Experts Agree: When You Already Have One. Most of us don’t look for a new job until we lose the one we have. We get the bad news, we panic a little (sometimes a lot) and we run off to polish our resumes, brush up our LinkedIn profiles and start looking at job advertisements. That makes sense, of course: nobody likes looking for work, so why would we do it when we don’t have to?

Sometimes what seems to make sense really doesn’t, and this is one of those times. Employment specialists stress that the best time to look for a new job is while you are working. If that sounds illogical, listen to some of the reasons behind the conclusion.

First, recruiters and managers prefer to hire candidates that already have jobs. There are many reasons for this, but in the HR profession, it’s almost universally agreed to be true. Liz Ryan, writing in Forbes, states: “employers prefer to hire currently-employed job applicants over applicants who aren’t working.” Executive Recruiter Harry Urschel, writing in Job Hunt, agrees: “it’s easier to get a new job while you’re in a job, rather than when you’re unemployed.” Peter Harris at Workopolis chimes in: “you’ll have a better chance being hired while you’re working.”

Second, you’ll have the chance to be selective. If you’re looking for a job when you’re unemployed and living on savings, there’s overwhelming pressure to take the first offer you get, even if it’s not very appealing. That’s a good way to end up in a job that has little potential or that you don’t even like. If you’re hunting jobs while employed, you can afford to choose only the best options. If an offer isn’t as good as your current job, pass it up. If it looks like you won’t have advancement potential, or you don’t get good feelings about the team, keep on looking. It’s a lot easier to do that when you’re not desperate.

Third, your future matters. The real dream jobs don’t come up every day, and they may not come up at all during your windows of unemployment. By keeping one foot in the job market at all times you assure that you’re available and paying attention when the position you really want opens up.

That’s three powerful arguments pointing to the same conclusion: the best time to look for a job is when you already have one.

Don’t Overdo It

Looking for a job while you’re working is a good strategy, but you’ll need a careful approach. When you’re out of work, the job hunt is the center of your life, and it takes most of your time and attention. You obviously don’t want to put that kind of energy into job hunting while employed! You wouldn’t have time to do your job, and your employer would very quickly figure out what you’re doing.

Your job hunt needs to be a lot more subtle if you have a job. You’re keeping one foot in the employment pool, not swimming laps in it. You want to keep your resume polished and up to date. You don’t need to search job advertisements every day; a quick scan once a week is fine. Only look closely at the very best jobs, the ones with quality employers that are the best fit for your skills and experience. Only apply if you’re convinced that the opportunity could be a major break in your career.

Round out your effort to stay available by keeping your networking efforts active, though not aggressive. Let friends and associates that you trust know that you’re willing to entertain offers, follow up new business contacts, and stay active on LinkedIn and other online professional venues.

When You Really Need to Look

It’s best for any working person to stay in the job market, even with a passive strategy. There are cases that justify an active job search, even while employed. If you’re in one of these categories, you need to step it up a notch.

• You’re not earning what your skills and experience should command;

• Your job imposes unhealthy mental or physical stress;

• You have to deal with toxic bosses or coworkers in your current workplace;

• You’ve gone too long without a promotion and you see little chance of upward mobility;

• You’re bored at work;

• Your company is in trouble. Declining revenues, overdependence on one customer or revenue source, poor business decisions, or legal issues are signs that it’s time to look elsewhere.

• There is illegal or unethical activity at the Company;

• You hate Mondays and dread going to work.

These conditions may not justify an immediate resignation, but they do mean you should be actively looking for new work opportunities. Don’t wait until things become intolerable or your employer collapses. If you see signs of trouble written on the wall, it’s time to take action.

Is It Fair to Your Employer?

Loyalty is admirable but ultimately looking after your career is your responsibility, and you need to take proactive steps to make sure you’re moving forward. If you’re reluctant to explore new options out of loyalty, ask yourself if the Company you work for would show the same loyalty to you if circumstances made it practical to replace you with someone else or discard your position.

There’s nothing wrong with discussing your workplace issues with your employers and trying to keep on good terms. There’s nothing wrong with telling your employers you have an offer and giving them the chance to match it. Unless you already have the perfect job, though, loyalty is a poor reason for stagnation. There’s always a chance to do better, and you owe yourself the opportunity to take a better deal if it comes along.

What You Need to Do

How do you go about maintaining that vital presence in the job pool? Step one is to keep your resume polished and up to date, including your latest accomplishments at your current job, and make sure it’s optimized to pass the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) that major companies use to screen applicants.

“Your resume is the public face of your job search. If it’s not up to date, compliant with ATS and current trends, and optimized for the job you’re applying for, your chances of getting an interview drop dramatically.”

You can find hundreds of resume templates online, along with extensive advice on how to prepare a modern resume. If you’re not a professional writer, you may be better off hiring a professional writer or resume writing service to prepare this vital document. It’s easy to find freelance resume writers online, but you’ll need a personal referral and careful research to be sure you’re dealing with someone competent.

Once your resume is ready, you watch and wait. Select a few prime sources of job ads and scan them once a week. Keep reasonably active on LinkedIn and maintain your online and personal professional networks. You’re looking for exceptional opportunities, not blanketing the city with applications. This is about being a sniper, not a machine-gunner! When you see a possibility that excites you, do some research on the company, prepare a tailored cover letter, and get to work!

The Bottom Line

Looking for a job when you already have one may seem like a waste of valuable time, and to some, it might even seem like you lack loyalty to your current employer. Don’t let those superficial reactions close you off to the idea. If your current job is secure, you’re happy, and your chances of advancement are good there may be no need to look for other options. Not many of us fit that description, though, and most workers should at least consider the idea of staying permanently active in the job market. You’re more likely to get the job you apply for, you’re in a position to be selective, and you’re more likely to be on the spot when the position you really want opens up. That winning combination deserves your attention.