In the 17th century, knowing when to abandon a sinking ship was easy, due to the fact that the ship was quite literally sinking. Today, however, in a world overrun with modern-day corporate pirate ships, knowing when to bail on a failing start-up or collapsing legacy brand is less obvious. After all, especially in Silicon Valley, a failing company is just a billion-dollar round of investment away from evolving into a failing company with at least a little more of a future.
Still, according to Amanda Augustine, career advice expert for TopResume, if your company feels like a sinking ship and your days working there are clearly numbered, don’t waste another minute. “It’s time to kick your job-search efforts into high gear,” she says. “It’s much easier to find work when you’re currently employed — even if that employer is about to close its doors — so now’s the time to figure out your next career move and create a job-search plan to get there.”
First things first, Augustine tells me that you should make sure you have all the information you’ll need from work to properly update or overhaul your resume, such as performance reviews and customer testimonials. “Recruiters are most impressed with resumes that provide measurable proof of your skills, so thoroughly look through your inbox and computer files to pull measurable data from your projects and assignments so you can work those metrics into your job applications,” says Augustine. “The more you can quantify your experience and achievements, the better. Forward important emails to your personal account and save any documentation you’ll need on a thumb drive or a personal cloud-storage platform, like Google Drive or Box.com, so you can reference them later.”
In other words, it’s your responsibility to sift through the dumpster fire that is your current shriveling corporate entity and collect anything that’s going to save your ass from drowning with the rest of the crew. Also, Augustine says, this is a great opportunity to inventory your professional network and reconnect with those who are in the best position to help with your job search. “This could be former colleagues, vendors or clients; alumni who work in the same field or industry; a company that interests you; or people you’ve met through professional associations and other work-related events,” says Augustine. “Start capitalizing on your coffee breaks and after-work drinks to catch up with these people and quietly communicate that you’re looking for your next opportunity.”
Basically, if you want to survive this iceberg collision, while your other coworkers are using this disaster to fool around and lean into the futility of it all, you’re better off trying to find a lifeboat, even if it means climbing on top of your fellow crewmates’ heads.
But when it comes to positioning your current role and your desire to find a new job — whether you’re writing your cover letter, talking with friends over dinner or interviewing with a prospective employer — Augustine says that you don’t need to share the details of what’s going on at work. This is especially true if you’re speaking to people in your industry, since the word may have already gotten out that your company is on the outs.
“Instead of dwelling on your current employer, focus on explaining the valuable takeaways you’ve gained from working there, and how this recent job has helped you determine what you want in your next role and company,” says Augustine. “Think about the skills and experience you’ve gained along the way that qualify you for this next job, and reiterate that information.”
Ultimately, keep in mind that just because the company is failing doesn’t mean you haven’t developed marketable skills — and even experienced a few notable wins — while you’ve been working there. But Augustine adds that if you haven’t been at the company for very long — “meaning, less than two years” — don’t feel compelled to dedicate considerable resume space to this job. “Instead, work on fleshing out your other, recent positions to demonstrate your qualifications,” she says.
Basically, don’t be like Jack and stick around long enough to be let go.