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The Confidential Job Search

Looking for a new job when you’re already employed

confidential job searchWorkplace wisdom holds that it’s easier to get a job when you already have one. This may be true based on the fact that employers generally prefer to hire people who are currently gainfully employed, viewing them as more attractive, in-demand candidates. The New York Times notes that many employers admit to only considering employed candidates for positions.

Yet although job-seeking while employed may make you more desirable to prospective employers, handling the logistics of seeking a new position in another company can be particularly tricky when you’re already working. Here are a few of the key concerns that employed job seekers must address—and how to overcome them:

How to Dress

When you arrive at work in a business suit instead of your usual business casual, it could be a big red flag to your boss and colleagues that you’re interviewing elsewhere. But how can you dress professionally for your interview without giving away the fact that you’re looking for a new job? Career coach Cheryl E. Palmer suggests stashing your interview suit in your car and scheduling lunchtime interviews if possible, to give you a chance to change clothes outside the office beforehand.

“Dressing up more than normal can be a real giveaway that you are interviewing for another position,” says Palmer. “To avoid suspicion, put your interview clothes in your car and change in a discreet location before the interview.” Career counselor and coach Lynn Berger recommends going with a “layered look” to work, so that you can add the dressier layers after you leave the office, before the interview. “For example, wear a simple dress or slacks to work,” explains Berger. “One might bring a nice blazer to wear just for the interview but not wear it all day long. The same advice for shoe attire.”

Managing Phone Interviews

Whenever you’re conducting a job search, you can expect to be required to participate in at least one phone screen, and perhaps additional phone interviews as well. While it may be tempting to handle these calls from your desk so that you don’t have to schedule time out of the office, think twice before doing so—even if you have a door to close. “The potential for interruption is enormous as is the embarrassment and fallout,” says career counselor and executive coach Roy Cohen. “Even if you think that your boss and colleagues will be away, their schedules may change at the last minute.”

Instead, Cohen suggests trying to schedule the conversation first thing in the morning from home, or alternatively taking the call in a local hotel lobby, the lounge area in your gym, or your car so that you have enough privacy or anonymity to conduct a conversation. “Remember to explain to your interviewer in advance that the logistics are not ideal, but that you are excited nonetheless to have the opportunity to meet,” says Cohen.

Getting Out of the Office

If you make it through the initial phone screening process, you should prepare to commit a block of time to in-person interviewing. Some companies may require multiple on-site interviews that could take several hours of your work day, depending on how many people you’ll be meeting with. You also need to consider your commuting time to and from the interview, if you’ll be returning to the office afterward.

One way to avoid arousing suspicion when you’re heading to an interview is to vary the times that you leave for your lunch break throughout the period that you’re conducting your job search. “If you can fluctuate your schedule from time to time, that would be best,” says Tara Goodfellow, managing director of Athena Educational Consultants. “That way when an interview arises, it’s not very suspicious when you leave at 1pm instead of your set 11:30am.”

Handling Social Media

One sure way to burn bridges with your current employer is to be foolish in your use of social media sites while job searching. Career coach Cheryl Lynch Simpson notes that while LinkedIn serves as recruiters’ number-one candidate-sourcing tool, it’s crucial to be careful that in courting recruiters via your LinkedIn profile, you don’t inadvertently “out” yourself as an active job seeker.

“Employed candidates in active job search mode should alter their LinkedIn profile settings to turn off notifications and updates,” advises Simpson. “This will prevent email notices being sent to their network advising their contacts of recent changes to their profile. They should update and upgrade their profiles slowly but steadily so as to avoid the appearance of an instant makeover.”

Simpson adds that another best practice is to “gradually” increase the number of skills listed in your LinkedIn Skills section to 50, while doing the same with the number of LinkedIn groups to which you belong.

Should You Tell Colleagues?

Many career experts agree that the best thing to say to in-office friends and current colleagues about your search for new employment is nothing. “Don’t tell your colleagues you’re interviewing elsewhere,” says Karen Mangonon, co-owner of Sweet Resumes. “Continue to do your best at your current job.” Goodfellow agrees that sharing news about your new career goals should stay confidential when it comes to anyone with whom you currently work. “I know it’s exciting, but share with someone outside of your office environment,” says Goodfellow. “Be careful posting on Facebook too if your personal and professional contacts overlap. One careless post that says ‘I totally rocked the interview!’ can cause a lot of damage if your colleagues are part of your network.”

Career management consultant Rosemary Guzman Hook suggests that job seekers be very selective about what information they share in relation to their job search. “Remember, you can tell the truth without telling the god-awful truth,” says Hook. “‘I have something that I have to do tomorrow morning, so I’ll be in by 10am’ is perfectly acceptable to say. You never have to say what it is.”

Hook adds that the advice to “tell everyone” that you’re looking for a job is only good advice assuming you’re not already employed. When you do have a job, you can save your networking instincts for those outside your current organization. “Co-workers aside, do pull toward you a tight network of professional friends and colleagues in related industries or interesting fields who would be open to making e-introductions or passing along your resume—or even better, giving you a heads up of openings coming up in their companies.”


About Robin Madell

Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues. She is a contributing writer to U.S. News & World Report and serves as a copywriter, speechwriter, and ghostwriter for executives and entrepreneurs across diverse industries. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association in New York and San Francisco. Robin is the author of Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30 and co-author of The Strong Principles: Career Success.


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