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.