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It is commonly repeated that employers prefer candidates who are currently employed elsewhere. I decided to change jobs and may want to resign from my current position soon. I may not find a new job that quickly. Just how much of a difference would that make in the eyes of potential employers?

The question marked as a possible duplicate is about general reasons why one may one to keep a job while looking.

This question is only about the difference in potential employers' eyes with regard to current employment status. Under some circumstances only, the answers to this question may form a subset of answers to the duplicate question. They're quite distinct.

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  • I can say it's always a yellow flag for me when I have a candidate's resume that has a job that they just left recently. Not that it's a show stopper (red flag) but it's enough that you'll probably not be the first person I consider. (unless you're uniquely qualified or other details a bit ahead of my other options) Not that you won't be considered, just if I have a decent number of good resumes you probably won't make the cut, but if I only have a few likely I'd give you a chance to explain things. (To be honest though, I am actually doing exactly as you're considering. One week left) – Eric J Fisher May 8 '15 at 15:55
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    Possible duplicate to workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/16816/… – thursdaysgeek May 8 '15 at 15:57
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There will be two prejudices you will have to overcome:

  1. Why are you not employed? What happened at your last job and why did they let you leave? Are you a "Take this job and shove it because I'm too important to put up with your stupid company" kind of person? Or did they fire you? Or did you walk out and they breathed a sigh of relief that their problem solved itself?

  2. Quitting a job without a prospect seems capricious, and might indicate poor judgement.

Hopefully you will get a chance to explain yourself to an interviewer. If you do, you need to have clear answers to these two concerns.

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  • Anything can have a negative spin put on it, but if one never gets the chance to provide an alternative, less negative explanation that may be all that counts. Something to consider. Thanks. – user35904 May 8 '15 at 5:01
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    But that's the problem @user35904, you'll likely not get that chance. Employers are getting more and more applications, so they tend to lightly scan CVs and cream off the ones worth interviewing. If they see a red flag like this they may well just move on to the next CV. – CLockeWork May 8 '15 at 10:38
  • There is one way around this I have used successfully. Quit if you need to as life is too short to stay in a job that is making you miserable, then look for Contractor positions and cite the fact you have decided to "go contract" and need to be ready to accept at a moment's notice as the reason you quit without a job to go to. This doesn't stop you looking for permanent positions, but is a perfectly acceptable reason for quitting without a job to go to. – Marv Mills May 8 '15 at 12:22
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There are advantages and disadvantages to both positions.

Unemployed Advantages

  • You have all the free time you need to put into your job search
  • You can start the job at any time
  • Not having to put up with a job you don't like

Unemployed Disadvantages

  • People may wonder why it is you are unemployed
  • You're under pressure to find new work as soon as possible
  • More risky financially

Employed Advantages

  • A lot less pressure to find a new job quickly
  • Because you don't need to be employed ASAP, you can afford to be choosy, and wait for a job offer for something that really sounds better than your current position.
  • The fact that you're still employed shows that you have some value as an employee
  • You're continuing to accumulate work experience while job searching. If your search takes longer than anticipated, that might help you get a job later on.

Employed Disadvantages

  • It's much more difficult to job search, both time-wise and logistically, especially if you don't want to make it known that you are job searching.
  • People will want to know why you want to leave your current job
  • Continuing in your job even when you're dissatisfied with it

I've looked for work under both situations, and I think that how potential employers might view you doesn't have as much as effect on you as the other points. If you can tolerate your current job, unless you are extremely confident you can get new employment quickly, it's a huge difference to not have that pressure of needing work right now, despite the major inconvenience of trying to search while working.

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  • Thanks for your input. These are good points, but the question is only about differences in potential employers' perception. This was in the explanation, but I edited the question itself so that it's clearer. – user35904 May 9 '15 at 1:26
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Everybody has his own reasons for resigning or switching jobs. All the employer sees when a jobless applicant applies, is that he/she needs that job. An applicant who already has work, wants that job, because reasons.

Wanting a particular job > needing a job.

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We recently interviewed a candidate that had been out of work for 6 months. I was hesitant to even talk to him, but he was referred by someone I know.

The position I was hiring for was in sales. During the interview I asked him point blank why he wasn't currently employed. His answer was that he just wanted to take some time off.

My gut reaction about this was IF he was financially stable enough to not have to work for months at a time then he may not be motivated enough to perform in a job whose largest piece of the pay puzzle is commission. I decided not to hire him.

For some positions it might be okay to just take some time off. For others it's akin to a career death sentence.

