IT Employment

10 tips for keeping your job search under wraps

If you don't want your current employer to know you're looking for a new job, you need to be stealthy. These precautions will help you avoid getting busted.

Having your job search become public knowledge always has been a risk of job changers. In this economy, that risk looms even larger. The last thing you want, and the worst possible outcome, is for your boss to discover your actions when you've been unsuccessful in your job search. Here are some things you can do to keep that search clandestine.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Avoid conspicuous changes in dress

Suppose that in your current job, you and your co-workers wear blue jeans and t-shirts. At the job you're interviewing for, however, you're expected to wear a suit. If you're coming to your regular job on interview day, don't show up dressed in that suit. Either set expectations with your prospective employer, explaining why you must come in "as you are," or (the more preferred approach) make provisions to change clothes. By the way, this situation might be a good reason for you to practice good grooming and neat dress at your current job.

2: Keep the change of clothes out of sight

If you must bring a change of clothes, keep it out of sight or out of the office. If you have no choice, at least keep it hidden inside a non-transparent dry cleaning or garment bag. The best option is to keep it in your car, if you drove to work.

3: Minimize the degree of clothes-changing required

The less you have to change, the easier it is for you and the less conspicuous you will be. Let's say you are a man and that your current dress code is business casual. Your interview location expects business attire: suit and tie. That morning, wear the following to your regular job:

  • The trousers of the suit you will wear to the interview
  • A long sleeve blue button down collar dress shirt
  • No tie

The blue button down shirt is great because it goes with either a suit or as-is. Unlike with a white shirt, it doesn't look as though you've simply taken off your tie while wearing a suit. Rather, you really do look like you're dressed business casual. Now, all you need to do is put on your tie and your jacket and possibly change your shoes.

4: Avoid office computer, phone, or voicemail

For obvious reasons, avoid using communications methods associated with your current employer. Such methods probably are monitored, and your job search could become public knowledge if you are not careful.

5: Use text messaging or Web-enabled smart phone

Even using your own cell phone isn't enough. Don't think you can get away with dropping your voice to the level of a conspiratorial whisper. As soon as you do, your co-workers will strain to hear what you are saying. Use text rather than voice if you're using your phone at your desk. Otherwise, find an empty conference room or office and close the door. If your phone is Web-enabled, that's even better, because you can use it to check email.

6: Develop and rehearse code words and situations

Despite your precautions, you one day might get a call from a recruiter while you're in your office. The worst thing you can do is to drop your voice and say, "Sorry, I can't talk now; can I call you back?" Your co-workers will think you are either having an affair or seeking a job, and neither conclusion helps you.

Think of a problem situation someone could call you about. If it really is a problem you're having right now, so much the better. For example:

  • Your computer crashes constantly.
  • Your home has a leaking pipe.
  • You hear the sound of metal rubbing on metal when you step on your car brakes.
  • Your child is having problems in school.

Now, when that call comes, visualize that the caller is actually the computer technician, plumber, mechanic, or teacher. Start talking about the "problem," then apologize for not being able to talk further and make arrangements to talk later. Do not drop your voice. Speak in a normal tone of voice, even when you make arrangements to talk later. Give a plausible reason if you can -- you don't have the computer manual, or you're not at your car, or you don't have your child's homework assignment.

Of course, it's good if you alert the company or recruiter beforehand that you might have to go into "James Bond mode."

7: Avoid office copiers

Besides the ethical issues of using your current employer's copier to help you find a job with a new employer, there are practical issues. One is the risk of leaving an original resume on the glass surface. The other is experiencing a copier jam and forgetting to remove the copy or copies that are inside.

If you do use your workplace copier, remember to remove your original(s). If the copier jams, take steps to resolve it and make sure your copies are removed.

8: Secure your documents

If you're using snail mail, don't use employer mail facilities. Send your mail from home or from a public mailbox that's outside your office. Don't leave your resume on your desk or even in your desk file. Keep it in your own briefcase and lock the briefcase if you can.

9: Schedule interviews with minimal work disruption

You might need to leave the office for interviews. If you do so during while you are at your current job, you have two issues. First, you have the practical issue of covering an absence. Second, you have an ethical issue of interviewing for that other job on your employer's dime.

The best alternative, though costly, is to use vacation time for your interviews. If you can take a day or a half day, you need not explain to anyone how you are spending your time. Or at most, you need say only that you have a number of things to take care of. The best option is to be able to attend several interviews on that one day or half day.

