3 tips on conducting a covert (not overt) job search

For whatever reason, if it’s time to move on from your current job to a new opportunity, how in this world of blasted messaging do you balance letting the right people know you’re looking, without alerting the wrong ones? There are some ways to not let the whole world in on your job search, as my client, Mariel found out.

Mariel longed to leave

Mariel and I had worked together right before she landed her current position as Financial Analyst with a large retailer’s corporate headquarters. After a few years of loving her job, as often happens these days, there was a major reorganization. Mariel’s boss left. Three of her colleagues left. The players changed. You get it. It was not the same. She was not happy. So, she set about launching a new search. Concerned about the fine lines of visibility, she adopted some practices. Here are just a few. Some may seem quite obvious; some a bit more subtle.

  1. Separating search space. Mariel was amazed at how often she had noticed fellow staff using workspace or property for what was suspiciously part of a job search. She set some ground rules around not handling any job-hunting duties from her workplace. Although convenient, she resisted the urge to use her work computer, run copies, send faxes or emails, or make any phone calls—unless on her cell and in her car or a separate public place on her lunch break. Mariel’s employer can legally monitor company equipment to see what employees are up to. And it’s an at-will firing setting. And they pay more attention to employees whose behavior raises suspicions. At the very least, Mariel‘s private search on her employer’s time or money was simply not the right thing to do.  Mariel was also discreet about clothes. She kept stockings and a suit jacket in her car for days with after-work interviews. She arranged for the lion’s share of her interviews to be breakfast interviews, scheduled at 7:30 to arrive by work by 8:30 or 9:00; or over the lunch hour. And she made sure that everything revolved around current work commitments—projects to be delivered, or meetings to attend. She went to work early or stayed late to make sure her work contributions did not suffer.
  2. Managing LinkedIn radar. Mariel felt that LinkedIn was a powerful job-search tool to use, but had to be handled delicately. She followed these steps:
  • Veiled her activity through Profile Views. Under Privacy Settings, she selected “Nothing. I will be completely invisible to users I have viewed.” She was then able to review others’ LinkedIn profiles without them being aware of her activity. She was then able to find recruiters, HR or hiring managers in her target companies, without being detected.
  • Adjusted how others saw her Profile Updates. Under Privacy Settings, she clicked on Profile and Status Updates; then selected “No, do not notify anyone” to ensure that no other users would receive notification of her updates. It prevented her network from receiving emails of her changing her profile—a typical job-search activity.
  • Tweaked her Connections Browse settings. Because Mariel wanted to connect with recruiters or insiders at her target companies, she blocked others in her network from seeing her relationships.

Mariel also used LinkedIn to search for people in her network who had been promoted, changed jobs or established new links. She messaged them heartfelt congratulations, but made no mention of her own job search online. Instead, she followed up with a private email or phone call to arrange for coffee; and then asked them how they made their recent change. This led to sharing of advice, and several who introduced Mariel to people inside some of her target organizations.

  1. Using overall caution. Mariel was very selective about putting her resume into cyberspace. When she did post it online, she took advantage of options to keep it confidential with name, contact information and employer names. She did not use current coworkers as references; but used former supervisors or peers instead. In working with recruiters, she insisted that her resume not be released to anyone without her agreement. She was active on Twitter and Facebook, but said NOTHING about job search. Instead, she nurtured conversational-based relationships; then as with LinkedIn, followed up with personal emails or phone calls when warranted to further discussions (with people she trusted to not reveal her search) that might aid in her job search in a confidential manner. And something else she did—that I absolutely loved: She wrote a handwritten note to companies of interest. She did not include a resume. She did not mention all she had done. She simply stated who she was and that she would appreciate consideration and follow-up. She scored three meetings with three notes. No kidding! Without confidentiality breach of any kind!

Balancing a job search with employment boils down to discretion. Mariel put careful forethought and planning into maximizing the effectiveness of her search without compromising her current position. While still in her search, she has landed interviews that sound promising. And she is feeling no guilt or worry.

Photo:  Sara G

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