All Articles Leadership Careers How to stay in the game even if you aren't looking for a job

How to stay in the game even if you aren’t looking for a job

5 min read


Today’s job market offers immense opportunities for career and financial growth, notably in Silicon Valley, where the “war for talent” rages.

For high performers who already find themselves in a rewarding position, pursuing a new job may be low on their list, while others are itching for fresh challenges and greener pastures. Regardless, it behooves both happy and restless working professionals to stay in the game and remain open to career-change opportunities.

After 12 years, I’ve gleaned significant insight into what recruiters and hiring companies are seeking from job candidates. Below are some key points to keep in mind, regardless of whether you’re looking for a new job.

Your network is never done

Your career is all about relationships. The network you build has the ability to influence your opportunity and success, be it today or 10 years from now. Whether you’re an executive or an individual contributor, it’s wise to develop relationships and remain in contact with recruiters and hiring managers, even if you’re not seeking change. This keeps you on the pulse of the job market and aware of potential opportunities.

In fact, there’s no harm in considering a job that’s passed along by a friend (“you’d be perfect for this”) or taking a recruiter’s call simply to learn more, even if you have no intention to pursue. If nothing else, this will help you maintain a strong network should you need to leverage it.

Ready, set, go

Once you’ve gained interest in a particular opportunity, there are some prerequisites you must follow. For starters, understand the job for which you’re interviewing, why it’s open, and what success will look like. Take time to research the business and industry. I’ve known candidates who spend more time planning for a five-day vacation than for a long-term career change.

Also, know who is making the hiring decision and what they are specifically looking for. Attention to detail is important in all matters, whether it’s knowing names or showing up on time. Last, but not least, evaluate and understand the hiring company’s culture, and if you take the job, do so because it’s a good fit, not simply because it offers more money or stock.

Who are you online?

It goes without saying that social media is rapidly changing the way we connect and share information with people. Be it LinkedIn, Facebook, or other sites, searching for and reviewing a person’s online profile is often the first step in finding top talent in today’s recruiting process. Wouldn’t you always want to be considered top of your game?

Keeping your information current is essential if you want to create a positive first impression, while offering those in search of the right hire a more in-depth view of who you are. Go beyond the basics (e.g., job title, company name, etc.) and include personal interests that might draw connections, even if it’s not work-related. An incomplete or vague profile provides reason for hesitation — whether it be it those looking to hire you, your current employer or network of contacts.

A CliffsNotes, not a novel

When it comes to your resume, be succinct. All too often, job candidates create a lengthy, multi-page resume that includes everything they’ve done the past 10, 15, or 20 years. When recruiters go “weeding,” you risk being tossed aside. Resumes are simply a means to get your foot in the door, and the best way to do that is by creating a short, sweet, and compelling overview with personal and career highlights relevant to your industry and desired job. Provide enough information to whet an appetite and create interest in learning more.

What’s your story?

During early engagement with candidates, I will ask them to share more about themselves. Your “story” should be relevant and compelling, covering a bit of the past (history), present (current situation), and future (goals). Be warned, though — this isn’t an invitation to throw back to the good ol’ days of your childhood, high school or college years unless it has direct relevance to the current opportunity.

Equally if not more important, candidates who display thoughtful, deliberate decision making about their career changes really stand out. For example, saying you joined a company because your friends says it’s a hot place to work is more surface level than describing a situation where you sought a specific skill or challenge, even if it didn’t work out. Even stories of failure are OK if they demonstrate rational reasoning on your part. Top performers don’t stumble into the best job; they deliberately plan and work toward it.

No place for bling — or other turn-offs

On the flip side, there are some “no-nos” that will create immediate turn-off for recruiters. You’d be surprised to know what I’ve come across in my years of recruiting and interviewing, even at the executive level.

This includes pinky rings — my advice to both genders is to lose any jewelry that might cause distraction. No cologne (dousing) — a little may be OK, but not everyone needs to smell it. No chewing gum — just like grade school, throw it out before you enter the room. And no name dropping — earn respect, and the job, on your own merits and name.

Michael A. Morell is a founding and managing partner for Riviera Partners, a leading provider for technical search and recruiting services in Silicon Valley and nationally. He has more than 15 years of experience in recruiting, technology sales and management. Morell focuses on recruiting executive-level talent in the areas of engineering and product management, and also has operational responsibility for Riviera’s contingency search practice, which focuses on individual contributor level roles within engineering organizations. Follow him on Twitter.