if you’re furloughed, how long should you wait to look for a new job?

A reader writes:

I work in the corporate office of a business in the entertainment industry. We were slowly dying before, but Covid-19 has placed our industry in an uncertain position as all of our outlets are closed. As such, I have been furloughed for an indefinite period of time. My company is amazing and is paying 100% of my benefits (health, dental, life) while I’m out without any expectation of repayment once I am back.

I love my job and my coworkers and would choose my current position over a new one (even with more pay). But I dont want to shoot myself in the foot waiting for something that wont materialize. At what point should I start looking for other opportunities?

It depends on the specifics of your situation — your job, your field, your company’s finances, and the likelihood of them being able to bring you back and when.

In the pre-Covid world, many furloughs were seasonal — businesses closed down for the season, but reliably reopened and re-hired their workforce X months later. In a case like that, you could reasonably rely on being brought back. But the type of furlough many people are experiencing right now is different — it’s often more, “We hope to be able to bring you back, but we can’t say for sure when or if it will happen.” And with those furloughs, the reality is that you can’t rely on your job being there when this ends, so unfortunately the safest move is to start job searching pretty quickly. You don’t have to accept an offer if you get one, but you don’t want to hear months from now that your company can’t bring you back and have to start a job search from scratch at that point.

Obviously, adjust this for your own circumstances. If you have years of living expenses stockpiled and can easily wait a few months to see what happens, feel free to. But basically, imagine that in three months you’re told your furlough is becoming a permanent layoff. What would you wish you’d done during this time? Whatever that is, I’d start doing it now.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. animaniactoo*

    At a minimum – looking does not commit you to accepting. And since looking is often a months-long process, there is no real drawback to starting to look right now while you wait to see how things shake out. See what kind of positions are being advertised for. Research the companies, their requirements, etc. What you find will either make you more comfortable that you’ll find something when you need to, or convince you that you should get started on applying now.

    1. Artemesia*

      If you even suspect furloughs are in the future you should be getting ready for a job search at least so you can pivot on a dime and get aggressive about it. Many businesses will fail in this crisis; many furloughed people will not be coming back. And often in a field, the people who figure it out first and move are the ones who get the few opportunities that might be available. You don’t have to accept a job that you don’t want but you definitely should start searching as soon as there are rumors of layoffs or furloughs and definitely when they start even if it hasn’t come to you yet.

  2. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — Given that you say your firm (or industry?) is “slowly dying,” I’d start looking now. I know it’s tough to leave a job you otherwise enjoy, but if your business was unstable under normal conditions, a months-long shutdown won’t help.
    Job searching right now will probably take longer than usual, so update your resume, LinkedIn profile, etc. and start looking. You say your employer is still covering your health insurance, etc. so, if you have some cash on hand to cover expenses, you don’t have to take the first thing you find. But it would be prudent to start looking around.

    1. Anon Anon*

      I completely agree.

      Many people who have been furloughed are not going to have a job to come back to. One of my friends was just laid off along with 1500 of her closest friends from a job that she was furloughed from. And it wasn’t anything to do with her personally or her performance, the company eliminated her entire division along with all the support staff associated with her division. She really thought she’d be going back to work.

    2. BRR*

      Yeah this was sticking out to me in bright red letters. I’d advise anyone to at least keep an eye out and casually look. But if you’re company or industry is “slowly dying” then now is not the time to count on them turning things around.

  3. Cordoba*

    Definitely start now, if for no other reason than to get some real-world data for how easily you can find a job currently and what the likely pay rate will be.

    In many fields this has probably changed significantly in the last 3 months, so best to get some updated information to use for further planning.

  4. RemoteHealthWorker*

    I’ve seen a variation on this question in the open thread pretty much weekly.

    Search! Search! Search!

    My hospital started off with part time furloughs, then layoffs, and last week announced a total benefits overhaul (hint: buh bye everything but heath insurance).

    I started looking immediately and have my first interview tomorrow. You have no idea how things will land. Three months ago, while I didn’t love where I worked I really liked it. Now they have shown their true colors.

    1. Beth Jacobs*

      Sorry to hear that and sending hugs your way. It’s strange that I always considered healthcare to be a very recession-immune field in general. “People always need doctors and nurses,” is basically a mantra in career counseling, and it extends to other jobs in the healthcare field. And it’s so counterintuitive that non-urgent healthcare is actually one of the hardest hit in a pandemic.
      I must say the Plague is definitely tossing out all conventional wisdom about the job market.

  5. AnonToday*

    I am furloughed from a job in the hospitality sector: I was already looking for a new position as I didn’t like the management style in my division, but it will be years before the industry rebounds to pre-Covid levels, I think, and I am presuming that my furlough will become a permanent layoff at some point in the next few months.

    So yes, search aggressively, and IMHO, I feel like I owe my (former??) employers absolutely nothing. I have told companies I am immediately available.

  6. Dan*

    Speaking from 20 years in the working world… if you do not have a paycheck coming in, it is *never*, and I mean *never* to soon to search for a job that pays.

    Side note: If your furloughed job is good and worth going back to, bail from the new job. You wouldn’t be obligated to stick it on your resume if you don’t want to.

    1. Amy Sly*

      And there will undoubtedly someone who will be quite happy to step into your vacancy at that point.

    2. curious cat*

      Would bailing on the new job burn bridges with that company if you quit so quickly? I’m assuming that you would have been happy to stay at new job if furlough became layoff.

