You collected your annual bonus in January and the check has now cleared your bank.  Your patience in staying with your current employer through the holidays has paid off.  Now, you are definitely ready to bid adieu to your over-bearing boss and that annoying guy in the cube next door in search of greener (no pun intended) pastures.

But, where do you start?  And, how do you navigate the job search process in such a way that you are able to leave on your terms and for the best opportunity?  Fear not grasshopper.  Below is your guide to landing your next position while avoiding the most common pitfalls.

Don’t Talk
The key to secrecy in your job search is to maintain a need to know policy.  Tell your recruiter, your mom, and your priest/rabbi if you must.  If you tell one person inside your company, even your BFF who takes a vow of secrecy, the news will spread like wildfire.  There will be plenty of time to share all of the gory details AFTER you have started the new role.  Case in point, during the writing of this blog, one of our clients found out that a new consultant was interviewing just 10 days into the contract.  His contract was unceremoniously ended on the spot.  The manager argued that she would rather end the contract on her terms rather than have him leave at a critical point mid project.

The risk:  Your boss finds out you are looking and your slow, methodical search for the perfect position becomes an emergency search for a replacement job after you are escorted out by security like a common criminal.

Don’t Post Your Resume
Piggy-backing on point one, it is best to keep your job search quiet.  Recruiters scour job boards all day and all it takes is one that wants to win brownie points with your boss by breaking the news that they came across your resume on the job boards.  Further, your phone will ring off the hook at all hours with pitches from recruiters who have barely read your resume regarding job openings that are not a fit.  If you do feel compelled to post your resume, make sure it is confidential which removes your name.  And, do not forget to remove your contact information from the RESUME section.  I cannot tell you how many confidential profiles I have seen only to find the person’s name smack dab at the top of the resume.

The risk:  Same as the first one with the added bonus of allowing a recruiter to throw you under the bus for their own personal gain.

Build Relationships With GOOD Recruiters
A few solid recruiters will know about pretty much every opening in your job market.  Further, they will keep your candidacy private.  If you establish good rapport with the recruiters that have some tenure in the industry, you will find that they will get to know you well as a candidate and will reach out to you proactively from time to time, even when you are not actively looking, to discuss opportunities that may be of interest.  More important than any of this, including the occasional free lunch they may buy you, is they will not waste your time.  A true professional recruiter will know which opportunities and companies may be a fit for you as well as the appropriate salary range.  These relationships can be beneficial throughout your career. 

The Reward:  Make your search efficient by building relationships with a few of the best recruiters in your market.

Counter Offers
In general, it is a bad idea to entertain counter offers.  Sometimes, your employer will throw a truck load of money at you out of sheer desperation.  But, you can assume with confidence that the next move will be to search for your replacement.  Once you’ve put in notice, your employer’s trust in you will be irreversibly broken.  To this point, some studies claim that over 90% of employees that accept a counter offer are no longer with that company within a year.  Not to mention you have accepted an offer by this stage and reneging on this acceptance reflects poorly on you and may lead to burning bridges.  Remember why you are looking in the first place.  If it’s only about money, perhaps start by having that discussion with your current employer before starting your search.

The risk:  You accept a counter offer only to be let go when they find your replacement.  You also burn bridges with the recruiter and other company from which you had previously accepted an offer only to reverse course.

Conflict of Interest
Do not be surprised if the recruiter who placed you at your current employer reacts sheepishly when you contact them to find your next position.  There is an ethical issue in taking candidates away from companies with which the recruiter works.  Moreover, many contracts between recruiting company and employer have specific language that would make this behavior a breach. 

The Take Away:  If you were placed at your current employer by a recruiter, have a candid discussion about their ability to help you with your job search.  From an ethics and contract stand point, they may need to sit this one out.

Be Serious
While it’s ok to window shop for new positions, be cognizant of the time dedicated to the interview process.  The recruiter is spending time to find you a new role and the potential employers are spending time interviewing you with the belief that you are a viable candidate.  I have seen some of the best companies NEVER re-interview a candidate that turned down an offer from them previously.  If you are dealing with the right companies and recruiter, they will always respect your time.  Make sure to reciprocate.

The Take Away:  Try to make sure  you are truly ready to make a move as opposed to just kicking tires before getting too deep into the process so as not to burn bridges.

Two Weeks’ Notice
It is always advisable to put in at least two weeks’ notice before leaving your current employer.  But, if you are in the middle of a key project or if your position may be particularly difficult to back fill, consider asking your current employer what will make the transition easier for them.  As much as a month is not uncommon.  Within reason, your new employer should understand and any push back from your future company could be a bad sign. 

Take Away:  Always put in appropriate notice whenever possible.  Sometimes this is longer than two weeks.

Resume Formatting
I have seen every kind of resume imaginable.  I could write a book dedicated to just resumes.  In the interest of brevity, I will address one key point here pertaining to resume length/detail.  The days of the one page resumes are gone.  A proper resume in the IT field for example, assuming that it is not for an entry level candidate, is three to five pages.  I cannot recall getting complaints on resumes having too much detail, but certainly have had issues with resumes short on detail.

Take Away:  Resumes should be three to five pages in most cases and contain plenty of specific detail on previous roles and tasks.

Negotiation
This is one aspect that many candidates are not comfortable with; however, it is one of the most critical components of the interview process.  Many large companies have a fixed salary increase structure which means from where you start, it is a slow, methodical climb.  Strong recruiters can help with this, in particular for permanent positions where their interest is directly aligned with yours (i.e. the more you make the bigger their commission).  If a larger salary is not possible, I have seen more PTO on the table, an office instead of a cube, a work from home day, etc. 

Take Away:  If you don’t try, you will leave money or additional benefits on the table more times than not.

Changing jobs can be stressful, albeit inevitable for most of us.  But, you can manage the stress and have a positive outcome by following some simple rules, implementing a solid strategy, and avoiding some common pitfalls.  By doing so, hopefully you will find the process relatively painless and avoid becoming shark bait.  Happy hunting!