5 tips for job hunting while you’re still employed
Finding a new job while you’re still employed is tricky. On the one hand, you’re more attractive to potential employers if you already have a job. On the other, one false move and you could end up being fired or, at the very least, sully your reputation in the marketplace. Here’s how to best conduct a job search while you’re still employed.
1. Explore options where you are
First, consider why you’re thinking of leaving, and explore options for improving your situation where you are, says Jayne Mattson, a career management consultant at CareerEngage.
Doing so will depend on the level of trust that exists between you and your manager; don’t go overboard and start telling everyone at the office, she adds.
“You can initiate these conversations with people inside your company, but it has to be people you really, truly trust. It has to be someone whose integrity you’re sure of, who can help you navigate a lateral or an upward move while keeping it close to the vest,” Mattson says.
Think about what’s frustrating you at your current job and consider whether or not some changes could make things better. Would remote work or a few days of telecommuting improve your outlook? Could you move to a different department? What can you do to make your current work situation more enjoyable and rewarding?
If the answer is no, or if changes aren’t an option, then by all means, go, says Roy West, CEO of The Roy West Companies. “You should go quietly, gracefully, swiftly and never look back,” West says. “If you are not currently working for someone who clearly understands that your growth and their growth [boss/organization] is an implied contract and common goal, then you are compelled to find one that does and will.”
2. Time your job search strategically
If you’re trying to land a job while you’re still employed, you need to minimize the competition for available roles; that means getting the timing of your search exactly right, says Doug Schade, a partner in the software technology division of WinterWyman. Late summer is a great time to launch your search, he says, as the number of available roles stays pretty constant, but the number of active job seekers drops.
“August, in particular, is a great time to begin looking,” Schade says. “Many people wait until September to get searching in earnest; they wait until their summer vacations are over and their kids are back in school. So, August is the perfect time to get a jumpstart on a new job,” Schade says.
3. Keep your job hunt a secret
It’s never smart to lie to your boss, but it may be a necessary evil if you want to hold onto your current job. Some companies’ policy is to let go of people who are actively searching for a new job. So keep your job hunt on a need-to-know basis. One misstep from a friendly coworker could mean a pink slip or damage your reputation with the company.
Donald Burns, executive career strategist and coach, agrees: “Absolutely do not tell your boss — doing so will compromise your most valuable asset, namely, your current employment. As soon as the company discovers you’re looking, they will start looking for your replacement. Your job is probably toast. You’ve ‘crossed the Rubicon’ and there’s no going back,” says Burns.
However, if your boss asks you directly, don’t lie; frame the issue like this: “One way to handle it is by saying, ‘Lots of changes are happening here lately. I don’t want to leave, but I’m a little nervous and just thinking about Plan B,’” Burns says.
Even things like your wardrobe can give you away. If you normally wear business casual clothing but suddenly show up in a suit and tie, it’s a major indicator that you’re interviewing. Try to schedule interviews before or after work, or make time for a change of clothes to avoid giving yourself away.
4. Leverage social media to find a new job
Social media can be a job seeker’s best friend, if you know how to leverage it correctly, Schade says. LinkedIn should be your first stop, but don’t make the mistake of updating your professional profile only when you’re looking for a new role — that’s a dead giveaway.
“Ideally, you should be updating LinkedIn constantly; it’s a living, breathing document that shows potential employers what you’ve been working on and what your value is,” Schade says. “Unlike other social media and social networking sites, it has the added advantage of being viewed positively by your employer. They want you to be updating it and adding to it, because it can reflect positively on them,” Schade says.
But remember, if you’re updating your LinkedIn profile substantially in hopes of finding a new job at a different company, you need to take some precautions, says Mattson, as it can tip off your current employer.
“Turn off your public notifications,” she says. That way, your current employer won’t see if you’ve changed your status to ‘open to new job possibilities,’ or notice that you’re doing a major overhaul, which can signal to them that you’re thinking of jumping ship,” Mattson says.
You also should avoid making public comments about your job search on sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as many organizations monitor those sites for employee activity. If you must use these to help in your search, make sure your profiles are locked down and any job-hunt-related posts or messages are private.
5. How to handle references
Have at least three solid references from different employers; only use someone from your current place of employment if you trust them not to spill the beans or if they’ve recent left the company themselves. Accidentally using your current boss or supervisor as a reference likely won’t sit well with them if they get blindsided by a potential employer’s phone call. References should be given upon request only, according to West, and even then, done with the express caveat that your job search is confidential for the time being.
For whatever psychological or analytic reason, employers prefer to hire someone who is currently working. The perception is that ‘someone wants this candidate.’ Unemployed candidates have an advantage only if they possess skills or talents that are in extremely high demand. “You are perceived as more desirable by potential employers and you are in a stronger negotiating position. In fact, some employers harbor a ‘secret’ bias against hiring unemployed people,” says Burns.
So, if you’re currently working but thinking about moving on, make sure you’ve done all your homework and are putting yourself in the best position to get the job you want before leaving.