Job hunting can be a stressful and time-consuming process, a mental tug-of-war between the fears of the unknown and the motivation to facilitate a life-altering change. The journey begins by venturing into uncharted territory, exploring opportunities with the knowledge that if your boss finds out, your current position may be at risk. The more time you invest in the search, the stealthier you need to become, living a dual identity of a dedicated employee by day and active job seeker by night.
Some job seekers are better than others at keeping their alter-egos in check, especially passive job seekers who only spend a minimal amount of time exploring opportunities that are too good to pass up. But, for both active and passive candidates alike, the fear of their dirty little secret seeing daylight is enough to send their cortisol levels through the roof.
Of course, there are a few exceptions: if you are unemployed, being laid off, are a consultant, or have a close relationship with your manager (close enough where they will respect your need for change). However, since the majority of job seekers are actively employed, there is nothing more uncomfortable than the potential repercussions of letting the cat out of the bag before an offer is signed.
What Causes Your Job Search to be Leaked?
Most human resources representatives, recruiters, and hiring managers follow a strict code of confidentiality when it comes to protecting the identity of applicants. If recruiters and hiring managers are staying tight-lipped, what are the main causes of a candidate’s job search to become public knowledge?
The vast majority of the time, the job seeker is the one that slips up. They either talk about their job search to other colleagues, use company phone numbers and/or emails for interviewing, are caught phone interviewing (not finding a private enough space), apply for jobs while on their company’s computer (website activity tracked), use PTO uncharacteristically (suggesting the PTO is being used to go on interviews), or were found on the job boards. This is fantastic news because you are in the driver’s seat and can take steps to protect your secret proactively.
How to Post Your CV Without Posting Your CV?
Posting your CV on a job board can be an immediate and direct sign that you are interested in other career opportunities. If recruiters can find your CV online, so can your employer.
On the flip side, LinkedIn has become a social network that allows job seekers to remain anonymous. Although we all know that LinkedIn is an undercover job board (LinkedIn’s data shows that 70% of users are passively open to better job opportunities), the site is a still a social networking platform. This means that you can create a phenomenal profile and your boss will have no idea if you are a job seeker or just a social networker.
Even better, there is an option to “Let recruiters know you're open.” By turning on this feature, recruiters will know that you are interested in exploring new job opportunities which will increase the likelihood of recruiter outreach. It is important to note that only recruiters with access to LinkedIn’s premium LinkedIn Recruiter platform will be able to see that you are open to opportunities and LinkedIn blocks your company or any affiliates of your company to see that you are looking. This gives you the same set-it-and-forget-it advantage of posting your CV one of the job boards, without letting your current employer know you have one foot out the door.
Most often, candidates have been caught red-handed due to a lack of discretion. Try to keep your job search offline during work hours and avoid using your company computer and phone. If you want to keep your job search a secret, don’t use your company email or phone.
Since the early bird gets the worm, if you simply can’t wait until after work to respond to a job alert, a message from a recruiter or LinkedIn, or a message to schedule an interview, make sure to respond from your cell phone or a non-company owned device, preferably off of the company’s internet connection. If you need to take calls while at the office, try to schedule interviews around the lunch hour or another time that doesn’t look suspicious if you step out for an hour.
Most importantly, be careful who you tell about your job search, especially other colleagues. Gossip runs rampant in the workplace, and although your best work-buddy has always had your back, it doesn’t mean that word of your explorations won’t accidentally slip. Not to mention, once you tell one person it becomes easier to tell another. The more people who know about your job search, the more you are at risk.
Tell Others Your Search is Confidential
Although there is an unwritten code of confidentiality, it doesn’t mean that every recruiter and hiring manager is compliant. If you have been working hard to keep your job search on the down low, simply ask any recruiters or hiring managers to keep your confidence. Anyone involved in the hiring process should fully understand your situation, and there shouldn’t be any need to detail the reasons behind your request. The importance of keeping your job search confidential is easily understandable, and most managers will respect your request and feel privileged to keep your secret.
It is common for close colleagues to confide in one another. There are clear benefits to talking to a friend who can provide an objective view of the pros and cons of potential opportunities. Having your feeling validated or challenged can provide a clearer insight into your situation. If you decide to tell a colleague or friend about your search, ask for their confidence as well. Breaking someone’s trust after they specifically asked you to keep their secret is extremely uncomfortable. Put yourself in their situation for a second. Even if you aren’t particularly fond of the person who is confiding in you, breaking a promise means you are violating your own identity of being someone who is trustworthy.
