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I'm a software engineer deciding to leave my first job out of college after 3 years.

I've been taking phone calls and interviewing but I've reached 2 bottle necks.

One is that I don't have the time to schedule all these onsite interviews. They are typically full day events, and I've already taken off 2 days in the past 2 weeks to do them.

The second is that I need to study for these interviews, but I haven't been able to find the time to really dedicate to this. (so far I've only been able to cram)

I'm very unhappy at work right now, so I'm considering just putting in my two weeks notice, cashing out my vacation days, and using my time to study and really focus on interviewing. However, I've always heard that it's bad to leave a job before you have another one. Does it really make me that much less attractive of a candidate?

If I do stay, how do I manage to schedule these interviews and study for them while still doing my day job?

Update: So..some extra information people have asked for. 0) Location: USA, SF Bay Area

1) Finances: i have enough saved up to live comfortably with no additional income for at least 6 months, plus another year if i dip into my buy-a-house savings. I also want to try driving for a ride sharing service in the meantime.. this would allow me to stay relatively financially stable indefinitely so money isn't a problem.

2)Vacation Days: I'm currently working on a solo project at work. So, while i have vacation days to take...every one i take puts my project further and further behind its expected completion date. Also, my manager told me that she was going to be on the lookout for people WFH more or taking spontaneous vacation days as a way to figure out if they're interviewing elsewhere.

3) Studying: I think it's pretty normal to study for coding interviews (lots of folks at my job are currently reading 'cracking the coding interview'). However, the kind of work environment i'm looking for tends to exist in companies that use Ruby on Rails. I haven't used it in about 5 years, so i basically just have to relearn the entire framework. Also, the language I've used most recently (javascript) is one i learned as needed on the job, so I never had to learn things like how prototyping works, or how javascript handles closures. Anyway, i feel i need to learn a lot more about both Ruby on Rails and Javascript before i'll really be able to nail these interviews.

4) applying for the right job: Part of the reason i want to try a new job is that i don't feel as if i've learned enough at my current one for how long i've been there. Part of this is probably my own fault,I could've done more learning on my own at this time, but a lot of it was being put on project after project that would get canceled a month after i joined because the company would try to change directions once again. I would probably be better suited working in a more junior role, but because i've been working for 3 years, most companies aren't looking to hire me for that.

marked as duplicate by Jim G., JB King, Kate Gregory, The Wandering Dev Manager, mcknz Nov 29 '15 at 18:00

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    Are you asking only about problems regarding your "attractivity" as a candidate, or also about other reasons for not quitting earlier? For example, the latter also includes the possibility of none of your job interviews being successful and you being without a job for quite some time! – anderas Sep 16 '15 at 7:32
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    What do you mean with "cashing out your vacation days"? – o0'. Sep 16 '15 at 9:36
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    @Lohoris In many (American) companies, vacation time is considered part of your earned compensation, so when you leave, your unused vacation hours are converted to an hourly pay rate and added to the final check. So if you have a week of vacation, you make $30/hour, and you quit, you get (40hr * $30 = ) $1200 extra on the last check. Note that "sick time" usually doesn't follow this convention, and it can all vary from company to company. – JPhi1618 Sep 16 '15 at 13:38
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    You mentioned you still have vacation days. Why don't you use them for the interviews? – Val Sep 16 '15 at 16:08

12 Answers 12

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However, I've always heard that it's bad to leave a job before you have another one. Does it really make me that much less attractive of a candidate?

For some hiring managers, it would make you seem like a less attractive candidate. For some, it makes you look like someone who doesn't value work as much as other candidates.

Some hiring managers would wonder why you cannot conduct a job search while working, when the majority of others can. That might lead to questions of efficiency and juggling multiple tasks.

Some managers actually like to hire out-of-work folks. They feel that this status gives them leverage when it comes to salary negotiations.

Some folks consider leaving before having a new job a bad practice financially.

When you have no income, you might feel pressure to take a job quickly, and hence might choose a less-than-optimal job. For me, that would be my biggest concern, and is the reason I advise all of my friends and family to find their next job before quitting their current one.

None of these reasons mean you cannot find a job if you quit before having one. But for some, they are negatives. And remember, these are people's impressions we are discussing - not the actual circumstances in which you find yourself.

If I do stay, how do I manage to schedule these interviews and study for them while still doing my day job?

