Career clinic: I’m too busy to look for a new job but want a change. How can I find time?

This month, we asked leading lawyers at Mayer Brown and Kettle Foods for their thoughts on job applications.


“I’m a 2PQE working at a top commercial firm. I want to leave but I’m working so hard I don’t have time to find a new job and don’t want to quit before I’ve found something. What should I do?”


Kathy Atkinson, legal director, Kettle Foods

Kathy Atkinson, legal director, Kettle Foods gives advice for career clinic on find time job search

You have my sympathies as it’s difficult to find time for anything when you’re working all hours and it is such a pressured environment that, even when you’re not working, you have little head space left over.

I agree with your view that resigning before you have found anything else is a risky strategy. You never know how long it’s going to take to find a new job. If you end up being out of work for a few months, you’ve then got a gap on your CV that needs explanation.

So the short answer is that if you want to look for another job then you’re going to have to find the time from somewhere.

Break what you need to do down into small chunks and set yourself goals which will be more achievable in small amounts of time. For example, in week one set about updating your CV. You don’t have to do it all in one stint. If it’s a while since you last looked at it and there is a fair bit of updating needed, just spend 10 minutes at a time on it first thing in the morning before you get on with the rest of your to-do list. Over a few days, that may well be enough to get the job done.

Then, in week two, you can do a bit of research as to which would be the best recruitment agencies for the type of work you’re after. In week three, contact the first agency on your list, and so on.

It may take a few weeks for you to really feel like you’re making progress, but each step is a necessary one.

You also need to think about whether you are using your lack of time as a reason to put off doing something which can feel like quite a bold and definitive step. If this is the case, breaking it down into more manageable tasks will also help you overcome this feeling, because no single step will ever feel quite so scary or like there is no going back. Good luck.


Elaine Hutton, associate general counsel, JUUL Labs 

Elaine Hutton, associate general counsel, JUUL Labs gives advice for career clinic on find time job search

Set aside 30 minutes each day to really focus on your exit strategy. Begin by updating your CV (week one), updating your LinkedIn profile (week two), contacting recruitment agents (week three), meeting agents (weeks four to eight).

By week 10, you should hopefully be seeing some traction with interviews. Remember, it’s generally easier to find a job when you’re in a job and that you also have more negotiating power. If all else fails and you resign, you could consider taking a temporary job, for example through Lawyers on Demand or a similar ‘freelance lawyering’ model, as you don’t have to rush into taking the first job offer that comes just because you’re desperate to leave your current role.


Kathryn Higgs, executive coach and lawyer

Kathryn Higgs, executive coach and lawyer gives advice for career clinic on find time job search

When you are unhappy or unfulfilled in your work, it can act as an extra de-motivator and drain on your energy. So sometimes, it can feel like you don’t have time to run the job search because you’re worn out, but it is actually your current job tricking you into feeling this way.

So here’s my advice. Unless you are really miserable at work, it’s sensible to stay working while you plan your next career move.

Candidates are eminently more attractive if they are still in a role – rightly or wrongly, employers instinctively regard you as more sought after and therefore more worth the winning. But you do need to commit to spending around five hours each week on your search.

You don’t have to find your new job in a week. Instead, start taking small steps. Take a day of your weekend to write your CV. Show it to a few trusted friends for feedback. While they are taking a look at your CV, start asking around for the best recruiters for your area. Next, make appointments to meet those recruiters. Most of them will be happy to meet you around lunchtime or outside core hours.

As your job search builds momentum, it will start not to feel like work anymore. You will likely become excited because you will start seeing the exciting potential out there.


Phil Hagan, director of group legal, Phoenix Group

Phil Hagan, director of group legal, Phoenix Group gives advice for career clinic on find time job search

This is a perennial issue – too busy to find something else. You’ve got to become more selfish, as it’s up to you to find your new job; no one else is going to do it for you.

Look at your diary and assess where you can carve out time and energy. Treat it in the same way you would a really important project for your commercial firm. What resources do you need? How are you going to ensure you have time to meet or speak to recruiters? Are you going to set aside a specific time each day for job-hunting? Do you need to find somewhere you can make discrete phone calls from?

Be brutal about reducing your workload. Are there any activities that you can reduce to create more time for yourself? Remember, you are in charge of your own career, so give yourself the best chance of being successful by taking charge.

Sure, there will be times when work does dominate, but that should be the exception. Stay focused on the goal of finding a new job and break it down into component parts, e.g. updating your CV; setting up relevant job alerts. And finally, good luck.


Sally Davies, London managing partner, Mayer Brown

Sally Davies, London managing partner, Mayer Brown gives advice for career clinic on find time job search

I think you’re prevaricating on this. Surely you have time to consider this at a weekend? I’d try to aim for a time when you’re finishing or have finished a piece of work, then take a day’s holiday to think about your career plan. Why do you want to leave? Where do you want to move to? If you know what you want to do then take another day off or, at a weekend, work on your CV and reasons why you particularly would like the job you’re considering. Then work out whether it’s best to approach a recruitment consultant or send your CV off directly.

It is very usual for interviews to take place outside office hours so don’t be worried about suggesting this to a potential employer.

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