This is the fourth question we’ve put in front of a bunch of job search coaches and resume writers… to see the others in this series, click on any Ask The Coaches. This question comes from… someone confidential K asks:
How do you keep your current employer from finding out about your current job search?
Craig B Toedtman, Job Search Consultant, Career Adviser, Coach, Executive Search Consultant
Our typical client is seeking an opportunity on a confidential basis. It is our firm belief that while the initial process can be kept confidential, ultimately, you will have to assume that your employer could find out.
There is major preparation that can be done prior to risking public exposure.
At this point, you are ready to move forward by making direct contacts to individuals identified in your initial research. Posting your résumé and responding to posted opportunities can also commence. This is the time when another person is now aware that you are seeking an opportunity outside of your current employer. You can explain to contacts that you are conducting this on a confidential basis; however, there is now risk involved. You cannot assume total confidentiality once you have brought another person into the process.
Utilizing outside professionals could extend the risk of public exposure; however, there are still no guarantees.
- Career Services Professional: could be contracted to present initial information to potential opportunities by providing your background without your name and contact information. Once your name is revealed to the potential employer, confidentiality could be broken, and you should assume that your employer could find out.
- Recruiters: many recruiters submit candidates without identifying the name or contact information. However, you can’t be totally positive, and your name could be floating in the job market without your being aware. There is risk that your confidential search has gone public.
Ideally, if you have reached the point that confidentiality could be breached, depending upon your relationship with your superior, it might be wise to make her/him aware that you are in fact seeking new opportunities. There could be great concern when doing so; however, there are times when this is the best professional way to move your career forward. In some cases, the supervisor may even help with your search!
Perry Newman, Certified Social Media Strategist, Certified Personnel Consultant, Resume Writer, and LinkedIn Transformation Specialist
How to keep your current employer from finding out about your current job search is a great question.
There are several telltale signs, and some self-destructive actions, that hint at people undertaking a job search while still employed. Here are my Top 10.
- Be positive on the job. Disgruntled and unmotivated employees are generally looked upon as ones who are, or should be, looking for a new position.
- Don’t share your job search with people while you are on the job, and not with people who you do not have a confidential relationship with.” Loose lips sink ships.”
- Avoid all job search activities at work i.e. making-receiving phone calls, doing computer job searches, sending-receiving emails, text messages and faxes on or from company equipment.
- Let recruiters know not to call you at work and especially not to leave a VM on your work phone..
- Try to schedule interviews (or have them scheduled for you) in advance so, if needed, you can ask for time off in advance. Make people know your preference is to take interviews before or after hours.
- Try not to be bullied into taking sudden and /or excessive unexplained time off in the middle of the workday. If it means missing an interview this may be a better option.
- If you do need to take time off for an interview, do not make up a lie to cover yourself. Worst is a doctor’s appointment. If it is checkable, do not use it, you will be caught in a lie. Just say a personal situation came up that needs immediate attention and it is personal.
- Don’t keep you current resume on your office computer.
- If or when you update your LinkedIn profile turn off the active status and share changes.
- When in doubt use common sense to make a decision and think like an employer and not an employee.
Lorraine Rise, Career Coach, Resume Writer and Columnist for Workforce50.com
This is a very common question among job seekers. If you are using LinkedIn in your search (which I would highly recommend), you can privately signal to recruiters that you are open to new opportunities. You can do this by clicking on the Jobs tab on the top menu. Then, scroll halfway down the page and click on Update Career Interests. Fill out the brief list of questions and hit the “On” button. This will notify only those with a LinkedIn Recruiter account that you are open to new opportunities. Nothing is published on your public profile. As an added benefit, LinkedIn says that turning this feature on will increase your profile’s search rankings.
One more tip is to go into your LinkedIn privacy settings and adjust them so that only you can see your list of connections. For example, if you and your boss are connected on LinkedIn, you may not want your boss to see that you have been connecting with recruiters or people who work at your company’s competitors. Good luck!
Lucie Yeomans, 6X Certified Career Services Professional and Job Search Strategist
There is no 100%, fool-proof way of keeping your employer from catching on that you are in a job search. However, there are 5 very important tips you need to follow to lessen the chances of your employer finding out.