Otherwise, try to find a business reason to be near where you can have your interview. For example, you might need to visit a different location of your current company. Schedule your interview early in the morning, go to your employer's alternate location, then return to your own office. Or schedule that alternate location visit around 3:00 to 3:30 and when you're finished, head to your interview.

10: Be careful of nearby neutral sites

I'm not suggesting that you should engage in an affair, nor am I suggesting that doing so is right. However, someone who does engage in an affair and who wants to keep it secret is well advised to conduct that affair far away from those who know either person. The same thing goes for a job interview at a neutral site. Avoid sites that are close to your office or ones that your co-workers or boss frequent. If anyone from your office sees you, that person well could conclude that you are looking for a new job.

About

Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.

27 comments
jtjenkins213
jtjenkins213

I was actively searching for better opportunities in my field to advance my career, as opposed to changing jobs simply because I was unhappy where I was (I was happy, I just didn't see any opportunity to grow). So I posted my resume to various job boards and sometimes even applied to positions I thought would lead to better opportunities. Nothing really came of them, probably because I didn't put as much effort into it as I should have to get a different job. Until one day I got a call from a family member that his employer needed someone. I was completely up-front about the interview, and the offer, with my former boss. I accepted the offer, and was even complemented by the CEO of the company, he stated that I had done everything right and I was welcome to come back in the future. ...and I am now back there, part time. So I have a day job and I'm able to help my former (now current again) employer once again at night. So some of the things you mentioned should not apply. Being honest can go a long way.

ajhaskd
ajhaskd

Why keep it secret? It's not a crime to look for a job. And if you enter in James Bond mode you won't get the job.

Quackula
Quackula

I think it depends on were you work. I work for county government and I am looking to move on. If they did find out you can't just be fired like that. You have to have a valid reason for being fired.

Dukhalion
Dukhalion

then You work for a bad company to begin with.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Regarding #10, I was working for a Fortune 500 company. They use to do [would you believe] a month of training for all new employees. After a month, one new employee "quit" right after the training. I was told later that his excuse was that he had to go back to his homeland as someone was ill. Within a couple of weeks, I was in the subway and directly opposite of me was the same guy in a suit. Let's just say he will never get a job at the company again.

cs.bachtler
cs.bachtler

another reason to NOT use the office copier, it might have a hard drive which retains the copied information.

jkameleon
jkameleon

As a matter of fact, it seems kinda stupid. I mean... why? What is there to lose?

IT_Stargazer
IT_Stargazer

Interesting that you cite ethical issues about using the office copier, but not your employer-paid "office computer, phone, or voicemail". Yes those may be monitored, but how about, it's unethical to use your current employer's resources to hunt for another job?

KD78728
KD78728

You may also want to disguise your resume. I once had the pleasure of working for an organization where one of HR's weekly tasks was scouring jobsites and searching for employee names! I was more horrified when I found out an unhappy employee with an active posting on CraigsList was caught and slated for termination. Luckily she got an offer just 2 days before the axe fell and quit on the spot. What I did for my disguise: on any job site that permitted HTML resumes (CraigsList, Jobing, etc) I omitted every occurrence of my name, phone, address, and current employer's name. Instead I inserted JPG images of the respective text, which cant be searched. Paranoid? After that episode, you bet! Forget about saying "better safe than sorry" -- instead I go a step farther and say "better paranoid than safe!" LOL

santeewelding
santeewelding

You forgot to mention the safe house and the transmitter.

Ed Woychowsky
Ed Woychowsky

Avoid doing a tech interview on your cell phone when you're at your desk. Yeah, someone did that here a couple of months ago. Fortunately, for him, only myself and one other person overheard the conversation. First time that I ever started a conversation by saying, "You might not want to do that again in the future."

jtjenkins213
jtjenkins213

...because if you tell that potential employer how you are treating your current employer, what conclusion can they draw about how you will treat them if hired? That does seem a bit counterproductive.

ian
ian

It's only unhealthy when others find out. People do not always leave a job because they do not like it. There are a multitude of other reasons. Perhaps they have to move for personal reasons or need to get off shift work or whatever. Be ethical in your job search, do it on your own time. Why add fuel for dismissal? If you post your resume / CV on a BB, then keep your contact info off, and NEVER send your resume to an employer until you know who it is. I mean, how can you? You have to find out about the job and company first in order to reword your resume effectively. Unless, of course, you use a boilerplate resume for all your searches in which case you will have very little chance of succeeding.

dina04
dina04

I worked with a guy, grossly overworked and underpaid, and I noticed a job add that fitted his job description. I mentioned it to him but told him to be careful. He sent his resume and sure enough it was our boss who placed the add. He promptly got fired for sending in his resume. Tough with five kids and a wife who didn't work. Some employers are paranoid.