Using Automation and Recruiter Support
Try to limit the amount of time you spend job hunting by setting up tools to automate the process. Letting recruiters know you are open on LinkedIn and setting up job alerts are easy and quick ways to funnel opportunities to your inbox. This means less time spent searching and less time trying to avoid being caught.
Just as your LinkedIn profile saves you time by attracting opportunities, connecting with industry-leading recruiters will also add extra sets of eyes and ears to do the grunt work of identifying opportunities that you are qualified. This means while you are focusing on your job, someone else is working in the background, presenting opportunities for you to review.
Once opportunities are identified, every application, email, and phone call has the potential of taking time away from your day job. The more time you spend on your search, the more likely someone is going to catch you in the act. If you are using a recruiter, let them manage as much of the process as possible. Best case scenario, your recruiter can present you to multiple companies, send out all of the applications, and set up each interview, which will minimize your time investment.
Ask When Reference Checks Will Be Completed
Reference checks allow companies to add an extra level of security to ensure they are hiring top talent. References are usually collected as part of the online application. As you progress further into the interview process, ask when references are going to be checked. If the company would like to check references before an offer is made (before you give notice), ask them to only reach out to previous employers or those who are no longer at your current company, all of whom you should have already contacted. If the company needs to speak with someone from your current company, try to provide someone that you are not currently working with (like an old manager) or a past colleague/manager who is no longer with the company. You need to trust your instincts on who you trust to sing your praises while keeping your job search confidential.
What Happens When Confidentiality is Leaked? What Should You Do Next?
Let’s say you’ve done your best to keep your job search confidential, but for some reason, chatty Cathy had one too many drinks at the office party and leaked your secret to the world? What do you do?
First of all, don’t panic. Second, focus on damage control. Find out who knows about your search and ask for their confidence. Just as before, if you ask someone to keep a secret that could be damaging in the wrong hands, they usually will.
Next, realize that there are only a handful of realistic scenarios that play out when your boss (or another decision maker) finds out you are looking for a new job. Prepare a plan for each situation. These scenarios can be broken down into two categories, either your company will try to retain you, or they will push you out the door.
In either case, own up to your decision and be truthful. Lying about it makes it even worse (especially if you wind up finding a new position shortly after). Though the conversation might be awkward and uncomfortable, laying your cards on the table and explaining why you are looking, or at least considering another position, gives an opportunity for both parties to see whether or not there are changes that would be mutually beneficial. It is hard for your manager to fix a problem is they are unaware a problem exists. A potential promotion, salary increase, or the ability to move to a different project could be a heart-to-heart conversation away. If you are an asset to the team, more often than not, there will be an attempt to keep you on board. Attrition is the last thing any company wants as adding costs and slowing down timelines by having to identify and train new talent is better avoided.
Although positive outcomes are always hoped for, sometimes it is just time for you to move on. Like all relationships, needs change over time. If your company is unable to meet your needs, such as professional growth or compensation, discussing the reasons why you are looking for a change will protect your professional reputation by giving an opportunity for your current company to respond. If they can’t make the necessary changes to satisfy your needs, it becomes easier for them to be supportive of your choices.
On the other side of the spectrum, your manager may get turned off by your lack of future commitment which could strain the relationship. There could be a fear that your production is going to decrease or that you can no longer be trusted. If this is the case, prove your manager wrong and regain their trust. Don’t let your job search affect your output and aim to keep all bridges intact.
The ultimate fear of having your job search leaked is the fear of being fired. Though a valid concern, as no one wants to be left out in the cold, the percentage of actual cases where this happens is quite low. If you are fired for looking for a new position, then you were on the chopping block in the first case. Either your services were never being valued, your position wasn’t adding value, or your performance was subpar.
The laws of hiring and retaining employees are universal. Employers fight to hire and retain top talent while letting go those who stop adding value. The ultimate advice is to be in demand. In the words of an entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker Jim Rohn, “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.” Be the smartest and the hardest working, a top producer in your industry. You will never be wanting for a job, and if your manager finds out, you are looking to leave they will be banging down their boss’s door begging for the approval to make whatever changes are needed to satisfy your needs.
The Headhunter Guide is RECRUITER WRITTEN'S way to provide insider's knowledge to candidates and employers alike. Enjoy!