The Confidential Job Search – Searching for a Job While Employed

Conducting a job search while employed poses notable challenges. You’ve concluded that it is time to find a new opportunity, but how can you conduct a job search without raising suspicions?  To ensure that your confidential job search does not raise red flags with your current employer and work colleagues, follow the suggestions below.

Be aware of your behavior. You may have intellectually and emotionally “turned the corner” at your current employer. But do things just like before and go out of your way to defuse suspicion. Keep your current job a priority (you owe that to your employer) and finish strong. Resist the urge to tell coworkers of your intentions (which may not be easy), and do not use your employer’s computer equipment or email for your job search (use your personal email, even if you have to create one). When you network (as you will and should), let your contacts know about the confidential nature of your search—they’ll understand, but they must be made aware first. You should arrange similar confidentiality with recruiters at search firms. Recruiters can be great eyes and ears for new opportunities, and they are trained to keep dealings confidential.

Update your LinkedIn profile. You need to update and optimize your LinkedIn profile (taking full advantage of the programming and algorithms of LinkedIn). However, depending on the changes you make to your LinkedIn profile, they could be broadcast to your network connections and raise suspicion. To hide your changes on LinkedIn, go to your Profile page and turn off “sharing profile edits.” That is done through the Settings & Privacy tab of your account.   

Be careful about asking for employment documents. Requesting copies of past performance reviews, covenants-not-to-compete, and the like are unusual requests. Some employers (thankfully) have policies to keep requests confidential when Human Resources’ channels and protocols are properly used. Hopefully, you kept copies of these documents and you do not need to ask for them.

Be aware of telephone communications. Avoid having job-search telephone (or cell phone) conversations in the office, especially in open spaces. Go to a conference room and close the door (keep your voice down), go out into the hallway, outside, or to your car. And keep conversations brief. The wrong set of words overheard by the wrong person will blow your cover.

Inform potential employers that your search is confidential. In your first conversation with a potential employer (HR or the actual hiring executive), state that you are currently employed and your search is confidential. This puts the topic on the table, and every employer will understand. Do what you can to schedule interviews (of whatever nature) early in the day, during lunchtime, or after working hours. If you happen to be a remote employee, you have more flexibility, but don’t take advantage of your flexibility to conduct a job search on company time (and dime). As your search progresses, you will likely need to take a day off (PTO or paid vacation) for longer, more involved interviews. Try not to take too many PTO days too close together. Your sudden disappearances from the office may create suspicion.

Be aware of your attire. If your office dress code leans more toward business casual, showing up in interview attire is a sure tip-off. This may require you to change clothes before returning to the office after an interview.

Anticipate that your confidential job search will eventually become known. Plan on your confidential job search being discovered by your coworkers, boss, or others, despite your efforts. Think about what you will say (in advance) if a coworker or boss confronts you. Be honest. Get a short answer together and memorize it. Getting caught by surprise and stumbling through an explanation is the embarrassing alternative. You could say: “Yes. I have been approached with another opportunity, and I thought I needed to explore it, just as you would if the circumstances were reversed.” The phrase “if the circumstances were reversed” often squelches a detailed conversation on the topic.

Searching for a job while employed is not illegal, unethical, or immoral. It is similar to having a part-time job. Just be aware of what you are doing and how it is seen by others and you should fine.

Branding and Your Job Search

It is imperative that you craft a professional brand that announces your distinct talents and what you represent to the marketplace. The process of branding is discovering who you are, what you are, what are your unique abilities, and communicating them through various mediums to your network or target market.

The Motivated Job Search (2nd ed.) book lists numerous benefits of creating an impactful brand, including:

  1. You will differentiate yourself from other job seekers, and gain a huge advantage.
  2. You create the initial impression the employer has of you.
  3. You can more quickly convey your value to the employer.
  4. You can more easily match your skills and value proposition to the employer’s needs.
  5. You can better determine which opportunities to pursue.

The drawback of not having a professional brand is simple: you are an unknown, you become ordinary or a commodity. Employers will determine for themselves what they want to see in you. They will cast you in a light based on their own conclusions, which may not be the message you want to communicate. There is no perceived differentiation from other job seekers. And, you cannot command a premium, and have reduced leverage when it comes to compensation.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of creating a professional brand is the self-awareness of your unique skills and experience, and recognition of how they work together to create an impact. You will project the value of your abilities more clearly, resulting in a job that’s a good match for your skill set. Branding can also help you set your sights on what you want your future career to be.

Additionally, when your networking contacts know your brand, they are much more likely to advance it for you through referrals, recommendations, and so on. When the right opportunities come along, you become top of mind (because of your brand).

The professional-branding process is written about in The Motivated Job Search (2nd ed.)The process starts with introspection and thoughtful reflection. In some cases, thinking through your branding can be both an emotional and a professionally enlightening event.

Think of it this way: as a job seeker, your goal is to connect with employers both intellectually (you can do the job) and emotionally (you’re a good fit). Having a well-crafted, professional brand helps on both levels. You must be perceived as the right candidate, and through branding you are better able to align yourself to an open job position.

Keep in mind that the effectiveness of your brand is determined by the connection that exists between what the brand claims and what it can actually deliver. In other words, you must be able to prove and quantify your professional brand. Failing to do so will have disastrous results. Don’t oversell your brand and capabilities.

Create a succinct brand. Think of it, in analogous terms, as a tagline or a theme that will be the foundation for your job search.

To help determine your brand, ask yourself some questions:

  1. What am I good at or an expert in?
  2. What have I been recognized for?
  3. What is my reputation with others (subordinates, peers, senior management)?
  4. What have been my strong points in past job reviews (if applicable)?
  5. What differentiates me from others with the same job?
  6. What professional qualities do I have that make me good at my job?
  7. What are the professional achievements I am most proud of?

The answers to these questions and the thoughts they provoke are essential to forming your brand. Now, synthesize the answers and thoughts into single words or short phrases that capture the concept of your responses. Here are some examples:


Award-winning sales executive with experience in workers’ compensation, pain management, consistently exceeding sales goals.

Operations Management

Operations executive dedicated to improving operational efficiency through effective leadership.

Account Management

Client-focused account manager focused on client satisfaction and retention.

ERISA Lawyer

Experienced attorney protecting ERISA fiduciaries from the Department of Labor.

A branding statement could also be a few separate descriptive words or phrases:

Process Improvement ▪ Lean Six Sigma ▪ Turn-around Specialist

Marketing ▪ Advertising ▪ Public Relations

The purpose of branding is to get you known for the value you offer, get you in the door, and differentiate you from other job seekers.


For more information check out The Motivated Series of job search books.