Special Tips to the Employed for the Job Search: Rules for Job Seekers
Special Tips to the Employed for the Job Search: Rules for Job Seekers

The essentials of the job hunt don’t really change according to your employment status, but employed searchers do have to consider a number of special issues that don’t affect their unemployed counterparts.


Rule 1: Mum’s the Word

The first rule of the searching-while-employed club is: You do not talk about searching while employed.

The one exception applies when, and only when, your boss tells you it’s time to look for a new job. For example, layoffs have been announced, with your imminent unemployment the result. You’ve been told when the end will come, and your employer may even have offered assistance with finding other work. In that case, everyone knows what’s going on and there’s no need for secrets. In that case and that case only, you can go to colleagues and supervisors for advice.

In every other case, the risks of disclosure outweigh any possible benefits. At the very least, you’ll be seen, quite rightly, as less committed and less loyal. As a result, your assignments may suffer. You won’t get the more interesting or important projects, and you certainly won’t be given increased responsibility. Your chance of advancement will be reduced to zero.

Many of the other rules for searching while employed are related to this first principle. Even when they seem to lack that relevance, it’s always best to remember the first rule and to make decisions on that basis.

Rule 2: Use Your Own Tools

If you want your search to stay private, and you do, don’t be tempted to use company equipment in the process, whether it’s your computer, the office copier, or a company-issued phone. To one degree or another, your employer has access to all those things. Similarly, don’t use your work email address for search-related communications.

Rule 3: Use Your Own Time

Just as employers have expectations of how you’ll use the things they provide, they have expectations of your use of time. Again, there’s leeway. No sane employer expects that every second of every day should be spent in unwavering attention to your work, although you might not want to test the limits if you’re assembling circuit boards in China. What flexibility there is, even among more relaxed employers, does not extend to using time on the clock to find greener pastures.

Rule 4: Stay Positive

If you’re actively looking for a new job while working at your current job, it’s logical to assume that there’s something you don’t like about your current situation. That’s fair enough, and perhaps it’s true. You’re working at a horrible job for a horrible company in a horrible place. Keep it to yourself. Negativity is almost never a desirable quality. A prospective employer, as an outsider, is in no position to judge your workplace, and he’s likely to see your negativity as something fundamental, a quality you’re all too likely to bring to a new workplace.

Rule 5: Take Care with References

If you’ve kept your job search private, be careful with references. Prospective employers will want your references to be as current as possible, and that obviously includes current supervisors. If you don’t want those supervisors to know about the search, ask if any contact with them can be postponed, at least until it’s clear that an offer will be forthcoming. If possible, get the offer first, and see if it can be made contingent on satisfactory current references.

Rule 6: Dress as Usual

If your workplace dress code is casual, don’t expect your sudden appearance in suit and tie to escape your colleagues’ notice. They always notice, and they almost always comment, whether you’re aware of those comments or not. Before you know it, your strange new formality will be the subject of speculation and rumor. Remember that the workplace environment is second only to the high school cafeteria as a place where gossip thrives. If you have to, scope out a restroom on the way to the interview where you can change, and build in time to do so.

Rule 7:Use Discretion on the Web and Social Media

Your Facebook posts are of abiding interest to more than your friends and the National Security Agency. Anything you publish, even if you think you’re restricting your readership to a few select friends, is liable to be noticed by people you’d rather keep in the dark. Prospective employers are very interested in your presence on the web. They’d be crazy not to be.

There’s really only one safe approach to your online communiqués—keep quiet about your job search until you’re willing to make it public. The corollary to that principle will serve you well here and throughout your professional life: Assume that anything you post will eventually become public, and that the likelihood of it becoming public is inversely proportional to your desire to keep it private.

Rule 8: Update LinkedIn

Not everything on the web is dangerous and evil, as you probably know, so make your online identity as good as it can possibly be. This especially applies to LinkedIn. Update your profile and give it whatever polish you can before starting your search. Even if they look nowhere else, employers will look here.

Rule 9: If the News Gets Out, Be Honest

It happens. Despite your best efforts, someone in your office finds out what you’re up to. There’s nothing to stop you from underplaying it—you’re just testing the waters, for example—but there’s nothing to be gained by denial. Depending on your specific situation, the fact that you’re testing the waters won’t endear you to your supervisors, but honesty will always do a lot less damage than dishonesty.

Rule 10: Be Prepared to Stay Put

The search doesn’t always end with the offer of a dream job. Either the offer doesn’t come or the change is not quite as dreamy as it seemed when you set out on the quest. In either case, be glad that you haven’t burned any bridges, and use the experience for what it’s taught you. Perhaps it gave you a new perspective on your current job or on the alternatives available in your field. You may have learned something about the application process, and you’ll be a better interviewee in the future. Perhaps you’ve realized that you should expand your skills or that it would be a good idea to gain some experience in facets of the business you’d previously ignored. All this hard-won knowledge can be incredibly worthwhile, whether you’ve decided to stay put for the duration or if you simply opt to put your search on hold for the moment.


What is the best time to be looking for a job? The answer that’s come down to us through the ages, one that rings true to everyone who has ever ventured into the job market, is that the best time to be looking is when you don’t need a job at all.

There’s another side to the notion that the best time to be looking is when you don’t need to find something, and that is where you find the real lesson for employed searchers: You don’t have to be conducting a full-blown job search every day of your working life, but you should always be doing some of the things that are part of that search.