Why I Apply to Jobs I Don't Want (and You Should Too)

I really like my job. I don’t have a desire to leave (in fact, I’ve been at my current job longer than any other in my career). But, several times a year I apply to a new one.

When I talk to others on this topic, they often look at me like I’m a little crazy. Or enjoy wasting my time. Or are paranoid about getting laid off. And I explain that it’s none of those things. It’s that I want to be better at my current job.

Let me explain. I think most people tend to become complacent when they’ve been in their job for a while. Things get comfortable. Routine. It’s human nature and tough to avoid. When we enjoy what we do and are paid to do it, our instinct is to go on autopilot and keep doing that thing. Here’s the problem though. Complacency doesn’t help us get better. It breeds stagnation. And stagnation can cause an overall decrease in productivity and make us less employable in the future - both to the current place we’re at, and as a new employee somewhere else.

I use a number of techniques to try and fight that complacency. Collaborating with others, creative exercises, and seeking out new responsibilities and opportunities in my current position. They all help - but none bring quite the edge, energy, and adrenaline as applying to a new job. My brain is wired to thinking that job hunting is a scary thing (after all, the majority of people doing it don’t have a job, which is scary!), so the process of applying to a new job really stretches me.

The pressure of knowing I’ll need to apply for a job - and to at least take the process seriously (even when I don’t want to actually accept the position) means I get to do the following. 1

  • Keep doing great work. Work that I would be proud to share and talk about with others.
  • Think about what my value proposition is as an employee. Where do I add value? What are my strengths and weakness? What’s my elevator pitch? What do I want out of my career?
  • Practice explaining that to others. Even though I don’t often interview/talk to people at the jobs I’m applying for, I practice like I will be. I compile a list of questions they’ll likely ask. And develop answers. The act of writing these things down on a regular basis firms up how I can most effectively talk about them with others.
  • Keep my resume up to date.
  • Possibly get an even better job. While I’m generally not a grass-is-greener sort of person (I’ve worked at enough companies to know that getting rid of the things that make corporate life tough isn’t often the case), keeping an eye on the job market with some regularity helps me stay aware of opportunities.

This process makes me better at my current job. I’ll continue applying to jobs every now and then. You should consider doing it too!

  1. I’d like to call out that I don’t usually take the process too far as I don’t want to be wasteful or disrespectful of the recruiter’s/hiring manager’s time. I don’t get a ton of call backs (applying to less than three jobs a year doesn’t work out in the numbers game for lots of conversations) but when I do, I usually explain that while I appreciate their follow-up, I’ve decided that I’m not currently interested.