Hunting for a Job While Employed


Bettina Seidman has counseled many job hunters in her time as a career coach in New York, but even she was surprised when one of her clients, who worked in the same building as Siedman, asked to sneak into her office’s bathroom.

“I recall clearly that she reached out to me and asked permission to use the ladies room on the floor of my office,” Seidman recalled. At the time, her client was working in payroll management but used her free time to interview for new jobs. “She felt that she couldn't wear her ’interview suits’ to work on days that she had interviews, for fear of being noticed as overdressed. So she used the bathroom to change her clothes before going to interviews.”

This may sound like an unnecessary precaution, but according to Seidman, it’s better to be safe than sorry. “You need to be sure that your job search is a completely private matter,” she said. “Be very careful who in your office knows about it.”

In a sense, hunting for a job while you are currently employed is a bit like leading a double life. For as long as you stay at your current job, you must continue to be a faithful and hardworking employee who shows no signs of discontent (or else you risk raising suspicions and possibly being fired). Yet all the while you are secretly visualizing yourself at a new company and taking steps to get there.

In fact, this may be more of an issue now than it was a few years ago. Several companies have admitted recently that they will not even consider hiring someone who is unemployed. That essentially means American workers have no choice but to look for jobs while working a 9-5. To make matters more complicated, it’s common knowledge that many Americans have settled for less than perfect jobs because of the bad economy, which makes many bosses nervous that their employees will up and leave.

“This isn’t an economy where you can let your boss know you are thinking about leaving,” said Rob McGovern, the founder of CareerBuilder and current CEO of JobFox. “More than once I’ve seen the person cut in a subsequent layoff, with the manager saying ‘he or she was leaving anyway’.”

So how can you successfully hunt for a new job without accidentally sacrificing your current position?

Keep Your Job Search Separate from Your Job

The first and perhaps most obvious point is that you should try to avoid searching for jobs while at work, where you’re more likely to be caught looking at job postings on the computer. Also, you should make sure not to use company property for your job search. “I knew someone who was forwarding job alerts on his company-issued Blackberry,” McGovern recalled. “When his Blackberry needed to be repaired, his IT department saw the flood of job alerts coming into the device.”

That’s an awkward spot to find yourself and it’s also a violation of trust between you and your company. “Don’t take advantage of your company’s trust by using company resources like computers, Fed-Ex or the copy machine for your job search,” said Alexandra Levitt, author of the book New Job, New You. Instead, Levitt recommends that you conduct all your job hunting on your personal cell phone and computer.

However, all of this raises another problem. Like it or not, we spend the majority of the week at work. Yes, there may be time at night to research job openings and work on resumes, but when should you schedule interviews if not during the day when you’re working? The general consensus among the career experts we spoke to is that the best option is to schedule the majority of your interviews during a two or three day period and use your vacation time to make it happen. However, if you can’t pull off this scheduling feat, Levitt suggests that you can “use your lunch hour and either leave the office or use your cell phone in a conference room.”

Ultimately, it’s important to keep in mind that most prospective employers will try to work around your schedule if they are interested enough to interview you. “For most companies that are hiring, the recruiters know that they need to be a bit more accommodating,” said Sophie Beaurpere, the director of communications at, a popular job search engine. “I know that when I interviewed candidates, I definitely work around them because I never want to jeopardize their current position. And I would guess I’m not the only that feels that way.”

Social Networking Pros and Cons

Even before you have to worry about ducking out of the office for an interview, you may have already blown your cover online. More and more job hunters are relying on social networks like LinkedIn to advertise their resumes and search for job openings. Unfortunately, these networks are almost as risky as they are helpful.

For example, if you update your LinkedIn profile too often in a short period of time, it may send the wrong signal to any coworker who you’re connected to on the site that you are gearing up for a new job. According to Beaurpere, “You do want to be active on LinkedIn and other social media, but you want to be consistently active. That way, when you start updating your profile, it won’t be as alarming.”

Similarly, you want to be careful how much you advertise your employment goals on sites like Facebook and Twitter. “I let someone go because they posted about their job search on Facebook going on and on about how great the new position would be,” said Julia Zunich, the President and CEO of Z Group PR. “Everyone associated that person with my company, so it did not make our organization look very special if she was so eager to get away.”

The bottom line is that it’s crucial to remember anything you post online can and may be read by someone you currently work with and end up hurting you in the long run. However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid social networks all together as they are an incredibly useful tool; you just want to be mindful of what you’re posting on them. “You should be sure that whatever you’re doing comes across professionally,” Beaurpere said. Not only could a bad post lead you to be fired from your current job, but she also adds that “more companies are doing searches and Googling your name and will see if you’ve been disrespectful.” That could be affect your job prospects down the road too.

Be Mindful of Your References

Finally, once you have found a job that you’re interested in, you will most likely be asked to provide a few references.  Should you feel comfortable asking one of your coworkers to be a reference for you, or is this too risky? The answer we heard more often than not from career experts is that you should not.

“Should you ask for a reference from your current company?  Absolutely not. You can't risk the fact that your co-worker will tell your boss that you're interviewing elsewhere,” Levitt said. McGovern, the CEO of JobFox, was also pretty skeptical. “I’d only use a coworker as a reference if his trust is 100% assured. If he/she knows you are leaving, it creates risk you’ll be thrown under the bus to advance the confidant’s career.”

While it might be nice to have a reference who is up-to-date and can talk about your current position, the general sentiment we heard is that this is a luxury, not a necessity. As Levitt puts it, all your prospective employer really wants are “good references in general,” not necessarily from your most recent job.

That said, there is one exception to this rule and most of the others mentioned here. “If the employee has been given a heads up that there is a downsizing ahead in the company, then you really don’t have to worry so much about this,” Beaurpere said. “But more often than not, you really just want to keep your lips sealed.”

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