Looking for a job when you already have one is kind of like looking for a new girlfriend before you break up with your current love. You know you want to end the relationship, but you don’t want to reveal your plans.

Most people change jobs more than they change mates, but no matter how many times you do it, looking for a new position can be tricky.

What behavior is reasonable and what crosses the line? Some things are clearly wrong, like using a company phone, computer, postage meter or office supplies, says John Estes of Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm in Tulsa. Surfing your own firm’s Web site or intranet for internal jobs is probably okay, though. "Companies encourage that because current employees know the company culture," Estes says.

Your Online Self

In this age of technology, it can be tough to hide your job search. For example, when you post your resume on ClearanceJobs.com, should you make your contact information visible or keep your profile confidential?

Linda Kyker, a Colorado Springs software engineer, had to grapple with an employee whose resume on another job site caught the attention of her company’s human resources department. "She was surprised when the company called to find out why she was job hunting and asked her to remove it," Kyker recalls. "The woman refused because she felt that if a better offer came in, she was going to take it." The issue became a bigger problem when higher ups wanted to know why the employee didn’t feel any loyalty to the company.

So if you want to remain anonymous – or keep your boss from complicated situations – be careful about what you post. "Don’t do anything that’s a dead giveaway to where you work, like mentioning your experience with a proprietary software or unique delivery system," advises Matt Johnston, chief executive officer of Workway, a Burbank, Calif., staffing firm. Moves like that make it too easy for human resources staff to snag you.

The real issue isn’t whether you post your name, it’s whether the recruiter can quickly locate you via e-mail or cell phone, says Gregory Reymann, a technical recruiter for the Judge Group in West Conshohocken, Pa. If you have queries forwarded to an e-mail address, be sure to check that address daily. Returning calls at lunch or in the early evening is fine, since many recruiters do work late in order to speak with candidates outside of work hours. At the same time, don’t expect a recruiter to hang around the office waiting for your call until you get home from work – and have dinner.

Rules of Engagement

The line between what’s okay and what’s not also shifts depending upon the type of employee you are, says Jack Molisani, president of ProSpring Technical Staffing in Los Angeles.

Contract employees are often paid by the hour, so they can job hunt during the day as long as they’re not charging for that time. "There’s a big difference between what you do on billable hours and non-billable hours," Molisani points out. It’s also important to know what the corporate policy states, he says.

Every Firm is Different

Company culture also helps define the line between the right way and the wrong way to find your next position. Frank (we can’t share his real name because he’s an electrical engineer at a federal agency, where even the janitors need security clearances) says people in his office are open about their job searches, perhaps because most people earn promotions through internal moves.

"When you see someone looking online under the jobs department, you might say, ‘Oh, are you looking for something new?’ As long as you’re doing your job, nobody cares. They don’t fire you for that here," he says.

If you’re not working with Frank, though, keep your secrets to yourself, suggests Johnston. "Don’t tell your co-workers because if you tell them, they’re going to tell someone else," he warns.

How to Sneak Around

If you’re at all good at job hunting, you’re eventually going to have to sneak out to do interviews. Schedule them before work or on the weekend. "Be careful how you dress," notes Johnston. "If the office is casual, a suit is going to be noticed." Keep your interview clothes in the car or in your off-site gym locker, and change on the way to the interview. Another alternative is to schedule all your interviews for a single day, then use a personal or vacation day to take that time off.

You May Not Go

Finally, as you tip-toe around, remember you may end up keeping the job you have, Johnston says. "We always caution people not to damage the bond of trust they have with their current manager. At your next job, you may be learning new skills that will enable you to manage the company you just left."

Dona DeZube is a freelance writer based in Maryland.

Related News