It’s easier to find a job when you have a job. However, looking for a job when you’re still employed can be a delicate balance. You want to put your all into applications and interviews, but it’s difficult to go job hunting without your current employer finding out. Job hunting requires a good deal of time; not only will you be writing cover letters and perfecting your resume, but you’ll also need to go to interviews and meet with potential employers. So how do you stay on top of your work, satisfy the demands of your current job, and avoid arousing suspicion in your boss while giving your job search your all?
Before you get overly anxious about your boss finding out about your job search, think about what will happen if she does. Consider your own company culture. How has your employer responded when employees have moved on in the past? Is it a business that promotes growth and rewards loyalty? It’s very possible that if you’re a valued employee, your boss might incentivize you to stay with a counter offer.
Depending on the terms of your contract, it's possible that your boss can fire you for looking for another job. Most workers are at-will employees, meaning they can be terminated for any reason except discrimination or as retaliation for reporting illegal or discriminatory behavior on the part of their employer. Whether your employer actually would fire you, however, depends on the nature of the business itself. Be sure to read over your contract and fully understand the language, so you know if this is a risk.
It’s important to be cautious about your job search anyway. While your employer might not fire you solely because you’re looking for another job, she might be more likely to do so if you’re conducting your job search on company time. Here are five tips for keeping your hunt as private as possible:
1. Avoid job hunting at work.
Don’t browse job boards at your desk or write cover letters on your lunch break. If you receive a phone call about a lead, ask if you can talk at a different time. Understandably, this may be difficult, since you don’t want brush potential employers off or appear uninterested in the position. However, they’ll probably understand that you want to keep the discussion private. Propose some alternate times and offer to call them—that way you can ensure that the discussion actually happens. If it’s absolutely impossible to reschedule, go to a more private area to take the call.
Scheduling job interviews can be tricky, since most potential employers will want to conduct face-to-face meetings during working hours. If possible, use a vacation or personal day for the interview. Since most interviews require more time than your lunch break allows, factoring in travel time and the meeting itself, you don’t want to risk making your boss suspicious by assuming you can just use that time. If you need to, use the doctor appointment excuse once; if you use it too often, you’ll either arouse your employer’s suspicion or make her think you’re seriously ill. The same goes for using sick days for interviews. Calling in sick when you have a planned appointment is also risky, because you never know what might come up at the office that could require your attention.
2. Be savvy about your online presence.
Don’t discuss your job search on social media. Update your LinkedIn profile with your current employment information and work history, but don’t advertise your job search. Recruiters will contact you regardless of whether you write that you’re actively looking for a job. You might want to uncheck the “Notify connections” and “Share profile edits” options as well, although that depends on whether your boss and others employed by the business are your connections, and whether you think your edits with arouse suspicion.
You should also use your personal email, rather than your work email, to apply for jobs. List this email on your resume, too. Your employer probably has access to your work emails, so you should keep your job search out of them.
Avoid posting your resume on job boards and other websites. While you may want recruiters to contact you, there’s a risk that your employer or coworkers could see it. Even if your name is hidden, your boss is probably familiar enough with your role and work to figure it out. Instead, rely on LinkedIn or seek out headhunters yourself.
3. Network on an as-needed basis.
Networking is an important part of job hunting, so don’t eliminate it as a tool entirely. However, you should probably avoid discussing your search with current coworkers, even if you trust them, because you never know what might get back to your manager. Of course, you’re free to discuss it with former coworkers and employers you trust, as well as other people in your industry—in fact, you should! These connections could be crucial to finding a new position.
4. Ask recruiters and potential employers to be discrete.
Most recruiters and employers understand that you don’t want your employer to know that you’re looking for a new job, but if you’re concerned, you may want to mention it at the end of an interview. Additionally, you should avoid putting down your current employer as a reference on your job applications. Instead, use a past manager or former colleague who’s familiar with your work.
5. Keep up with your current work.
Don’t let your job hunt get in the way of your current job. If you slack off and fail to do your work well, your boss will notice. This, more than anything else, is likely to raise red flags, and creates another justification for firing you.
Potential employers want to hire someone who’s good at her current job—so keeping up with your responsibilities makes you a more valuable candidate.