The Stealth Job Search: How to look for a job when you have a job

It’s definitely time to leave my job and move on, and everyone tells me that I should find a new job before I quit. But how can I? I can’t leave work to go for interviews, I can’t tell my network that I’m looking in case my boss finds out. I’m even scared to interview in case the new company contacts my boss for a reference…I feel stuck!

It’s common wisdom that the best time to look for a job is when you have a job, for three very good reasons. First, because you can take your time and make a calm and calculated decision that is not clouded by the pressure of paying this month’s bills; second, because you are in a much stronger negotiating position when still have a job; and third, because (unfair as it is) most employers will prefer to consider someone who is currently employed.

The problem is that it’s not so easy to do.  In an age where most job offers come through personal contacts and networking, how can you get the word out that you are looking without letting the cat out of the bag at work? And how can you go to interviews and take calls from potential employers when you are working full time?

Targeted networking

For many people, employment “networking” translates into a group email, Facebook post, LinkedIn update or tweet, saying that they are looking for their next challenge, and asking their contacts to keep them in mind. This can be a very attractive way to feel that you are networking and getting the word out. If you are employed, however, these kinds of mass communications are out, since your colleagues and employers are very likely to either see it or hear about it.

The good news is that this kind of “networking” usually will not get you very far anyway. The more people are included in your communication, the less responsibility each individual will feel to actually make an effort to help you in your search. Also, communication with a large group of people is by nature going to sound generic and impersonal, which will make the recipients less engaged with you and your job search.

The best way to get your friends and colleagues involved in helping you find a job is through direct personal contact with those people who you believe may be able to assist you, either through making useful introductions, personally recommending you for an open position at their workplace, or giving your CV to a hiring manager or HR manager that they know. This means that you don’t have to tell the entire world that you are job seeking. You just need to tell those people who you think are most likely to be able to assist you. When you contact those people, you can clarify that you are still at your current job and ask them to keep your search confidential.

Applicant’s confidentiality

If you are concerned that a potential employer may contact your current employer or colleagues, make sure that they know that your search is confidential and ask for their assurance that they will not contact references without first getting your OK. This is standard practice and generally will actually make you a more desirable candidate in the eyes of your potential employer.

If you reach the stage where your potential employer wants to speak to professional references, they will generally understand that you cannot give your current employer as a reference; however they will still want to speak with relevant references, so be prepared to supply them with contacts among earlier employers and perhaps a trusted current colleague who is aware of your job search.

How to communicate, when to interview?

Receiving a call from a potential employer at your desk at work is definitely not a good idea. And since you can’t be sure who is on the other end of the line when your phone rings, it’s best not to answer an unidentified caller in the presence of your employer or colleagues. If you can, leave the building for a few minutes to take the call; otherwise call them back as soon as you can get free and out of earshot.  Ideally, your potential employer will contact you initially by email, in which case you can respond after work hours (of course, do not use your work email for these communications!)

If you are invited to an interview during work hours, explain that you are currently employed and conducting this job search confidentially for the present, and ask if it would be possible to interview at a different time. If you finish work earlier or have more flexible hours on some days, ask if it would be possible to meet at one of those times.

If it is not possible to meet at a different time, you will have to take the time off work to go to the interview. You can take a vacation day, or inform your employer that you will need to come in late or leave early for personal reasons on a certain date. It’s usually better not to go to an interview from work and then come back to work after it, since a mid-day unexplained disappearance can look fishy, and you may feel uncomfortable and show it.

It can be tricky and stressful to look for a job when you have a job. But it is still usually in your best interest to find your next job before leaving your current position.  Targeted networking, requesting confidentiality, and handling communications and interview scheduling with tact and diplomacy should carry you through the rough waters of job searching while employed until you reach your next safe haven.

About the Author
Gila Weinberg, CEO of Mikum Consulting, is a recruiter and a career coach. She helps organizations and companies find great employees, and helps great people figure out their next career move. Gila is also the author of Not So Grimm: Jewish Fairy Tales, a comparison between tales from the Talmud and classic fairy tales.
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