Navigating a Job Search When You’re Employed

by Beverly Harvey

stealth mode job searchEspecially for executives, job search while employed is tricky. First, at the executive level, “passive” candidates, those NOT looking for a job, are far more valued than “active” candidates. And unfair as it is, the thinking goes that if you are looking for a job, something must be wrong with you.

It’s not as though you can hide the fact with prospective employers that you are in an active job search – but you don’t need to over-emphasize this fact either. It’s a huge plus that you are employed. Unemployed active candidates especially face bias.

The second tricky issue is that job-seeking executives risk discovery by their current employers. Thus a “stealth” job search is in order.

Clearly, careful planning is needed. Here’s where the efficiency of a targeted job search can be especially advantageous.

Ask yourself if it’s the organization or your immediate situation that you want to leave. Maybe the company is OK, but you don’t get along with your boss or don’t feel comfortable in your position. Is there an advantageous move you could make within your existing organization instead of totally uprooting yourself?

Always be “job-search ready.” Even before you have a need to seek a new job, be sure your resume and social-media profiles (especially LinkedIn) are up to date. In fact, as soon as you start a job, update these artifacts. That way, you won’t have to conduct a wholesale update that might get the attention of your colleagues and put the idea in their heads that you are job-searching.

Request discretion from prospective employers and your network contacts. Include in your cover letter a line about keeping your search discreet because your current employer is unaware of your plans. Similarly ask your network contacts to keep your search on the down-low. If you are working with recruiters, be clear that you are conducting a confidential search.

Focus on networking. Submitting resumes to job boards is not especially effective anyway, and doing so carries the risk you could inadvertently apply to your own employer or perhaps a colleague of your current boss who might feel inclined to spill the beans.

Writing for Forbes, job-search columnist Liz Ryan suggests networking for consulting gigs rather than a job: “Consulting part-time is a great way to get a new job,” Ryan writes, “because hiring managers can meet with consultants any time they want (they only need a higher-up’s approval to actually hire a consultant, and sometimes not even then) whereas most hiring managers won’t meet with a job-seeker unless they have a job opening.”

Informational interviewing is a form of networking that can be especially effective in a time-restricted situation. This technique enjoys the same advantage of Ryan’s consulting idea; hiring managers would probably turn you down if you requested a job interview out of the blue but are more open to those seeking information about a particular position or company.

Don’t risk discovery by using your current employer’s time and resources (phone, computer) for your search. Especially don’t participate in phone interviews from your current place of employment. Don’t use your company email address, for example. Be careful not to disparage your employer publicly or in job interviews. A hiring manager is likely to think, “If he/she trashes a former employer, he/she is likely to trash our company.” Continue to produce your best work, even though your heart may not be in your current job. Don’t ask your current supervisor or colleagues to serve as references.

Consider creative scheduling for interviews. Scheduling interviews is a challenge for the employed. Look at breakfast and lunch slots, as well as times at the end of the work day. Consider using personal-leave time.

Don’t give yourself away with what you wear. If expected interview attire is different from what you would normally wear to work, consider bringing your interview duds and changing into them offsite so you don’t stand out as an obvious job-seeker.

Be truthful if confronted by your employer. If you’re found out, you’ll only dig yourself in deeper if you lie. Graciously admit the truth.

Final Thoughts
A job search while employed requires some fancy footwork but can be finessed nicely with some careful planning.

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