Consider scheduling job interviews for early-morning, right after work, weekends, personal days and vacation days. Many hiring managers understand that it can be a challenge to juggle regular work and interviews, and are willing to come in early or stay late for appealing candidates (I always do).

Study for potential jobs on nights and weekends, or during your lunchtime if necessary.

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    It might be worth noting that fielding phone calls and having interviews is not the same as having job offers. So not only might you feel pressured to choose a less-than-optimal job, but you might get to the point where you need the income and don't even have a less-than-optimal job to choose. – Warlord 099 Sep 16 '15 at 16:04
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    A key question to ask along these lines is how many months of reserves do you have? If you cut back spending to an acceptable minimum, how long can you have no job before you are forced to re-enter the work force, no matter how bad it might be? In some environments, like high volatility startups, it's common to have a substantial reserve in savings because you never know what will happen. In other environments, it is not unusual for developers to live hand to mouth because they know they can rely on a safe and predictable environment. – Cort Ammon Sep 16 '15 at 21:14
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    @CortAmmon: another way to look at it is that if you don't have enough reserve to quit your job then you don't have enough reserve to lose your job, and should either be building it or perhaps insuring against the common causes of losing your job that are out of your control. – Steve Jessop Sep 16 '15 at 22:53
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    I don't speak from experience, but an advice about looking for a better job that I've heard is that you should first save enough to be able to look for your job full time, and if necessary turn down less-than-perfect offers for as long as several months until you get one that is good enough, thus avoiding that financial pitfall. Of course, this requires some long-term planning. – tomasz Sep 17 '15 at 11:06
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    Thanks for this post. I had vaguely wondered about the same question as OP, since software devs are fairly "in demand". The part about "Some managers actually like to hire out-of-work folks. They feel that this status gives them leverage when it comes to salary negotiations." basically answers the question for me. – HC_ Sep 17 '15 at 23:08
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The primary reason to not leave your current position until you have secured a new position is because there is no guarantee that you will be able to find another position in a timely manner, and you could end up in a very poor position financially. Plus, even if you don't like your job, as long as you continue working, you are gaining both money and experience which can help you towards getting another position. Furthermore, by voluntarily quitting, you are ineligible for unemployment. If you do choose to quit, a short period of unemployment probably wouldn't be a problem, but if you end up being unemployed for a much longer period, it may make it more difficult to find another position.

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    Generically speaking, yes. However, as a software developer, it's harder to not find a job than it is to find one. – Seiyria Sep 16 '15 at 12:50
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    @Seiyra That is not the experience of every software developer. – Kai Sep 16 '15 at 14:46
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    @Seiyria - I know plenty of Devs, good ones too, who can tell you another story. If you have bills to pay and no second salary in your family, I would suggest that just taking ones ability to find a job for granted is a very risky choice. – Rob Moir Sep 17 '15 at 5:24
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It's not bad - but you have to be sure you can support yourself for at least a few weeks, and even months.

Even if the first job you apply for converts into an offer you accept - it could take at least a month from your application to phone screen, then a week before a face to face, and then another before an offer is made, and then time to formalise the offer into an agreement. Additionally, they might not be ready for you to start immediately, fir various reasons.

Unfortunately, many people are not in a financial position to go for so long without a paycheck - and even if you could, why should you dip into savings when you don't have to, either. That will delay dreams like a house, or that trip to exotic or overseas locations you've been working hard for.

So the general advice is to stick it out while setting up an exit strategy.

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    Not to mention the fact that, after you do start, there will probably be a few weeks until you collect your first paycheck. – Radu Murzea Sep 16 '15 at 17:05
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I actually did leave a software development job before having another lined up, and it worked out well. Leaving a position early can be beneficial, but there are some nuances you should take care of first:

  • Make sure you have enough money saved up to survive not finding a new job any time soon. Consider anyone who is relying on you for support too, and don't make this decision without discussing with them first.
  • Consider the benefits that you're currently receiving from your employment and what you'll need to do in lieu of them. If your health insurance is provided by your employer, for example, make sure you are covered on a spouse or parent's plan or have access to an independent plan.
  • Don't leave your current job until prospects look good, you should be getting good feedback from your phone and in-person interviews so far. You should also have new interview requests coming in frequently.
  • Be honest with your prospective employers. Explain the problem(s) with your previous job (this is one of the first things most interviewers ask), but do so without speaking ill of the previous employer.
  • Be confident in your decision. If you aren't confident that leaving early was the right choice, interviewers will think that it wasn't entirely your choice. Let employers know that you're looking for something better than your last position, not just whatever you can get.

