Searching While Employed: Play It Safe

Making a job switch requires balancing ambition and savvy. Follow these five steps to keep your reputation intact and your income secure.


Ideally, senior executives have gotten where they are because of a combination of qualities: Personal drive and ambition coexist with the ability to analyze, plan and execute creative tactics with integrity.

And when they’ve decided they’re ready to move to new work and opportunities, they exercise the same skills to conduct a confidential job search with decorum and etiquette toward their current employer.

What can happen if you’re indiscreet about your job search? The rumor mill can start generating reports about your desire to leave, and your current company may start making plans for your departure without letting you know.

There are plenty of clues that can start this cycle of speculation. Supervisors, peers and those who report to you notice more than you might think. Distributing your resume carelessly; changing your workplace behavior; even new, aggressive networking habits on sites like LinkedIn can alert those who recruit for your company that “something is up.” And nowadays, online search tools make it even likelier that these indiscretions will be noticed. If you don’t combine confidentiality with consideration during your job search, the consequences at your current job can be awkward or worse. Moreover, it can tarnish your reputation with future employers.

How do people view the relationship between their job search and their current work? Over many years in career coaching and career services, I’ve become familiar with the thinking of people in transition. The way they think and behave on the job search can do some funny things to their personal brands. Who are you in transition? Look at the examples below and ask yourself if you are demonstrating the behaviors of a Savvy or Careless, Selfish job seeker:

The Selfish, Careless Seeker: “I don’t know about how it should be done, but I deserve to make a change, so I am going to cut out time during the day to search when I should be working for my employer. I’ll do what I need to, both online and offline. I really don’t know if my employer checks online search engines – and frankly, I don’t care much anymore. It’s gotten to the point where I just need to get the word out and make a move.”

The Savvy Seeker: “My current position is still a priority. Since my integrity is on the line, I will continue to give my current company everything it expects and deserves – but I will develop a job-search methodology that lets me be productive but without shortchanging my current employer.”

Here are five ways to endanger your current position and compromise your reputation, along with alternatives to reach the same goals with integrity:

1. Use company e-mail to interact with recruiters or potential employers without your company’s knowledge.

Savvy alternative: Use your own e-mail address and network to conduct your search and reach out to prospective employers.

2. Use your company phone to communicate with potential employers and recruiters. Savvy alternative: Stick to your home and cell phones for your job search, and only make work-hours calls when you are on a break or at lunch. When you’re on the clock, dedicate your efforts to your current company.

3. Let your work performance drift and start underperforming while you focus on your search.

Savvy alternative: Keep striving for top results and maintain your performance at work. The top job seekers I have ever coached used the last weeks or months of current employment to “finish strong” and looked at their top performance as a “fiduciary duty.” This attitude fueled a more powerful, productive search.

4. Be aggressive and cavalier in communicating your intentions to friends, colleagues and recruiters.

Savvy alternative: Know that not everyone has your best interests in mind or will treat your communications as confidential. A senior executive I know once talked to some neighbors and acquaintances in his home about his interest in several area companies. Weeks later a friend who hadn’t been at the party asked him, “I heard you were looking what’s up?” That shocked my executive contact, who said to me, “I didn’t think I had to watch myself.” You do.

5. Launch digital posting or fishing expeditions without thinking about the trail you leave behind. More executives than you might believe throw out some “bait” on the Web. Most recruiters can hazard strong guesses where you work, including the ones at your current company.

Savvy alternative: Recognize that everything you do may be noticed online. Yes, you need to distribute a powerful resume to open leads, but you should thoroughly research each and every opportunity before you apply.

You may have heard that it is easier to get a job when you have a job. That may be true, but only if you have developed a clear plan for your search, a powerful resume and sound practices for conducting your search on- and offline.

If you keep control of your current job and plan your search not out of desperation but with a clear-cut career goal and focus, searching while employed can be empowering. But new journeys remain rife with danger. If you want to be perceived as the best, execute your job search with savvy and integrity.