Katyknock
Katyknock

Just because you have the ability to look for another job - do you need the one you have until you find a better one? I've known people to be fired within a very short time frame that they were exploring job opportunities elsewhere. What company believes you are working your hardest when you are thinking about leaving? What kind of work are you doing? Do you care about long term effects?

mtbkrbull
mtbkrbull

I work in a small office where i see my bosses throughout the day on a daily basis. the owner has Christmas parties at HIS house where he and his wife cater to us the employees and our spouses. if he caught wind that I was looking for a new job right now he would blow a fuse and most likely fire me. In this economy one can't be too careful. the jobs are scarse and harder to get once found

Bo Tym
Bo Tym

How about your current job! Possibly a decent referance if you are able to leave the current job gracefully.

revlarry
revlarry

You may be right, and I speak as a former network admin who once had to prevent employees from surfing job boards. But if they wanted to replace you wouldn't they use those same resources that are unethical for you to employ in planning your escape? Would they go to lengths to see that you wouldn't know you were being replaced? Just food for thought. If you work in an at-will state (U.S. terminology) are there really any rules other than cause and effect?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I feel it's only fair that an employer benefits from my ethics to the same extent as I do theirs.... What's next family planning for same sex couples by the pope?

chriscampbellchr
chriscampbellchr

That's disgusting that HR has the time to do that. I've read of instances where they scan face book too.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

that after a bit of looking about you'd realise you are best off where you are... :D

jkameleon
jkameleon

Employer-employee loyalty is a thing of the past, dead and buried a long, long time ago. Employers, who nonetheless expect loyalty from their employees, are not worth working for in the first place. Expecting loyalty while giving none equals abuse. Working in abusive workplace is usually worse on the long run than having no job at all. If you find yourselves in such situation, there are roughly two possible outcomes: 1) You stand up to abuse, and maybe get fired. You'll end up unemployed, but you'll still have a chance of getting another job. Even if you don't, you'll still feel better about yourself. There are worse things than unemployment, like being a pussy. 2) You endure the abuse, burn yourself out, possibly ruin your health, and consequently get fired a couple of years later. You'll end up unemployed, sick, tired, and without a chance of getting another job. And, worst of all, you'll be a pussy. The above reasoning does not take into consideration debt & mortgages. If you are burdened with debt, you are pretty much fuck-ed. The only option you got is (2). Guess that's why one of my former bosses tried to persuade me to stop driving an old 2CV Charleston and buy an SUV. On credit, of course. Regarding the work I do, se my previous post http://techrepublic.com.com/5208-6230-0.html?forumID=102&threadID=329081&messageID=3276561&tag=content;leftCol

jkameleon
jkameleon

I fork in financial services, some stock market thing. Culture in my company is consequently very free market oriented. If they find somebody cheaper and better than me, I get a boot. If I find a better paying job, I go. As simple as that, no hard feelings on either side. When I come across an offer worthy of consideration, I tell my bosses immediatelly. They appreciate it, because this way, they have one uncertaintly less to deal with. Changing jobs is a fact of life, and being open and honest about it generally leads either to graceful departure, or a raise. As for you- I think you've found yourselves in a pretty unhealthy situation. Personal shit mixed with employer/employee relationship (or any other business relationship, for that matter) sooner or later turns out bad, and Christmas parties at your employer's house won't pay your bills. I think you better extract yourself from this, as soon as the economy permits.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

the sort of crapheads who'd do that? If looking for something better means you get the push, then finding something isn't going to be a problem. This sort of take it the arse attitude isn't helping you, it isn't helping us, and who gives f*** about them?

santeewelding
santeewelding

Had to read the compact note about ethics three times before it sank in.

kevaburg
kevaburg

MySpace, Twitter, JustGiving (yep, I typed that in right!) and LinkedIn are just a few of the sites that are used. Hell, they become tools for anyone that wants to look anyone up for almost any purpose! But having said that, if these PR departments fnd employee names on employment websites, then maybe they should question both the environment the person works in now and how the company can win the loyalty of its workforce over.

bikester556
bikester556

During this time of economic troubles why would you be looking for a job if you have one? This is coming from a laid off desktop support technician who applies to a job where there are over 500 applicants. You should be lucky you have an income.

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