On May 7, 2003, we presented a scenario from a member concerned with the ethics of using company resources to search for a new job. Given the time constraints under which most IT professionals operate—with long work hours and family commitments—this is an issue most of us must face at some point in our careers.

Most say to job-hunt on your own time
The vast majority of responses to this question were generally against using company resources to secure a new position, while acknowledging that in some circumstances the answer is not so clear-cut. Member Jim Huggy states that it’s “only ethical if you’re being laid off or you have specific permission.” Tim Walsh elaborates on the concept of “specific permission” by directing us to consider whether “there are policies in place that specifically address ’job-hunting‘ or the non-business use of company resources.”

Other members sought to distinguish between the issue of using company resources and the ethics of not informing your boss that you are seeking new employment. Member tilsharic believes that it is always wrong not to let your current employer know that you are on the job market. “If I were to interview someone and his current employer wasn’t one of his references, I’d want to know why,” tilsharic wrote. “When will he start looking for a new job and leave me stranded?”

In contrast with this opinion, member serw says that to him it is “normal to keep quiet about your plans.” This view was shared by most, who agreed that, ideally, it would be possible to be completely upfront about job-hunting, but not everyone is privileged to work in such a supportive and open environment. To deal with these circumstances, several members offered techniques for concealing job-hunting activities:

  • Use lunch time and breaks.
  • Send e-mails from a personal account.
  • Take a trip to Kinko’s rather than use the company copier.
  • Establish a habit of taking time off midweek for personal errands.
  • Do not tell your boss why you need personal time off even when it is not for job hunting. This could put you in a position of having to lie when you do take time off for job-search-related reasons.

Taking a more moderate approach, member Tim Walsh writes, “How much time are you spending on the job hunt? It’s one thing to take a short amount of time to send an e-mail with your resume attached (assuming your company’s policies allow limited non-business use of resources). It’s something else entirely to spend several hours a day on the Internet searching job sites.”

Member Supportmanager agrees, writing, “Within reason, I believe it is ethical to utilize company resources while you look for another job. In general, these resources are available outside the workplace, but you would burn more time away from work going to a pay phone or library Internet connection than you would placing limited phone calls or sending limited e-mails from your desk. The company would actually lose more of your services with this approach.”

What can you take with you when you leave?
As a corollary to the issue of job hunting, the original scenario also raised the question of whether it is ethical to take a resource kit of documents, freeware, manuals, knowledge bases, etc. that has been compiled during your time with your current employer. Member generalist suggests handing the package “over to your boss when you give notice and requesting a copy of it as part of your career portfolio.” Alternatively, member wvanexe proposes recreating the package at home in your own time, “Keeping in mind that any confidential issues must remain with the company.”

Your real-life job hunt stories
Clearly there are no definitive answers to the ethical issues raised in the scenario. It would seem that whether it is ethical to use company resources to job hunt depends on the circumstances of why you are job hunting, your company’s policies, and your relationship with your boss.

To assist us in exploring these questions in more depth, please consider submitting your own scenario pertaining to this issue. We would particularly like to hear from you if you are currently on the job market or have recently changed jobs. How did you handle the time-consuming task of finding your new position? If you have a scenario you would like to see discussed, please submit it by e-mail. If your scenario is used in a future column, we will send you a TechRepublic coffee mug.