Ask the Headhunter: When it's OK to quit your job before finding a new one

The general rule of thumb is to find a new job before quitting your current job. But you shouldn't always stick to that. Photo courtesy of Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I am currently employed full-time and grateful to have a job. I am in the finance department of a small company that has no accountability, multiple "hands in the pot," and follows unethical business practices.


Can an employer take back my job offer?

My suggestions to improve the department and to comply with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) are always met with, "That's just the way it's done here." I can't live with this. I have an exit strategy and the support of my spouse while I seek employment. How do I approach the issue in interviews with future potential employers? Although honesty is the best policy, I most certainly cannot discuss the wrong-doings. Suggestions?

Nick Corcodilos: In general, it's better to look for a job while you still have a job, but that's just a rule of thumb. There are good reasons to quit a job before you find another. For example, so you can focus all your attention on finding the right job. And, in your case, because you're working in such a toxic environment that it's unhealthy to stick around. Having your spouse's support is a huge advantage.

You're correct that knowing how to say it is key. You just need to say it the right way:

"I want to work for your company because you are one of the shining lights in this industry. I left my previous company because, as a small, closely held operation, it behaved in ways I was not comfortable with. I realized that I want to be in a more progressive company that is well managed. Fortunately, my personal finances are solid and I can afford to take time to find the right company and job."

That's all I'd say. I would make no explanation in your resume. Discuss this only in person, or on the phone if necessary. This statement will stimulate a discussion that it's best to have face to face with an employer.

(For a related problem, see "Fired for my ethics!")

If an interviewer asks for details about the problems at your old company, explain that you cannot disclose confidential information about a previous employer. That gives you room to discuss only what you want. Any good employer will respect that — and respect you for it.

Dear Readers: I'm sure many of you have faced this situation. How much should you say about a past employer that wasn't on the up and up, leading you to quit?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you," "How Can I Change Careers?", "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps" and "Fearless Job Hunting."

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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