going around to interviews? It’s easy for an interviewer to come to the conclusion that such an employee would jump ship the moment something better came along. In today’s world, that doesn’t necessarily keep an organization from hiring anyone, but it does lead to benefits packages, contracts and other tactics that are designed to make it as difficult as possible for a person to move on. Arranging retirement contributions so that they only are truly yours after a few years of working for a company is just one way that an employer looks to buy loyalty.

I’ve become less and less concerned about loyalty to employers over the years, though. Most business simply don’t operate in such a way as to guarantee loyalty these days. A lot of businesses are always on the lookout for ways to spend less, and that includes money spent on employees. If an organization isn’t going to be loyal to you, why should you be obligated to be loyal to it? It’s become harder and harder to argue that, ethically, you shouldn’t look for a new job when you’ve already got one.

Discretion in Your Job Searches

Of course, questions of mutual loyalty aren’t enough to convince your current employer that you continuing to shop around for another position is a good thing. If the organization you currently work for finds out that you’re interviewing for other jobs, it’s not unheard of to suddenly find yourself in need of one of those new jobs. It doesn’t take much to cause friction. Even taking a call from a headhunter is enough to cause problems in some employers’ eyes. So, if you do decide that you need to be on the lookout for another job, it becomes a matter of discretion. The right thing to do is to keep it quiet that you’re circulating a few copies of your resume.

I’m not recommending lying if the question comes up. The right thing to do is to tell the truth and take your lumps. But you don’t need to broadcast your job search either. Don’t take calls in the office. Don’t come in dressed up for an interview over your lunch hour. Don’t conduct any of your job search from your employer’s place of business.

A Job Offer Doesn’t Mean Much

There are plenty of people who, even if they’re happy, seem to be constantly on the prowl for a job. They’re happy to get job offers, even when they don’t have any intention of actually changing companies, because a job offer can be used as leverage to get a little more from their current employer. Personally, I find this a little less tenable than looking around for better positions that you’d be happy to take. If you’re just trying to get a job offer in hand to give yourself negotiating power, you’re going to put yourself in a tough position. That sort of negotiating only works every so often — doing so every year is just a way to convince your employer to call your bluff. Even worse, a lot of recruiters and HR managers will pass along the word that you’ve been wasting their time, making it harder to actually land a job when you need one.

When a job offer doesn’t mean that you’re going to seriously consider leaving your current employer, it seems better not to go looking for one. There’s nothing wrong with bringing a job offer to the company you’re working for and asking them to match it — but only if you’re really willing to leave and take that new position. If you’re just looking for a raise, you may find yourself in a bad position. Whether or not you think of the question in terms of right and wrong, it can easily be seen as a matter of self-interest.

David Note: I don’t agree at all that it’s okay to bring a job offer to the company as leverage for negotiating a higher salary. All it does is show how little you value the relationship with your supervisor and the company you work for. There are endless ways to figure out how much you could/should be paid, and actively looking for another job is not one of them. When I was still in the corporate world, I will show the employee the door if something like this comes up unless he/she has an extremely good reason of how all this came about without the employee actively looking to work elsewhere.

There’s no reason to look for another job unless you don’t want to work at the current workplace. And if you don’t want to work here, the compensation is a moot point.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Priswell says:

    It’s my understanding that you can’t even GET a job unless you’re already employed. Since that’s the case, I can’t imagine that it would be “wrong” to hunt for a job if you’re already employed.

  • Realist says:

    NEVER feel guilty about looking, especially if you work for a large company. Do you think the company would feel guilty about laying you off so the CEO could afford to buy a 16th vacation home? Do you think corporate America has ANY loyalty to employees? They don’t. Labor is despised and considered a necessary evil in the US. Your company hates you because your salary is less money going into some board members’ pocket.

    The company only looks out for what is best for the company’s bottom line and board member’s wealth no matter how many people are hurt, therefore you should only look out for what is best for you and your family. If somebody is going to offer you more for the job they are unwilling or unable to do themselves, then you should go for it.

  • Lothar says:

    I think every few years, you owe it to yourself to look around. This will do one of two things:

    1. Confirm that you are in the best place already and re-energize you in your current job.

    2. Learn that there’s something better out there and that your skills are more valuable elsewhere.

    Organizations also need a healthy churn of employees to bring new blood into the organization, so it’s never a bad thing.

  • MerCyn says:

    The unemployed are often looked at suspiciously – why was the person fired? Even in recent tough times, employers suspect other employers use the economy as a good excuse to get rid of marginal employees. The unemployed have a tougher time selling themselves. On the other hand, most employers have a negative view of job hoppers – why should they hire and invest time and money in that person if only to lose them in a short period of time?

  • Alex says:

    Great article. I actually did this myself a few years ago. I had an ok job, and just checked out monster/career builder once a week. After about a year, a job caught my eye that was close to home. I interviewed and got the job. All around, it was better: pay, benefits, hours, and close to home.

  • Hunter says:

    I believe it is much easier to find a job when you actually have one. Not only is it a big turn-off to employers to see a blank in the employment box, it is depressing to be unemployed. You have a totally different outlook when working and that confidence shines through.

    I wouldn’t want to work with anyone that used a job offer for advantage in their existing job. The only way an offer should be executed is when you accept it, otherwise it breeds resentment with your colleagues.

  • If you’re happy with your current job, I’d avoid looking for another one. If you’re unhappy, whether it’s because you’re underpaid, not challenged, or simply hate the environment; go look. You’re not married to your job.

  • KM says:

    Forget about appropriate – I don’t see a reason to waste my time looking for another job if I am happy in my current one. My company has treated me very well and I really enjoy what I do, so I will use what free non-work time I have with my family instead of running around to interviews. If you are bored, go find a hobby.

  • I wish I looked HARDER for a job when I was gainfully employed. I was under the false impression that my job was secure, and next thing I know, I’m out of work. It never hurts to see who’s hiring just in case something unforeseen happens.

    • KM says:

      Looking to see who is hiring is different from going to interviews and wielding job offers. If you have a reason for checking out postings to know where to jump in case you lose your job, that may be fine, but to me the people who collect these job offers just to know that they can seems like an attempt to find self validation that can be achieved in other, more useful ways, like actually working hard at your current job.

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