5 Problems to Avoid in a Confidential Job Search

Conducting a confidential job search means doing it without letting your current employer know. In other words, you need to protect the confidentiality of your search until you have accepted a formal offer from an employer and are ready to give notice at your present company. However, numerous mistakes can trip up an incautious job seeker. Pitfalls certainly include some outside your control, but you can greatly improve the chances of avoiding disaster by paying close attention to the others.

Problems to Avoid in Your Confidential Job Search

  1. “Walls have ears!” Sound carries in open cubicle arrangements, so you can’t assume it’s safe to talk normally, even if no one is actually in the cubicles closest to you. Even a private office isn’t the complete answer, because closing your door without a reason that people will consider normal can raise a red flag in their minds.
  2. Posting your resume online or distributing it through an outside service can be problematic. Some job boards will allow you to remove or replace your personal information, and if you’re using a distribution service, you may be able to indicate that your current employer is not to receive the resume. However, most online boards and other services will not guarantee confidentiality, so you need to use them with caution.
  3. Discussion of your plans with co-workers, even if they’re also looking, carries a big risk. They might get upset with you over something and let your boss know what you’re up to or they might just be unable to maintain a discreet silence about your confidential activity, no matter how much you trust them. One incautious remark might be all it takes.
  4. Sending or receiving messages related to your job search while at work should be avoided if at all possible. Your voice mail and email are accessible to your employer, and they don’t have to ask your permission. Also, even if, for example, you erase your email messages as soon as you read them, technical support people can retrieve them. People can be—and have been—fired for this type of activity. It’s more than simply a question of being caught, of course. Ethical issues arise in connection with it.
  5. Ethical considerations also come up if you’re using company resources of any kind to help find your next job—even if you confine your activity to breaks and lunch. Not only can your current employer penalize you if they find out, but also prospective employers may wonder about your ethics if you’re conducting your search using employer resources. One valid exception is when your employer knows you’re looking and has authorized the use.

Bonus Confidential Job Search Tip

And here’s one more problem and related tip: Identifying people to use for professional references in a confidential job search can present numerous challenges. This is especially true, for instance, if you’ve been with one company for years. Asking people who are still there is a definite recipe for disaster. One possible solution is to maintain contact with people who have left the company that you believe would provide good references. That way you have some viable possibilities without rocking the boat at your current employer.

How Can You Safely Navigate the Minefield of a Confidential Job Search?

Start by identifying all the resources you can legitimately use that don’t involve your employer’s time or money. Then take a careful look at the people who need to know all (or at least part) of your plans, including family members and potential references, and make sure they understand the need for discretion. While 100% confidentiality may be unattainable, these steps can go a long way toward enabling you to conduct the search successfully.

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