  7. Seeking Second Childhood*

    If nothing else, look for temp jobs during an indefinite furlough.
    This isn’t as crazy as it seems — there are stable industries and companies, and they will need coverage for employees who are sick. And the ugly elephant in the room that no one wants to think about is that people are *dying* from this disease, which means some companies will need to hire permanent replacements.
    Just do ask about exposure & risk if the position does not have you 100% remote.

  8. Cassidy*

    HARD agree with everyone so far. I hate that people find themselves in this dilemma, but there are so many irons in this fire, and should any one of them crumble, you stand a very good chance for finding yourself in dire straits.

    I’d say this is especially true for anyone in an industry in which crowd attendance is crucial. Open doesn’t create demand, and polls show most people are still very wary of venturing out of their homes beyond places like grocery stores.

    Get ahead while you can. I’m so sorry.

    1. RobotWithHumanHair*

      Crowd attendance being crucial, yup, that’s my industry right there.

      My problem is, I’m 40 and I’ve had three major jobs – one lasted for 5 years, one for 17 years and then this current (furloughed) one for 3 years (that I just kind of fell into from a temp position). I legitimately don’t know what tangible skills I have to offer at this point. Job searching has been demoralizing, since I feel like I’m going to have to take a massive, massive paycut and won’t be able to provide for my family on that.

  9. HR Exec Popping In*

    From what you wrote, you should consider looking. If you were my friend or family member, that is the advice I would give. Also, your employer knows that it is highly likely that many people who are furloughed will be looking. You are not being disloyal, you are being practical and taking care of yourself and your career – just like they are taking care of their business.

    Good luck!

  10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    The job market is so weird right now, that I’d start at least looking into what’s available.

    Just because you’d prefer to stay put, even for extra pay doesn’t mean there’s not something out there that will change your tune. You just have to see what’s available.

    You’re in a good spot too because you aren’t feeling like you have to do it right now but you are casually looking while being on furlough. Then you won’t feel like you’re swamped and hit with a sack of bricks if it turns into a permanent layoff. It’s always easier to wade into the waters instead of being pushed off the pier when you’re not expecting it, wade into the job pool and check the temp.

  11. dragocucina*

    Things are hitting hard and fast right now. Yesterday my state’s largest museum/tourist attraction laid off 150 full time people. The part-timers has already been let go. That’s a lot of people thrust into the job market at one time.

    So, start looking before you absolutely need to look.

  12. AnonForThisOne*

    This is completely anecdotal, but I am finding in my region that postings are reduced by 80-90% in comparison to when I job searched around this time last year. If you’re furloughed but not quite sure you are ready to switch jobs, I highly recommend at least casually searching online job boards so you know what you’re up against. (In retrospect, I would have started job searching in April if I had been aware of just how few openings are available in my area). Of the jobs that are hiring, so many of them are really trying to skimp on pay. Some of the suggestions on Indeed for me included an engineering position that pays $20 an hour and a RN position for $34,000 a year. Neither of these are my field, but I am appalled to see how little companies in my region are trying to get away with paying highly-trained STEM professionals! I got my undergrad in liberal arts, but that is extremely low even for someone with a generalist degree like me. While it’s understandable that many employers may be experiencing financial issues, it seems like that is criminally low pay. Granted I am in a state that still has a $7.25 minimum wage, so I’m sure elsewhere they wouldn’t be able to get away with this!

    1. Alternative Person*

      Same for my field and area, pickings for qualified, highly skilled professionals are slim at the best of times but of the very few I’ve seen recently the recent pay bands are derisory, especially when accounting for workload, and even regular level salaries are being shaved down.

    2. Medieval_Minstrel*

      I find the same to be true since the beginning of the pandemic.
      In such a case, although I agree that this person should start searching just in case, how much searching makes sense? Here are some of the things I have accomplished so far :
      – Updated my resume and cover letters (broadly tailored for the kind of jobs I aim for), following the advice of employers
      – Created a Linkedin account that I’ve almost finished building up, and maintaining it frequently (reaching out to contacts etc)
      – Reached out to contacts
      – Look daily at job boards and websites such as Indeed to have a feel of the job market, expectations and salaries
      – Applied to the jobs – very very few – jobs I could see myself working in.

      After that, what then? When the job market has gone completely flat, to the extent that if you have ONE job offer relevant to your field in a week, that becomes a good week?
      What does one do to “look for a new job” when there simply aren’t any at the moment?

  13. PrgrmMngr*

    I expect I’ll be furloghed by the end of the month. I’ve applied for five jobs so far this week.

    I figure for now I can apply for anything that looks interesting – I’m not desperate, but why not throw my name in for consideration sooner rather than later?

    If any of these pan out, I need to figure out when to disclose that I have a five year old and am constrained by the local childcare situation (still closed) and whatever happens with kindergarten next year. But I’m not alone in that and I assume employers will hopefully realize saying “sorry, we can’t employ mothers of younger children right now” is going to cause them problems.

  14. CC*

    Ugh I am in the same boat. I’ve been with the same company for over a decade, but my current role is For Sure not an essential one right now. I found that beginning to look almost immediately after my furlough gave me an idea of where I needed to bulk up my skills to make a career transition (I’m in restaurants, lol), along with the extra time to take the kind of courses and free online learning that might help me out if/when I eventually get laid off. (of course, I recognize that not everyone has the bandwidth to take online classes right now, but having something to keep me occupied has really helped my mental health). On the plus side, if I do go back to my current company, now I have some new skills that might make me more valuable.

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