If you can't meet these criteria, don't leave your current position yet.

If you do decide to leave early, take the time between interviews to study for interviews, work on personal development projects (interviewers like to see that you're not just sitting around between employment), and clear your head of the stress from the previous job.

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    Well said. Bravo! – HiChews123 Sep 17 '15 at 20:01
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If you leave a job without another job lined up, the problem is that future interviewers will assume/ suspect/ infer that if you weren't fired you were at least a poorly performing employee that was encouraged to leave. Different interviewers will make stronger or weaker assumptions, of course. In the United States (your profile doesn't say where you work), this is generally made worse by the fact that former employers are often loathe to provide any sort of reference (positive or negative) other than the dates you were employed and your title. So unless your interviewer happens to have a personal relationship with someone at your former employer that knows about your performance, it's hard for them to know whether you were really on the path to being fired or not.

Of course, it's certainly possible for you to rebut this presumption during the interview process. There is a good chance that you'd be asked why you left your first job and you'd need to be able to give a convincing explanation.

Taking a step back, it seems odd that you'd need to do a significant amount of studying for interviews certainly not so much that it becomes a burden. I get that you might want to brush up on some algorithms that you haven't used since you graduated or refresh your memory on a framework that you haven't used in a few months. But, presumably, that's something that you need to do once during the job search process not something that you need to do before every interview. It's useful to do some research on each company before an interview but there is little reason for that to be onerous. Unless you're being interviewed for a senior management position, it's generally more than enough to understand the general line of business the company is in and a bit about the challenges and opportunities they face in order to be able to ask good questions at the interview. That generally shouldn't require more than a bit of leisurely reading the night before.

As for scheduling, that's what vacation time is for. Is it likely that if you take off 1 day a week every week for a while that folks will infer that you're probably interviewing elsewhere? Sure. But if you're prepared to quit, that's probably not a terrible thing. If you're being somewhat selective about the positions that you do full-day interviews for (that is, you're only doing them for positions you reasonably think you would accept if you were offered and that you reasonably think you're qualified for) and you're getting interviews once a week, it probably won't be long before you get an offer. It's not like companies bring dozens of people in for all-day interviews.

  • If you're willing to lie then explaining odd single days off isn't too difficult, especially if you can manage Monday or Friday. "I need to use it or lose it" is an option in most companies if you don't want to lie, since it's typically true with some time horizon, albeit perhaps a year :-) – Steve Jessop Sep 16 '15 at 22:57
  • Most interviewers are trying avoid their personal risk from a poor choice of candidate. They need to convince themselves that if they choose you over other candidates, you will be good at the job and also stick around. Leaving your current job would have a negative impact on both of those considerations. – Mike Honey Sep 17 '15 at 6:03
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I did the same thing. I do possess some advantages in the sense of having savings and very sought after skills though.

Most answerers don't seem to understand the need to study hard if you are aiming for top jobs. You aren't going to get into prestigious jobs without brushing up on algorithms and slaving away at leetcode or something similar first. If your day job is tedious and repetitive, it's hard to tap into the creative part of your brain that is needed to do really well in interviews.

I tried to interview while still being employed, and I was always tired and getting repeated blows to my self esteem by being close to suceeding, but not managing. I was also actively projecting my resentment for my current job, which was no doubt raising doubts in perceptive people. Also, it's not like I had any advantage - hiring managers would still drill me pretty hard "why do you want to leave your job, huh?". When I had already left it, I found it easier to give a vague answer (because it was a done thing, and there was less pressure on the part of the new job to be everything that "saves" me from what I didn't like in my previous position). Also, incidentally, some recruiters/hiring managers perceived my leaving the previous job as the move of somebody who has so many options, they need to be chased down to consider their position. Whilst being unemployed and free, that was what I was projecting, I suppose.

I was pretty lucky to find freelance work whilst being unemployed and this process also exposed me to more things to learn. I also spent some time doing volunteer work for a charity, so I doubt there's going to be a gap at my CV - hiring managers have been pretty impressed by what I have been up to the past few months.