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    That could also have been polite for: My wife left me and I needed some time to put things back together before I got back in the game, but i'm ready now. I hope you didn't pass just on his thin answer. – Bill Leeper May 8 '15 at 17:07
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    My gut reaction about this was IF he was financially stable enough to not have to work for months at a time then he may not be motivated enough to perform in a job whose largest piece of the pay puzzle is commission I'm not questionting your instinct, but it could have been just the opposite. That guy might've been such a star that he could've afforded a mini-sabbatical before putting his nose to the grindstone again. – Jim G. May 8 '15 at 17:25
  • @BillLeeper It's not the recruiter's job to investigate the interviewee's personal life. If there was any other reason beyond "I wanted some time off" THEY should be the one to specify, the interviewer shouldn't have to probe for that info when asking a direct question. – zfrisch May 8 '15 at 17:26
  • @BillLeeper: He was still married. Basically said he was "gardening". Jim - maybe he was such a star, but in my experience stars like that don't just "take some time off" while still in their mid to late 30s - they keep going. – NotMe May 8 '15 at 18:32
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    @NotMe I'm glad I work in an industry where I'm in demand enough to have my pick of employers. It must be frustrating to be interviewing at the whim of someone like you who capriciously tosses candidates into the reject pile based on wild assumptions. – Brian Gordon May 9 '15 at 3:00
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I'm not sure I've quite heard it as you've stated before. In fact, an unemployed person may be more attractive to hire (all other things being relatively equal) because then there is no waiting for the new employee to serve out notice periods.

As someone who has recruited developers: What is more important to employers is how long ago you left your last job - if you've been out for more than 6-12 months, and can't show that you've been productive in that time (a relevant course, creating your own websites, a bit of freelancing, etc), then the concern becomes that your skills are stale.

That said - the best advice is always: stay where you are until you get a new position - that way you won't have to live on savings.

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  • If I am looking at a potential candidate, I look at how long they have at their current job if employed, how long they have been unemployed if they are not. What you are looking for is stability and currency of knowledge. You also want to know WHY they are not employed. – Jane S May 8 '15 at 0:32
  • Funny you should mention being productive in some way in the meantime. I was thinking there are quite a few skills I could work on that I never get the chance to practice in the current job. In a way, that can make making me a more attractive employee than staying where I am. And it looks like the negative effects don't kick in right away. A few months wouldn't be too bad, I guess, and I don't see myself being where I am for that long. Thanks. – user35904 May 8 '15 at 5:11
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There are several disadvantages to quitting your job before you get a new one. The biggest one (in my mind) is that it is not likely that you will be able to get unemployment benefits. Depending on why you left the job it may be possible (http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/unemployment-benefits-when-quit-32450.html). Unless you have a lot of money banked and are prepared to be bleeding your savings for a while, this is a big deal.

The second reason is that prospective employers are going to want to know why you left your old job. Saying anything negative about your ex-employer is going to make you look bad, to some extent. This is unfair, but I have heard it over and over from both recruiters and employers.

Here's an example. A few months ago I had an interview that went (I thought) extremely well. It caught me completely off guard when they called and said I wasn't going to be asked back for a second interview. I asked the HR guy for details and he was nice enough to explain. I have had a lot of jobs, working with a large variety of people. Some of them were, shall we say, challenging to work with. When I am asked “tell me about a time when you…” questions, these are the guys who surface because I am good at working with challenging people in a professional and positive manner. He told me that they had rejected me because it sounded like I was a person who didn’t get along with people, because I had so many stories about hard-to-work-with people. He told me that being positive in a job interview is very important.

Another risk in quitting your job is that you will run through your one month safety margin. After you have been out of work for a month, it starts to look bad. I have asked a number of recruiters about this, and what I seem to be hearing is that there are only two “acceptable” reasons for being out of work for more than a month. One is to take care of an ill family member. The other (and this is only the case if you have been working for more than fifteen years, so it stands to reason that you might need a break) is to “see the world”. Any other reasons will hurt your chances for employment. I have even heard that there are some employers who will round-file you out of hand if your last job ended more than a month ago. They figure if you were any good someone would have already have snatched you up.

You didn’t say what kind of work you do, but for me, in the IT industry, being out of work means my skills can start to go stale. Of course, I start out with lots of good intentions of using the time to learn new technologies and write all those programs that I keep meaning to get around to, but as time drags on and the out-of-work blues set in I find I have less and less mental “energy” and I find it very difficult to effectively learn new things under those conditions. Your results may vary.

That being said, having more time on your hands to look for another job can be an advantage if you are able to put it to good use. There is also the advantage that you won’t have to give notice at your workplace. However, IMO those advantages are small ones. Most of the time you spend job hunting is in waiting for the right job to come up or someone to call you. And I don’t often get hired by employers who want me to start right away. The wait time is shorter when I am contracting, but for FT jobs I have had “wait times” of anywhere from two weeks to three months.

Personally, I would never walk out on a job before I had a new one. But that’s just me; I tend to be a cautious person, and I don’t know how bad your job is. If it is truly so bad as to be causing you a great deal of emotional distress, then you might very well be better out of it. Attitude is a large part of interviewing well, and if you are in a job which is destructive to your attitude it might hurt your chances of finding another job.

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