My favorite professor in graduate school told me that as soon as I got a job I should start looking for my next job. Daunting, yes, but good advice. Looking for your next job right after you get a job does not mean you should immediately start sending out resumes in search of the next opportunity. It does, however, mean that you should guard against complacency. Even if you think you have found the perfect job that you never plan to leave, don’t turn off your radar. Recent economic times serve as a harsh reminder that change is often not the result of choice.

So if you are not sending out resumes, how do you look for your next job? Go to lunch or coffee with co-workers. Spending time with co-workers outside of work gives you an opportunity to get a read on your organization’s history and how who got where in a more casual environment where colleagues may be more likely to share. This will help you gain perspective on what is valued and often unspoken – for example, the last two people in top leadership roles completed executive MBA’s from XYZ local university. And volunteering to plan your organization’s charity event would be an opportunity for you to interact with the organization’s leadership. I know that many like to keep their work and private lives separate, but you have a choice of how much you disclose about yourself. You can still be social with colleagues and stay out of the fray.

In addition to getting to know people at work, take the time to meet new people outside of your organization. Ideally, you would be able to connect with people who are doing things similar to what you are doing, or who are doing what you think you’d like to do next. But that can sometimes be easier said than done. Most people find jobs not through close social connections, like a family member or good friend, but through acquaintances (there will be an upcoming post about that original study). I understand that life outside of work, especially for caregivers of children or parents, is a job within itself. But making a commitment to yourself to attend the occasional networking event and to reach outside your immediate network could be what leads you to your next opportunity. Social networking tools such as LinkedIn (if you don’t have an account, set one up) make it even easier to maintain contact with acquaintances. Ask a connection of a friend for coffee if they do something you want to learn more about or work for an organization you’re interested in.

In addition to staying connected with others, search for jobs that you think you would be interested in and see what types of skill sets they require. While you are in a job, versus when you desperately need one, is the perfect time to prepare for the next opportunity – whether pursuing additional education or selectively asking for projects at work to strategically build your resume. Preparing for your next opportunity while you have a job gives you the freedom to be purposeful in planning your next move. It gives you an opportunity to act instead of react when change is forced upon you.