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Should You Quit a Job You Hate Before Finding a New One?

By Taunee Besson, CMF, CareerCast.com Senior Columnist

Q: I've always heard that you should never quit one job until you have another, because potential employers don't want to hire people who aren't working. While I continue to go to work every day, it's becoming harder to give it 100% of my attention and commitment. My heart is telling me to resign and devote my time to looking for a new position where there's some job satisfaction, but my head says that leaving a steady job in today's economy is dangerous, and that interviewers may reject me because I'm unemployed. What do you think?

A: Your question touches on two different, but equally important aspects of the current job market, and you will need to weigh each one carefully before making your decision. First, as the unemployment rate reaches double-digit figures and competition for positions continues to grow, the conventional wisdom is that having a job – any job, even one you hate – is preferable to prolonged joblessness. If you decide to quit now and deal with the consequences later, expect to be on the job hunt for at least several months (if not longer). Are you mentally and financially prepared for that experience?

If in the end you just can't stomach your current job any longer and want to take your chances as a "free agent," there are some recent developments in the employment market that could work to your advantage. Back in the days of "The Organization Man," it was true that people without jobs were considered less desirable as potential employees. And to an extent, today's HR reps still prefer filling positions with employees who are already working in similar jobs.

However, with so many qualified employees laid off due to budget cutbacks, the stigma attached to being out of work has diminished considerably. Employers are coming around to the notion that many applicants have been pink-slipped for reasons beyond their control, and won't necessarily count your lack of a job against you.

In fact, during a prolonged job search, you may be surprised to discover that being out of work is more upsetting to you than it is to potential employers. In our culture, work often provides us with our personal identity, as well as our income. Without another strong source of emotional support, it's easy to begin feeling worthless and unmarketable when a job search stretches over several months. And with no regular paycheck, money can become a constant worry – you may start out with sufficient resources for the next six months, but in today's job market will that be enough?

Before resigning, consider how you'll react to being unemployed. It may feel like a relief to be out of a nonproductive situation, but you'll also lose your sense of purpose and structure. Unless you can handle waking up in the morning with a "What am I going to do today?" feeling and won't continually fret about your shrinking bank account, think twice before quitting your job.

Of course, it's no surprise that unemployment can be mentally trying, and you may feel that getting a little frayed around the edges is a small price to pay for the chance to escape your current job. But feeling good about yourself is key to a successful job search – anxious and depressed people perform poorly in job interviews. HR reps can spot desperation a mile away, and it is not a desirable quality in a job applicant.

If you have taken this advice to heart and still want to resign so you can conduct a full-time job search, here are a few suggestions that can help you stay focused and maintain your momentum:

  • Rely on your family, friends, hobbies and volunteer work to provide you with a strong, positive identity. Continue to pursue other activities along with your job search.
  • Spend no more than 40 hours a week looking for work. Avoid becoming a "searchaholoic," devoting every waking moment to finding a new position, or feeling guilty when you don't.
  • Plan some structure into each day. Get up at a reasonable hour and start moving. Make calls, network, go to the library, send resumes and thank you notes, etc.
  • If you find yourself worrying that no one will ever hire you, talk to a friend to regain your objectivity. Confronting catastrophic expectations can decrease their paralyzing effect.
  • Recognize that every job search has its high and low points. Perseverance, a belief in yourself and a good support system will see you through the tough times.


Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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