One of the best pieces of career advice that I ever received was to ‘never quit.’ That may sound a little too much like the commonly used cliché, ‘never give up.’ However, in this case it was meant literally: Don’t quit your job.

Here’s the context. I was rather miserable in the job I had at the time. I was the only copy writer for a small, family-owned marketing company. The commute was hellish requiring taking the subway all the way to the end of the line, then filing onto a packed bus into an industrial park area, and then a walk on a pedestrian bridge across highways.

I had a small staff of researchers and copy editors, and they resented my being put in charge because I was A) new to the company and B) younger than they were. (Truth be told, I also had no management experience at the time and so seemed like a kid to them. It doesn’t help that I also happened to look even younger than I was.) So the working environment was unpleasant too.

On the day I decided that it just wasn’t worth it to me anymore, I went into my director’s office and told him I would no longer be working there. He looked up from his desk and said, “Harris, you never quit. If you’re willing to just walk away with nothing, that puts you in a pretty solid bargaining position, because you have nothing to lose. Explain what’s making you unhappy and ask for solutions. Maybe we can make a deal.

We ended up restructuring my team in a way that made them both happier and more productive. Research, writing and editing could be done offsite with the team working from home two to three days a week, only being in the office for meetings and creative brainstorming sessions. This made my resentful crew suddenly appreciate me. With a happier staff, a flexible schedule, and much less of the brutal commute, I ended up working there for another year. (Until the opportunity to manage the content of a major national website came along.)

My director was right. It was better to bargain than to quit with nothing. It improved my working situation, and it gave me the leverage to improve things for my team as well. Which also went a long way towards improving their opinion of me.

I can think of another important reason not to quit your job even if you’re unhappy at the moment. It is easier to land a new, better opportunity if you’re already employed. So you hurt your own chances of getting your next job by quitting your current one.

Here’s why:

Some employers think that employed candidates are more valuable than unemployed candidates. There is always the chance that unemployed candidates are out of work through some failing in their skills, work-ethic, or personality. (Now this is not a fair assumption, and it’s usually not the case, especially in a tight job market like this one, but it is something that crosses the minds of some hiring managers.)

Also employers prefer candidates who have a passion to work for them specifically. Candidates who are interested in just that role at their company – and this is their motivation. Employers may assume that unemployed candidates just really need a job and are therefore just motivated to take any gig they can land. This might make them seem like less valuable employees.

While you’re currently employed, someone out there is already willing to pay you for what you do. It’s an unspoken recommendation from one employer to another. (Rather like that old saying about men being more attractive to women when they’re already in a relationship. It’s a validation that someone can put up with you. If you’re single, there’s always the chance that it’s because you’re a creep.)

So, when it’s time to move on or move up, negotiate. See if your employer wants to accommodate your career growth and happiness where you are. If that doesn’t work out, then you still don’t quit. You keep your job, and you start your career search. Quietly.

Workopolis has some pretty cool tools for an undercover job search.

See also:
The best time to quit your job?
Six signs that you’re in the wrong job

Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter