Ask the Coach #8: How To Do An Undercover Job Search?

This is part of a series. You can see the others here, at the Ask The Coach category.

K asks “How do you keep your current employer from finding out about your current job search?

This is a great question… you don’t want to look for something and then have your employer find out and let you go… ouch. Just because you are looking doesn’t mean you are leaving, right? Sometimes, even a toxicish boss is better than no paycheck. (SOMETIMES)

Here are the coach replies:

atc_headshot_denise_taylor_125Denise Taylor, Career Coach, Chief Inspiration Officer, the 50 Plus Coach

Looking for a new job when you are employed can make you feel like an undercover agent, needing to cover your tracks. Here are 7 tips:

  1. An effective way of finding another job is using LinkedIn, so make sure that any updates are not shared to your network. You don’t want your boss, or noisy colleagues noticing that you have finally got around to polishing your profile.
  2. If you may be going for interviews during a work day make sure that you don’t dress noticeably different for work. You may need to change outside of the office or to start dressing smart each day, and if you use public transfer this will be your best approach.
  3. Be careful who you share your plans to look elsewhere with at work. A colleague could use this against you and tell your boss, meaning that you aren’t considered for an interesting short-term assignment.
  4. Keep any changes to your CV/resume and any applications to your home computer. You never know who could look at your screen and see your edits, and you want this information well away from shared servers. You can keep copies in the cloud, so you have access to send on during the day when you want to make a fast response.
  5. When you post your CV/resume on job sites you can take your company name off and use a generic description instead.
  6. Make sure you use a personal and not your work email address, it’s more professional.
  7. Interviews may be arranged for after work, but not always, so what will you tell your boss? You can’t go to the dentist every week, but there are somethings that warrant a weekly appointment such as visiting the chiropractor.

atc_headshot_patti_romanowicz_125Patti Romanowicz, career consultant and job search specialist

First and foremost, don’t do job search activities at work! This includes your resume, cover letters, online job searching, phone interviews, etc. Prospective job calls should be taken only on your cell phone, outside of work hours or on breaks or lunch when you can have some private time. Your car is a great place to have these calls, even better if it’s not in your company’s parking lot.

People have asked about LinkedIn. If you are linked to coworkers or your boss, it’s best not to bring attention to the fact you are making changes to your profile. Best advice I can give is make minor changes over time, so you are updating, but nothing major all at once.

gavan_headshot_atcGavan Ambrosini, PCCCareer Management Consultant

Looking for a job while still working can be a tricky business. Maintaining a game face with your current employer while applying elsewhere can be stressful and uncomfortable, especially if you are torn between staying or going. Here are a few tips to keep your search under wraps: If possible, set your interviews for early mornings or late afternoons. If it is an in person interview that requires more than a few hours–take the day or a half day off. Try not to call in sick to interview if you can help it. I recommend you reference your absence as time off needed to take care of personal business and nothing more.

Don’t share your plans to move on with anyone in the office, unless you completely trust them to not let on what you are doing. You may need a reference, and you don’t want to blindside important referrals if you feel like you are getting close to making a move. There are 3 possible scenarios to consider should your employer finds out that you are moving on: They care, and don’t want to lose you–they don’t care and will be happy to see you go, or they care, but also understand that you need to grow and it is not possible where you are at. If they it is the former where they don’t want you to leave, they make take measures to keep you-such as ask for a meeting, offer you a promotion or even a raise. If there are things that would keep you there, it might be worth it to let it slip out that you are looking. Otherwise, best bet is to put your feelers out, but keep it close to the chest.

You can turn on your recruiter button on LinkedIn to let them know you are open to opportunities, as well as start posting more on LinkedIn to keep your activity high. This will allow you to be found by others easier and remain on people’s radar. You will also show up more in other people’s feeds, and come up sooner in searches. Whatever, you do, treat your current employer as you would a customer, with respect and professionalism. You don’t want to damage the relationship or sever ties with them. Besides possibly needing them for a reference, you never know, they may be your customer one day. Good luck!

atc_3_headshot_rich_grant_125Rich Grant, Online career course instructor for Peak-Careers

If you don’t want your boss to know about your job search, I’m sure you’re being discreet around the office, and your LinkedIn headline doesn’t say “looking for a new job.” But, be careful about others, as they might not have the same level of discretion. Someone at work who knows you’re looking might say something at the wrong time and the wrong place, or someone you’re connected to on social media might tag you in a post or a tweet about a new opportunity. Keep your eyes open on all your social media sites.

If you’ve posted your resume on job sites, don’t list your current employer by name but by describing the industry. For example, “online retailer in the home furnishings industry.” Use your personal information (phone, email) and not your office contact details.

Some people think that they need to put a halt on social media activity during a “stealth” job search, but I would advise the opposite. Networking is a critically important key to job-search success, and the advantage with social media is that you can participate any time of day or night. Put yourself out there as an expert in your career field, and as you build professional relationships online, reach out via private messaging to let people know what you’re looking to do next in your career.

atc_3_headshot_perry_newman_125Perry Newman, Award Winning Resume Writer & LinkedIn Transformation Specialist, Certified Social Media Strategist, Certified Personnel Consultant

If you want to keep your current employer from finding out about your current job search, I suggest you take the following two thoughts to heart. 1. Loose lips sink ships 2. Use common sense and remember a word closely identified with a job search is Confidential. Keep yours that way at all times. Here are 15 useful suggestions to follow and, I can think of at least 50 more.

  1. Don’t ever talk about your job search on your employer’s phone. They may check your phone log and see whom you called or who called you more than once. This means their landline and even a company cellular phone.
  2. Don’t talk with the people you work with about your job search in public at work. You never know whose listening.
  3. Avoid talking gossip about others in the office. People have long memories and can be vengeful and start rumors about you.
  4. Don’t send or receive emails about your job search on your employer’s computer, even with your private email account.
  5. Don’t use your company computer to search for job opening online.
  6. Don’t apply for a job online from your company computer.
  7. Don’t email your resume to a recruiter or employer from your work email.
  8. Don’t use your work email as contact email on your resume. (Don’t laugh, I see this all too often)
  9. Don’t sign up for resume blasts, they may inadvertently blast it to someone in your company or a sister company, or someone who knows your boss.
  10. Keep focused on doing your job as well or better than expected from you. Lower performance is a red flag for most employers that you’re looking or unhappy in your current job.
  11. Don’t suddenly and drastically upgrade and/or change your appearance all at once. If you do change, make it gradual and not only when you take time off from work or have a lunch hour interview.
  12. Make interviews whenever possible outside of business hours and take the whole day off if it is going to be more than a lunch hour meeting. (See # 11)
  13. Don’t talk about your job search openly on social media.
  14. Don’t tell a verifiable lie if confronted about absence from work by HR or a superior at work.
  15. This is a curve ball for you. DON’T be afraid to update and upgrade your LinkedIn profile if you are conducting a job search. If confronted why you made this move the answer is. “I was told by many people that the best way to get ahead in your current company is to have a great LinkedIn profile so your employer knows how valuable you are. I’m glad you or someone in the company took notice of the change because, I really want to be looked at favorably and get a promotion or raise based on may contributions.”

atc_3_headshot_ron_auerbach_125Ronald Auerbach, Job search author, expert, and educator

There are several ways to hide your job search activities from your current employer. One is to not use company resources, like their computer, phone, or Internet access. FYI, this includes using your own device but connecting through the company’s WiFi or network. Your goal here is not to leave traces of your job seeking activities. So do everything outside of work! Job search on your time and resources, not the company’s.

Another thing you can do is not tell people at work you’re job hunting. Even when you tell people you know very well and trust completely, there is always a risk that word may slip out of your looking for employment. Trust me, it’s happened many times! And in most cases, it’s purely by accident through idle gossip and talk or somebody just forgetting to keep it a secret. So do yourself a favor and keep your job search under wraps.

One more thing you can do is make it clear to everyone you’re contacting that you do not want your current employer to find out. So make sure you tell recruiters, employment agencies, contacts (network), etc that you want your job search to be kept quiet so your boss and company doesn’t find out. And it’s perfectly understandable why you won’t want your current employer to find out, so you’re not appearing as if you’re hiding anything or in trouble. It’s a given that we want to remain anonymous so we won’t lose our jobs ahead of our finding something else.

