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Even after you've made the decision to go on search time and leave the Firm, you still have some major decisions to make. Choosing an overarching approach for how you want manage your search time (what is search time?) can inform your next steps. Your personal preferences will define the best approach for you to take in terms of timing your search time and separation from the Firm
1. RISK MINIMIZING
I've seen this risk-averse approach applied by consultants with families. The intent is to nearly eliminate the risk of going without work, pay, and benefits for any period of time. Typically, this means not going on search until an attractive job offer is in hand. Since most employers hiring from McKinsey are looking to fill existing needs, they will expect new employees to start quickly. As a result, this approach can result in leaving nearly all search time unused.
PROS: No risk of going unemployed, unpaid, and uncovered by benefits
CONS: Little or no time to decompress between jobs, requires fitting interviewing into McKinsey lifestyle, leaves search time on the table
2. ACTIVE SEARCH TIME
This is the most literal approach, in which the consultant begins searching for work immediately after going on search time. They treat search like their new job and think of remaining search time as a contingency plan in case they don't find a great job quickly.
PROS: Relatively high likelihood of finding a job before search runs out
CONS: Potentially little or no time to relax, likely to leave search time on the table
3. DECOMPRESS, THEN SEARCH
In this case, the consultant takes some time off prior to searching for a job. Search time is a fantastic opportunity to relax, travel, spend time with family, and generally get the Firm out of their system. Once they've had some time away from work, they'll eventually enter active search mode, described above.
PROS: Opportunity to take many weeks off, reasonable likelihood of finding a job before search runs out
CONS: Underestimating search time needs could lead to period of unemployment and gap in benefits
4. SEARCH TIME MAXIMIZING
The goal of this approach is to make sure no search time goes unused. This means timing interviews, offers, and negotiations so that a final job offer is accepted on the last day of search time. This requires quite a bit of planning and comfort level with the risk of going unemployed, unpaid, and uncovered by benefits for some amount of time if things take longer than planned.
PROS: Opportunity to take time off, minimizes unused search time
CONS: Requires planning and coordination to get timing correct, period of unemployment and gap in benefits if anything disrupts plans
5. SEARCH TIME AS VACATION
My friend and former McKinsey colleague's quote sums up this approach nicely: "I'm almost out of search time... I guess I better start looking for a job". It's often used by consultants who want to take full advantage of what might be their last chance to take months of time away from work until retirement. When search time is combined with accrued PTO, your paid vacation can go on for several months. It's a good time to redeem a lot of those airline miles for an around-the-world ticket or two. A variation on this approach is to use search time to keep getting paid while launching a start-up.
PROS: Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take months of paid time off from work while covered by benefits
CONS: Requires digging into savings while looking for work once search time and PTO run out