The Do's and Don'ts of Job Searching While Employed

Worried office worker looking over top of cubicle
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By Jada A. Graves

When you start one job, it's expected that sooner or later you'll leave it to begin another. And yet, few people – or few practical people – leave an old job voluntarily before finding a new one. Most of us stealthily search for a new placement while still keeping up appearances at our old one. Well, "stealthily" is a stretch – in reality, we're botching up our reputation while making a sloppy and obvious attempt to find new work.

Here are some do's and don'ts for finding a new job when you still are working hard at your current gig.
Don't take advantage of company resources. You need to carve out personal time to job hunt, because using your time on the clock or any of your current job's resources to look for new work is a huge no-no. This includes the obvious, like not sending job materials from your work email and not lurking on job boards using your company's Wi-Fi, but it also extends to the less-than-apparent. "Sometimes you'll have someone who has been with a company for a while, and so they've forgotten that their cellphone is company property, and then they use it for a phone interview," says Martin Yate, author of the Knock 'em Dead book series, including "Knock 'em Dead Social Networking: For Job Search and Professional Success." "Companies have ways of tracking use of their equipment, and if your employer finds out you're using equipment to look for a job, it will not be a good day for you."

Susan Heathfield is a management consultant, co-owner of TechSmith Corporation and writer for the human resources section on She recalls a time when sending a paper résumé via snail mail was the only submission option. "These days everything is digital, and job hunting is no longer dependent on an 8 to 5 time frame," she says. "There's no excuse for misusing your employer's resources. Apply for jobs at home at 6 p.m. or 2 a.m., even."

Do devote yourself to your current job. "When we make the decision to move, we mentally and emotionally quit the job we're doing," Yate says. In reality, you should do the opposite: Work hard, meet and exceed expectations, and be an all-around upstanding employee during the time you have left. It's professional and reinforces your current job security. "Think about how a company handles layoffs," Yate suggests. "Usually, there's no sniff that a layoff is coming downwind. You should treat your handling of your current job the same."

About eight months ago, Erik Devaney joined HubSpot, a marketing and sales software company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He landed his current position as a content strategist after a competitive job search and while working full time for a real estate marketing company. "You don't want to leave a company burning bridges," he says. "Don't discount that managers know other managers within your community. If you slack off at your current job, then news of you not being a top performer could spread to the company where you're seeking a new job."

Don't show your hand on social media. You'll have to network. And using LinkedIn is crucial – it's "the big honey pot for recruiters," according to Yate – but remember to be covert, lest your current boss becomes suspicious with an uptick in your activity. If you're planning a massive renovation of your profile, then Yate suggests picking a lower traffic time, like late at night on a weekend. And most important: Modify your broadcast settings so your connections aren't alerted of every LinkedIn update you make, regardless of day of the week or time of day. To do so, go to the Privacy & Settings page, and adjust the activity your connections can see and receive alerts about.

Do make smart connections early. The time to build your list of references and referrals isn't when you're desperate to flee your current gig. "If you're involved with these people ahead of time, they're more likely to think of you when jobs are available," Yate says. To do this, Yate recommends joining a few LinkedIn groups with people on the same professional level as you or people who are one or two stations higher. "Liking a comment just takes a moment, and then in a couple of days you can reach out privately to say, 'I liked your comment and the point you made. Can we connect?' You don't need to introduce the notion that you're looking for a job," he says. "Instead, seek to increase your visibility." Nurture a relationship with these people over time, and they'll think of you and refer you when an interesting opportunity comes along.

Don't tell your boss that you're job searching. Maybe you can talk to your boss honestly about your desire to quit. But for many people that previous sentence is poppycock, and initiating a conversation with an employer about plans to jump ship is precarious. "It gets you nothing," Heathfield says. "Your employer will regard you as disloyal and a short-timer, and you'll block future promotions and opportunities with the company."

Yate encourages job seekers to remember that old saying: It's not personal, it's business. "Being loyal isn't a part of smart career management," he says. "Now, you have to think of yourself as a financial entity that must survive for 50 years. Behave as a corporation, and consider your own interests first."

Do practice a poker face. Evade the subject until you're comfortable discussing your plans with an employer. Devaney suggests waiting to tell until you have a new job offer in writing and in your hand. "Giving your manager a hunch can leave you in an awkward place, particularly if the offer falls through," he says. And it's rare for a manager to blatantly ask you if you're planning a move, but if it happens, Yate suggests you prepare an answer. "If most employers were confronted with the question of whether they were planning layoffs, they'd deny it every time," he says. "'No, absolutely not. No layoff is coming.' So if you're asked why you're updating your LinkedIn profile so much lately, then respond, 'I've read that it's important to keep my profile updated and build my skills.'"

Don't change your normal routine too much. Once you reach the interview stage, you'll have to get creative so you don't raise suspicion. Your boss will notice that you've taken five dentist appointments this month wearing your Sunday best. Take an occasional long lunch or even some vacation days to keep your employer off the scent. "It's customary for a first interview to happen over the telephone, so it's easy in that case to slip away from your desk and take the call in a quiet, neutral space," Yate says. "Employers will also be willing to schedule early morning or later afternoon initial interviews to accommodate your current work schedule. But as you advance through the hiring process you're going to have to be more accommodating and flexible to when they'll need you to come into the office."

Do think of your career as one long, passive job search. Steadily nurturing your career makes job hunting more seamless. So take courses to enhance your skills sporadically and not as a stopgap to make yourself a more attractive job candidate. And if you regularly update your LinkedIn profile with milestones and achievements then it won't be glaring to your current manager that you've started using your LinkedIn to look for outside work. Maintain contact with references, and steadily seek networking opportunities. That way you're not just contacting them hurriedly when a reference check might be imminent. In other words, handle a job search with care by taking care in your career generally.
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