Another thing you can do is have limited information in your profiles and resumes. So with online resumes and profiles, you may not want to use your full name. For instance, instead of Henry Miller, you could use H. Miller or Henry M. or H.M. You could also hide the company name for your current employer and use something that describes what kind of company it is. For example, instead of saying you work at Citibank, you could list something like Financial Institution. Some will also change their job titles from say VP Manufacturing, to VP or Executive or Senior Manager. Your goal with these is to hide more specifics that lead back to you should your employer find it.

atc_3_headshot_elvabankinsbaxter_125Elva Bankins Baxter, Certified Master Coach

Here are 6 Ways to keep your current Employer From Finding Out About your Job Search:

  • Use a personal email address only for your job seeking activities and correspondence. Remember, your employer has access to your work email server and they can and oftentimes will read your emails…As a Career Coach, I have heard from many decision makers that they already know that someone is “looking” because they have read their emails.
  • If you have a company cell phone, only use it for business. Yes, this means that you will carry two cell phones. It is wise to keep a backup of your business and personal contacts on your personal phone. In the event the unthinkable happens and you are separated from the company involuntarily, you will not have lost your business and personal connections.
  • Regarding your LinkedIn profile, the changes you make to LinkedIn should be very subtle. First, change your “Settings” so that you turn off notifying everyone of any Profile changes that you will be making. If you feel a need to increase the number of your Connections, do so very slowly…For example, this is not the time to add more than 4 or 5 people to your network at once. And, do not alert search/recruiting professionals that you are seeking opportunities (a feature within LinkedIn).

Regarding Search Consultants or Recruiters:

  • If you are asked by a Search Consultant to connect on LinkedIn…refrain from doing so. And, if you’d like to connect to a search professional, send an email from your personal email server, via LinkedIn or call them directly. Do not connect to them on LinkedIn.
  • If a recruiter or search consultant calls you on your work phone and wants to discuss an opportunity, get their contact information and tell them that you are not interested in seeking new opportunities currently, however, should that change, you may reach out to them in the future. The point here is that you may not know who directed this recruiter to contact you. It could be someone at work who wants to see if you are searching for a new position.
  • Be mindful of the number of times you are out of the office for those alleged doctor/dentist appointments or start to take longer than usual lunches. Most businesses will meet you to maintain confidentiality and meet after hours if necessary.
  • Be aware of your behavior as you work on teams or with your leader or cross-functionally. You want to instill an enthusiastic spirit and not let your true emotions surface. Transparency is important, now more than ever.

jacque-barret-poindexter-atcJacqui Barrett-Poindexter
, CEO, Master Resume Writer

Do not conduct job search using company technology; for example, avoid sending job search emails through your company email address or through the company computer, for that matter.

  • Set up a separate email (gmail) address for job search.
  • Do not save your resume on the company computer.
  • If a recruiter or hiring decision maker calls you while at work, either let it roll into voice mail and call them back later or, if you answer, explain that you are work and would like to schedule time after hours for a conversation. (Note: Ensure sure your voice mail is professional, and that you regularly check it for messages.)

Do not schedule interviews on company time. Work with hiring managers, HR + recruiters to schedule interviews during lunch hours, after work hours, etc. to be respectful of your current employer’s time.

When refreshing professional profiles, such as LinkedIn, market your value in a way that comes across as a blended strategy: marketing your current organization while also touting your own achievements.

Avoid sharing your job search efforts with colleagues, no matter how much you trust them. One slip of their tongue and your current role will be at risk. You don’t want to be unemployed before you have a new role in hand.

Avoid sharing your job search efforts on Facebook or any other presumable “private” social channel. 100% privacy is NEVER guaranteed on social media.

When asked for recommendations during interviews, seek support from former bosses, colleagues, clients, vendors etc. to avoid alerting your current manager that you are job hunting.

There you go, lots of great advice to help you in your undercover job search! Thanks coaches!