- Do NOT post your resume on a public job board. Many HR departments and decision makers use these public job boards to find candidates to fill vacancies. Don’t be one of those job seekers who gets caught searching for a job this way. If you see a job you want to apply for, go directly to the company website instead.
- Do turn off your LinkedIn “Sharing profile edits” in your privacy settings. If you are updating your LinkedIn profile to appeal to recruiters, make sure you turn off this setting to avoid waving “I’m searching for a new job” flags in front of your employer. LinkedIn is an excellent tool to use when you are secretly job hunting, but you need to be cautious and strategic about how you use it.
- Use your own personal computer, phone, and time to search for a job. Some IT departments are watching what you do.
- Do NOT tell your colleagues, customers, vendors, etc. you are searching for a new job, unless they are someone you trust with your life. Face it, you are trusting them with your life with that information. Subtle, yet over-zealous ladder climbers have done far less to get ahead.
- If you do have an interview during regular business hours, do NOT come to work dressed differently than you typically do. Bring a change of clothes.
Jeri Hird Dutcher, Certified professional and international resume writer
A confidential job search is difficult because of competing priorities: An effective job search depends on networking, and a confidential job search depends on secrecy.
The most important strategy is to conduct a targeted job search that focuses on a small number of specific companies you have chosen because they are a good fit for you professionally, geographically, financially, and culturally. This immediately cuts the public exposure of your search.
Further, here are some things you can do to protect the confidentiality of your search:
- Forget about posting your resume to job boards. That is the quickest way to tell the world of your search. Instead, choose carefully those you tell about your job search. If you must share this information, ask the person you tell to keep your search confidential.
- Make small, incremental changes to your LinkedIn profile in the months ahead of your search.
- Know whom you’re networking with. Is the hiring manager at the company you’re targeting best friends with your boss? It’s possible. Use LinkedIn to find out.
- Create a confidential resume and confidential cover letter to protect your identity.
- Ask people you contact at your prospective new company, such as those with whom you interview, to honor your confidentiality.
- Do not use any company resources, including phones and computers, in your search. Conduct your search activities on personal time, even if it means taking a vacation day. If this creates difficulties in scheduling interviews, assure your prospective employer that you respect your current employer and do not wish to have your job search infringe on work time and resources. This displays integrity and should be honored by any employer worth considering.
Dr. Heather N. Maietta, Master Career Coach
Because K is asking this question, I’m assuming she wants to keep her search completely confidential from start to finish. Here are 10 points to consider:
- Be a model employee: The world is small. Same-industry job searches are even smaller. When the time comes to turn in your resignation, you want to leave your current employer with as much dignity and integrity as possible. And you never know when you’ll need to call on somebody for support or when you’ll run into someone at a networking event.
- Be mindful of who you tell you’re on the market: You need to network it’s the pillar of any job search. Use your best judgement and air on the side of caution when you let your colleagues know you’re searching. This also might require you to accept the fact that there will be certain people you’re unable to reach out to for support because of their affiliation with your current company or simply because you can’t trust them to keep your search confidential.
- Tell potential employers and recruiters you are conducting a confidential search: Most professionals will appreciate and honor your request.
- Don’t job search at work: Everything that’s done on your work computer is property of your employer, and likely accessible by your current employer. On the flipside, potential employers recognize when you were searching for a new job on company time. This is probably not the first impression you want to make.
- Avoid applying to blind positions or posting your resume on job boards: You run the risk of applying for a position within your own company if you actively apply to blind positing. Same goes for posting your resume on job boards. If you’re resume is visible to all, it is visible to your current employer.
- Skip the job fairs: It may not be your direct supervisor, but there is a chance someone in your company is actively recruiting at the fair, especially if you’re searching within current industry.
- Watch what you discuss on social media: This tip is pretty self-explanatory although needed to be included. Assume nothing you post on social media will stay private.
- If you’re not an avid networker, increase outreach gradually: There is a chance signs of uncharacteristic activity will raise flags, drawing attention to your search.
- Make sure your family knows you’re searching confidentially: I can’t tell you how many times a family member has accidentally divulged information I’d rather have preferred to keep confidential. It is likely your family will be aiding your search, so be clear with them upfront that as they’re reaching out to their contacts on your behalf, they’re communicating your search is confidential.
