Timing can really make or break your job search. If you stay too long in a bad job, you may miss windows and opportunities for a new one. If you start blatantly interviewing while at your current job, you run the risk of burning your relationship with your employer. What’s the earliest you can start looking for a job without jeopardizing the one you already have?
Know how long it can take to get a new job
When you’re thinking seriously about how to time your job hunt, do some legwork on how long it will likely take you to get a new job offer. It’s unlikely to be instantaneous once you decide to put yourself out there. The average job search takes about 6 weeks, but that can vary pretty widely by industry and organization.
Before you start thinking about a resignation letter or dusting off your interview suit, research what the hiring process is like for your target field. For example, healthcare tends to higher faster than average (43 days as opposed to the 6 weeks), so you would need to be prepared to move quickly if the right opportunity came along.
Take time to build your skills
If you’re looking to move up, this may involve you having to get specific training or skills for the job you want. If that’s the case, this extra time (for taking classes, doing online research, etc.) should absolutely be built into your mental job search calendar. You would want to start as early as possible amassing skills, certifications, or other data points on your resume that would put you in a better position to get the job you want.
Maintain your network
Before you start putting out feelers for a new job, one of the best bits of pre-job hunt work you can do is to build up your network. Renew acquaintances with people in your field or at the company you want to work for. Start adding people in your industry and follow them on social media to stay current on trends. Request informational interviews to make connections. Even if you’re not quite ready to start sending out resumes, doing this work on your network now will help improve the opportunities that come your way later. Word of mouth and referrals are one of the most effective ways to find new openings and get to a job offer faster.
Give yourself time to organize
If you’re applying to jobs as they come up, without a realistic plan, you may run into some frustrating dead ends in your job search. The best way to approach it is to have a rough plan of what you want to happen, what you’ll need to make it happen, and how long you’d like it to take. Realistically, you can start this piece anytime—no commitment needed. This will also help you stay on top of your job hunt in case you hit a hot streak of interviews and job openings. And on the flip side, it can help you manage discouraging points: even if you don’t get the job you had your heart set on, you’ll have a plan to fall back on.
So in short, the answer is no—it’s never too early to start a job search. By taking low-key steps early on, you can start building your job search without actually committing to it. Then, when you’re ready to make it official, you’ll already have done so much beneficial pre-planning.