I also managed to cut down a bit on my spending, really relax (it's great to wake up in the morning without a sense of dread) and start doing laundry, cooking properly (cheaper and healthier this way), and reading some god damn books. If I had jumped from one job to another, not only I would have jumped probably at the wrong one (because of wanting to escape), but I would have never experienced what I experienced. Being unemployed for a while and experimenting with freelance work also helped me understand that I don't want a 5-day a week job and helped me search efficiently to land one with less hours.

In your shoes, I would do some tentative steps to figure out how marketable your software engineering skills are. The more marketable they are, the more likely you are to have a smooth funemployment period before you land a really great job. Pick up some web development skills if you must. Also, judging from the onslaught of recruiter emails I got as soon as September came (whereas in the summer there wasn't much, perhaps hiring managers/recruiters want a holiday too), timing is important.

I would also review your spending habits for the past six months, figure out what you need per month and see if financially the plan is viable and for how long. I'd also take a vacation in some cheap country to take my mind off things. And, thus, I conclude my novel.

  • Fantastic answer! – Jason D Sep 14 '16 at 19:44
  • As someone who's also contemplating resigning without having a job lined up, one of the pros (I think) going full time job search is that you would have time to work on side projects. As a software developer having something of value to show always goes in your favour. Moreover, you could always tell the employer that you wanted to focus on personal development. If you have time, you could also join part time school courses that will help you in future jobs like I am thinking to do. – user3777390 Mar 28 '17 at 17:34
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First, it is a financial problem for you. If you give notice before you signed up for a new job, there will be some time where you are not getting paid. If you have plenty of money, no problem. If money is tight, big problem. Many people consider having a bad job that pays badly to be better than having no job that pays nothing. Plus knowing that you are leaving a bad job soon makes the job easier to handle. (For example, if a nasty boss shouts at you, knowing that you are leaving soon means you don't have to give a **** about his shouting).

Second, some hiring managers will try to take advantage of the fact that you need a job. If you are employed, they must make an offer that is more attractive to you than staying at the old place. If you are unemployed, they only need to make an offer that is more attractive than you staying unemployed. So you are in a worse negotiation position.

Third, some hiring managers don't like the fact that you left a job without having a new one. This is to some degree irrational, but that doesn't change it. If you say "I quit my job and travelled six months through Australia", that is quite an acceptable reason. If you say "I couldn't stand my boss and quit without having arranged a new job", much less acceptable.

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I think there are three separate issues here:

  1. Finances. How long can you survive if you don't find a new position in time? Might you end up taking a worse job (temporarily at least) because you didn't get an improved one before your financial buffer zone got too short? This is a risk only you can properly assess.

  2. Studying for interviews: what sort of study are you doing that requires a lot of time? If you are needing to learn fundamental things then you may be going for the wrong jobs. Remember that if a job requires very specific skills that aren't explicitly listed as requirements for the job, especially if you are applying for a junior position, it might be assumed that you will learn those specifics on the job so what you need to demonstrate in the interview and with the experience listed on your CV and so for, is a good base knowledge of the area and an ability to learn.

  3. How hiring managers perceive this will vary a lot unfortunately, but remember that you don't have to mention it until they explicitly ask. It is not uncommon in my area for people to have a three month notice period which can be a long time, so people do sometimes leave before having something new lined up for that reason. At some point if they are interested in you they'll need to know what your notice period is with your current employer, then you will need to tell them how much notice you need to give (but not necessarily why that is as long or short as it is). When you say that you are available now (because you've left) or soon (because you don't have much of your notice period left to serve) there might be a follow question about why you handed in your notice before having a new job - make sure you can justify this action and that should be fine. Simply "I knew I wanted to change because [insert good reason here] and I thought that the long notice period would impair my suitability to new employers" would usually be acceptable, as would "I knew I wanted to change because [insert good reason here] and I wanted to spend some time improving [insert useful skill here] which I wouldn't have had time to do in my last job" if you have already left (this, if phrased correctly, could show commitment to your newly deviated path which is more likely to be a positive point than a detriment). Just make sure it is clear to the interviewer that you left for good reasons, not (for instance) because you were under-performing and left before you were pushed.

