Your Secret Search: Looking for a Job When You Already Have One

An employee looking for a new job peeks around her laptop with a finger to her lips

You've heard it said that the best time to look for a job is while you have one. It's a luxury to be able to consider employment options from a secure position, weighing offers against your current situation and moving forward only when something sounds like a step up. But conducting a job search from your cubicle or office poses challenges – most important, keeping your search a secret from coworkers and supervisors.

Why secrecy is essential
Now, it's worth asking: Is it really important to keep quiet the fact that you're looking for a job? Absolutely! Openly looking to leave unavoidably taints all your work and interactions; it's hard for even trusted work-based friends to treat you as though you weren't eyeing the exits. And there's no guarantee that another job will in fact appear quickly.

Fortunately, keeping a job search secret is far easier than it used to be in the days before we all owned home PCs and printers. It's common sense to avoid using your office computer, email, phone, and copier for your search, particularly since companies often monitor their employees' email and web searches. So work on your resume and cover letter at home, and use your personal email address and cell phone number.

Playing it safe while getting the word out
Most hiring managers today understand that even perfectly satisfied workers are likely to have accounts and job histories on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Still, use common sense when it comes to social media.

Don't broadcast to your Facebook community that you're looking for a job. On LinkedIn, if you join, say, a group for job seekers, set your preferences to keep the group's logo off your page. Your Twitter followers don't need to know about your search either.

Also be discreet about who in your face-to-face network you tell, especially if you're located outside a major metro area, where the pool of accounting and finance professionals is likely smaller.

And speaking of face-to-face meetings, nearly every job search at some point moves from onscreen communication to in-person encounters. You may end up in the classic situation: needing to leave work early for an interview elsewhere. It's an obvious tipoff that you're looking for a job – so obvious that it's long been a cliché to stroll into the office at 9 a.m. in uncharacteristically formal attire, especially when coupled with an unexpected 3 p.m. exit.

So don't begin dressing or behaving differently; your boss might suspect you're looking for a job with another firm. And just be casual and vague when asking for a few hours off: It's "personal time" or "an appointment." Few managers will demand details.

It also helps that workplaces today increasingly accommodate remote work arrangements and flexibility. It no longer automatically draws attention when someone isn't at his or her desk nine-to-five five days a week.

What happens if the secret escapes?
But what if, despite your best efforts, the news leaks out that you're looking for a job before you've inked a deal with another employer? Come clean. If handled well, a candid discussion could convince your boss to address whatever issue has caused you to search for a new job in the first place. Or he or she might alert you to other openings within the firm. It's not necessarily the end of the world. But, of course, that doesn't mean you want to tip your hand before you have to.