- Put together a thoughtful reference page: if potential employer does call references, you will need these people to vouch for you at the same time being discreet when they find out you’re in an active search.
Moving up and out of a job is acceptable and more frequent than ever. At the end of the day, if you’re thoughtful about how you execute your search, you’ll be more successful in moving from your current role to a new and hopefully more satisfying position!
Ron Auerbach, Author of Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success
A lot of people are fearful of their employers finding out about their job search. One major fear is that once an employer discovers you’re looking to get out, they’ll cut you loose ahead of time. Another fear is once your employer finds out you’re looking for other employment, they may treat you worse. Something that could lead to your making errors on the job. And this will hurt your chances of a positive recommendation. So the fear among many job seekers like “K” is very real. What can you do to shade your job search from your employer? Here are some steps you can take.
- Do not discuss your looking to leave or seeking additional employment
Keep everything to yourself to prevent the accidental or intentional leaking of your looking for work. Even if you have very close friends in the office who you know you can trust, the problem is they may be caught off-guard. Or be swamped or preoccupied with something else and let it slip. A risk you do not want to chance! So live by the adage, Loose lips sink ships!
- Be very careful with postings on social media
More and more employers are using social media to keep tabs on employees. So you want to make sure that anything you’re posting or responding to on social media sites will not even remotely hint of your looking for work. Remember, even if you forgot and deleted the post(s), it still exists out there. And for all you know, it was already seen. So you must be extremely careful with your social media activities. This includes your online profile(s). You do not want your profile to show that you’re looking for work. Remember, many will just look at your headline and make judgments and/or decisions based upon this. So make sure your headline does not say or even hint of your being involved in a job search. The same applies to the rest of your profile. You must be consistent here in hiding your seeking employment in both sections.
- Don’t use work for your job search
A big mistake is conducting your job search from your work phone, computer, and/or email. The last thing you want is any record of your seeking work elsewhere from within the company. So do all your job hunting from outside the company! This includes not using your company’s Internet connection. So do not connect your personal smartphone, tablet, and/or laptop to your company’s Internet or WiFi connection. Your goal is to avoid any records of your job search on the company’s end.
- No interviews from the office
You don’t want anybody overhearing or walking in during a phone interview or inquiry. So this relates to what I had said above, hide your job hunting activities from prying eyes and ears! And do not give out your work phone or email to prospective employers and recruiters. They should only have your personal email address and phone number(s).
- Behave normally
A big tip-off to somebody’s looking for work is their being dressed out of the ordinary and/or behaving differently. So you want to make sure you’re looking and acting the same as you normally would at work. This way, nobody will suspect anything is odd or strange. Also make sure you’re not carrying or bringing anything that sticks out as out of the ordinary. You want to make sure you’re behaving completely normal to avoid raising suspicions.
- Schedule interviews outside work hours
Do your best to schedule any interviews outside your hours of work. So if you can do it when you’re done, great! The same with having them before you need to arrive at your job or on your day(s) off. These will avoid your needing to take time off from work to meet with employers. And let you just continue on as though everything is perfectly normal. I’ve done interviews during my lunch. So that’s another possible time for you to schedule an interview without raising any eyebrows in the office.When you’re looking for work, it’s also a good idea to save your personal days, sick days, and vacation time for interviews. So ahead of your need to look for work, begin saving up as many of these days as you can. This way, if you’re not able to schedule interviews in your off-time, you’ll be able to use up these days for interviews during working hours. And do your best to have as many employer interviews during the day. This way, you may be able to minimize how much time off from work you’ll need.
- Don’t update job search materials at work
You do not want to be working on or updating your resume anyplace in the office. Or putting together job search materials that will be used during interviews. Just do all these things away from the office when nobody there will be able to notice. So don’t use your personal office, if you have one. And not using the lunchroom, break room, or conference room. Your entire job search activities should be made from locations away from the company where nobody from there will catch you.