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    Regarding studying for interviews: Thanks in part to one of the co-founders of stackoverflow and the stackexchange network, many software development organizations now test interviewees as a key part of the interview process. People study for these tests, apparently as hard as they now study for the SATs and such. – David Hammen Sep 17 '15 at 18:31
  • That seems a bit mixed up. I've studied for some professional qualifications recently, but that was developing/proving my general skill-set not learning specifics for a particular job. But I've not interviewed in a long time, so maybe I'm quite a distance out of touch... – David Spillett Sep 18 '15 at 8:51
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    Mixed up, yes, but that's how it is. The underlying problem is that lots of people who can't program their way out of a paper bag nonetheless claim to be programmers, and they apply for programming jobs in droves. How to filter out those wannabes? The standard answer is to give a test. Companies can't use the fizz buzz test anymore; solutions are all over the internet. These tests have become a thing in and of themselves over the years, and they've apparently become quite convoluted. – David Hammen Sep 18 '15 at 9:29
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It's all about supply/demand and how hireable you are. I worked two weeks at one place before quitting because the job requirements weren't what was described and I had specifically brought up one point during interviewing. When I took this position I had no commute and had a hard time keeping up with all interviewing. This position had a long commute and I had no accrued vacation so it would have been impossible to follow through with every opportunity. Also, once I decided to leave it didn't feel ethical to stay and keep getting paid to essentially learn and not be productive. This was one of the hardest decisions I ever made since it felt wrong even if logically it made sense.

For the next week and a half I was on the phone or interviewing almost all day, to the point I nearly lost my voice. Once I had the first offer I contacted the others and within two hours had several offers. This ended up giving me more leverage since interviewing in my free time would probably have led to only one offer at a time. With several offers I could also be pickier about location, benefits and so on.

As long as there is demand and you are hireable, you have the job-hunting experience to prove it and you have something to fall back on in case it goes south, the risk is low and it could end up being the best thing you do. I understand this is not the case for everyone so you need to weigh the odds and how risk averse you are. Good luck!

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It depends on how much demand there's where you live. Where I live there is, so I didn't have much of a problem.

I was fed up with my last job by some reasons, so one day I couldn't stand it any longer so I figuratively said, I'm quitting!!! Solve what is left by yourself!!! I got a 20 days break, and after that in 15 days from my first sent curriculum I had a new job.

So if there's demand you shouldn't worry much.

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First, as the OP points out, interviewing is time intensive. It makes sense then that you've done as much due-diligence on the role before doing the full-day-on-site, whether or not you've given two weeks notice. Are you and the company the same ballpark for salary and other compensation? Do you see eye-to-eye on philosophy? Are you interested in working with the technology they use? Get these out of the way early no matter what you do to save yourself the time.

Second, I've known several people who have done this and they've turned out fine. There is a difference between having a month-long gap between jobs while you're figuring out your next thing and having a year-long gap. Assuming you have some good prospective roles you're looking at and the gap won't be too long, that should be fine.

Third, the market for software engineers in general seems to greatly favor the candidate side right now. If you bring up the issue of not being able to take a full day for an on-site, most companies will work with you on scheduling around your constraints. This should make it less important to leave your job.

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It's a limited risk.

  • You'll have to survive on your savings until you get your next job. Remember that most companies take a while to interview and consider candidates, so it could be a month or more before you can start elsewhere—assuming you're accepted by the companies you're talking to now.

    One specific downside to this is that it could pressure you into choosing a job that you don't like as much because you really need the income.

    In the US specifically, you'd also have to worry about health insurance. If you're under 26, you might be able to get by under your parent's plan, if appropriate. That's something you'll have to research and consider.

  • Some hiring managers might look down on you for doing something non-standard. How much of an issue this is (if at all) depends on the culture of the companies you're applying too, which tends to be dominated by company size and geographic location. (For example, I really doubt most small startups in the Bay Area would care much—but not all companies are like that!)

  • This might give you less leverage in negotiations. If you need the job more than the company needs you as an employee, you're at an inherent disadvantage. Again, how much this matters depends on company culture—some companies don't negotiate salary at all, for example!

On the whole, I feel this is not a big deal. Sure, you might have some problems, but they'll probably be slight—especially if the job market is in your favor, as it is now for software engineers.

If you're really unhappy with your current job, it's worth the risk to leave now. Being unhappy or, worse yet, burning out are both real costs and, on the whole, probably more risky than leaving early.

The most important variable is culture. From my perspective in the Bay Area, with my specific situation (savings, qualifications… etc) and a bias towards small companies, I would not hesitate to leave a job without having my next offer. (In fact, I'd be tempted to spend a month or two doing other stuff.) But your situation and your environment is different and you have to keep that in mind.

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