Career Doctor: Don’t Let the Boss Know You’re Looking for a New Job

Question:

"I’m unhappy in my job. I’d like to test the waters and see if there’s anything out there that might suit me better. But I’m worried that my coworkers – or worse, my boss – will find out. How can I look for another job without tipping off my current employer?"

Dave Willmer responds:

There are plenty of people in your situation right now. As the job market begins to pick up, employees who have been hanging tight through the recession in less-than-satisfying jobs will be looking over the metaphorical fence, wondering if the grass is greener somewhere else. Whether you’re craving a new challenge or hoping for a bump in salary, this could be a good time to make a move, as there is some indication that companies will be adding IT staff in the coming months.

But you want to make sure you conduct your search in a discreet manner, so as not to jeopardize your current job. Here are some tips:

Look inside your company first. Is it the company that’s making you unhappy, or is it the job? If it’s the latter, you may be able to work with your supervisor to adjust your role and make it more satisfying. Sit down with your manager and discuss how you’d like to modify your job. Be sure to emphasize how the changes would benefit the company. For example, if you work for a small firm without a dedicated data protection professional, you might ask to take on some of these duties, not only so you can pursue a field of interest but also to help safeguard the company’s information.

Keep it confidential. Looking for a new job can be in turns exciting and frustrating, and you need someone to talk to while you’re going through the process. But make sure that sounding board isn’t a coworker, even if you’re close friends with certain colleagues. There’s always a chance that news will get back to your boss.

Watch what you wear. If you wear a suit to a morning interview, but your company has a casual dress code, pack clothes that are more appropriate to your workplace and change before you get to your office. You can guarantee that people will notice if you are dressed differently.

Search on your own time. Your company is paying you to perform your job duties, so it’s not fair to them when you use your time at work to check out online job board or revamp your resume. It’s always unwise, given that many companies now monitor Internet usage. Set aside time every day before or after work to focus on your job search. If you must speak with hiring managers during the day, do so during your lunch hour or breaks.

Use your own resources. Don’t use your firm’s office machines or stationery to conduct your job search. Not only is it unethical, it’s also an easy way to broadcast to your coworkers (or your boss) that you’re looking to jump ship. All you have to do is accidentally leave your resume behind at the printer or copier to clue in others.

Keep it personal. When you contact potential employers, use your personal phone number and e-mail address. This will help you avoid awkward situations, like having to take a call from a potential employer at your desk or mistakenly forwarding an e-mail from a hiring manager to your supervisor.

Be careful about your online activities. If you decide to put your resume online, be sure you take advantage of privacy controls available through most job boards that allow you to keep your identity confidential. Also, be aware of what you post on social networking sites. Even if you are not connected to colleagues, your posts ("Keeping my fingers crossed for today’s interview") or activities (suddenly making major changes to your LinkedIn profile after months of inactivity) could be seen by others and tip them off to your intentions.

Be prepared. Despite your best efforts, you may still be discovered – a hiring manager you contact may belong to the same professional networking group as your manager, for example. So it’s a good idea to consider what you’d say if your boss or a colleague were to ask if you’re looking for a new job.

Consider registering with a recruiting firm. Professional recruiters can confidentially work on your behalf, seeking out opportunities and distributing your resume. They also can even help you enhance your resume and brush up on interviewing skills. What’s more, their services are free to you.

A successful job search requires persistence and patience, but it also requires you to be respectful to your current employer. When you land your new job, you’ll be glad you didn’t burn any bridges with future references or networking contacts.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.

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