- Avoid using employees of the company as employment references
You don’t want to risk somebody at the office being contacted by a prospective employer or recruiter. And having somebody else possibly overhearing the conversation. You also want to prevent your reference(s) from accidentally letting it slip they did a reference check for you. What about using one or more former employee as references? Some job seekers will do this to prevent their employer from discovering their using current employees as references. But don’t forget that even former employees can still be in contact with others in the company. So it is possible a former employee you’re using as a reference let it slip to somebody currently working there. Now you just got caught looking for employment somewhere else! So my professional advice is not to use anybody with your current employer as a reference. This way, you’re keeping everything under wraps. And prospective employers and recruiters will understand.
Gavan Ambrosini, Executive Coach, Career Consultant
Great question! And one that has a lot of folks worried as they scan the horizon for new opportunities. If you are searching on LinkedIn–there is a way to let recruiters know you are looking but without alerting your employer. You can go to your settings and turn on a button just for recruiters to let them know you are open to new opportunities.
It’s hard to be an actor when you are looking elsewhere and try to keep your game face on at work–but in the end, you are probably doing your employer a favor by leaving. Try not to call in sick to make an interview–but do use your PTO to schedule needed “appointments” and if possible schedule them later in the afternoon or early morning so as to not disrupt your day at work. When you can, take the entire day off! That way you can fully focus on the new opportunity and not have to worry about giving an Academy Award-winning performance when you go to work.
One last thing, it is not always a bad thing if an employer finds out you are looking. If they want to keep you, they may entice you to stay with a promotion, more pay or other goodies. Everything becomes a negotiation if they happen to approach you with the news they know you are wanting to make a move. If they don’t outright ask you if you are looking, they might “check in” to see how things are going and to see if you need additional support in any way. Thank them for asking that question, and then think long and hard of what it might take to keep you there. Then would be the time to ask for whatever you want to keep you there. It might be no–but at least they will be clear of what is motivating you to leave. If they let on they know you are looking but don’t offer anything to keep you around–take it as a sign that it is time to go anyway. Either way, maintain a positive attitude throughout your search, and always keep up your professionalism. You never know when you will cross paths again, and you always want to leave on a high note. After all–no hard feelings–it’s just business, right?
Frank Pomata, Labor Tech/Suffolk County Dept. of Labor
In today’s over-connected world where everyone’s business is so out there for the world to see, including our employers conducting a confidential search can be challenging. That being said, one can still discreetly conduct a job search without overtly alerting one’s employer.
- Avoid a drop off in enthusiasm, participation and productivity as these can be tell-tale signs to an experienced supervisor that someone is losing enthusiasm and may be job searching;
- Do NOT tell anyone at your employer, even friends, you are looking UNLESS you need a peer reference AND know they can be trusted 100% not to disclose to anyone else.
- Adjust your settings on Linkedin to allow recruiters/employers to contact you.
- Constantly be passively looking by regularly keeping your resume/Linkedin profile up to date. This way any sudden changes or updates are not viewed as suspicious should your employer be surveilling your social media (and don’t think they don’t).
- Emphasize the confidential nature of your search to prospective employers and/or recruiters. Even saying or writing this is no guarantee as I know all too well from a friends’ personal experience.
- Be careful, even away from work, who you tell about your search or where you discuss it. You never know who might be in earshot or who knows who.
Hopefully, the above tips are helpful to those of you seeking to change employment without tipping your hand to your current employer.
Virginia Franco, Certified Resume Writer, Interview Consultant
Try and Flex
If your job does not require a set hourly schedule, experiment with flexing. Try coming in an hour or two earlier and leaving an hour or two earlier, or conversely coming in an hour later and staying later.
Another option is to try and schedule interviews during and around the lunch time hour.
The most direct and professional way, and the one that eliminates the need to come up with an excuse for missing work, is to inquire if an interview may be conducted before or after work hours.
Take Personal Business Time
If your request for a before- or after-hours interview gets denied, consider taking a full or half personal or vacation day. While too many of these may eat into actual future vacation plans, no excuse is needed and your paycheck won’t take a hit. Just remember more than one day’s notice will be appreciated by those in your current workplace.
Less is Best
The most nerve-wracking part for most employed job seekers is communicating a workday absence. In these cases, aim for vague – as the fewer details you provide the less cover up required. If asked, explain that you have an appointment and if your job allows try and work from home. If pressed – only you can decide if it will help or harm to be up front about your job search.
Thanks K, for the question, and thanks to all the career experts for their insight!