Perhaps it was a new (and somewhat crazy-making) library director. Or a change in management policies. Or a redefinition of your job responsibilities. Or the company’s move away from the values that had originally brought you onboard.
Or maybe you’ve just outgrown a job that you loved.
No matter the reason, it’s time to move on.
But like all smart professionals, you know it’s a lot easier to get a new job while you’re still employed. Solution: time for a stealth job search.
Stealth job search strategies
The good news is that if you’re currently employed, albeit not happily, you have the time to take a thoughtful, deliberate approach to your job search. During this time, it’s essential that you keep your job search to yourself, that no one at your current workplace be aware that you’re planning to make a change. (Yes, even your work BFF. You don’t want to put anyone in a position to either lie for you or inadvertently betray your trust.)
Before you start your stealth job search, you’ll want to have covered all your “preliminary” bases. That means that you’ll have completed:
Your LinkedIn profile. Have a dynamite LinkedIn profile that showcases the great work you are doing, have done, and by extrapolation, could do for another employer. For example, make sure your headline is a good reflection of the professional strengths you’d like to be known for (in 120 characters or less) – and not just your current job title. Write a thoughtful if concise summary that describes the value you bring to organizations or projects so potential hiring managers can easily imagine how you could contribute to their group as well.
Do NOT say in any way, shape, or form that you are looking for a job; instead, in the Profile section regarding “Advice for Contacting [your name], simply indicate that you are happy to share your expertise with other professionals in your field or nonprofits in need of your area of expertise. This indicates that you’re open to being contacted, without specifically stipulating the nature of those contacts in too much detail.
And don’t forget, as you start making changes to your profile to make it more attractive to potential employers, you’ll want to go keep those changes from flagging the interest of your current employer (or colleagues). The way to do this is to go to your Profile > Edit Profile page , scroll down the right side of the page until you see the box titled “Notify your network?” and select the “no” option.
Note: depending on the social media platforms with which you’re most comfortable, you may also want to create similarly robust showcases of your professional persona on Google+ and Facebook in addition to other appropriate platforms (depending on your audience and your professional brand).
Your marketing documents. These include your resume (actually, a master resume that can be tailored to fit the specific circumstances of jobs for which you may be applying), a master cover letter (again, assume you’ll be tailoring for each job); several recommendations from key individuals to add to your LinkedIn profile; perhaps a website, blog, or e-portfolio; and other indicators of your value and skills that potential hiring managers can see if your name happens to come up in a discussion about potential job candidates.
The major benefit here is that you don’t have to be present or involved in order for many of these value indicators to be speaking on your behalf.
An initial exploration of potential jobs of interest. This is a great way to feel like you’re moving forward into a better position while still stuck in your unsatisfactory one. You need to have a basic idea of what you’re interested in pursuing if you’re going to make the most of your precious time doing a stealth job search, so now’s the time to start doing that research so when you’re ready to start your job search you’ll have a good idea of what you’re searching for.
In addition, this will make it much easier for others to help you with your job search when you’re ready to launch it. You may find you’re interested in several career paths or options (which is great!), but you just want to be able to describe them clearly to those you’ll be enlisting to help with your stealth job search. (You can identify potential employers and monitor them through Google or LI Alerts.)
Your stealth job search moves
Okay, now it’s time to very quietly start your job search. Tactics to get you going:
- Develop your job-search strategy. Are you going to reach out to five network contacts per week? Check LIS job sites weekly? Research, identify, and contact hiring managers at three potential employers per week? Do information interviews to learn more about potential jobs and their alignment with your values and interests and aspirations? Now is the time to start actively identifying and going after jobs, and asking your trusted network to help support your efforts.
- Start posting LinkedIn updates if you can post about something neutral or job-related that won’t flag your boss’s attention – perhaps conference reflections, key points of a cool professional book you’re reading (that might also have relevance to your current job), or a shout-out to a colleague or network connection for a recent accomplishment. Your goal is to get visible in a way that seems like a natural extension of your job, but perhaps at a bit higher level.
- Start opening channels. As soon as you make the decision to move on, start slowly but surely enlarging your community of colleagues – connect, join associations, join LinkedIn groups, etc. Is there a conference or industry event coming up where you might be able to discreetly job hunt? If you can speak or present, even better – it’s a great way to up your visibility.
- On that same note, find as many ways to slowly increase your visibility outside of your organization as you can – start becoming known on a topic that interests you via writing for an association newsletters; doing a blog post, guest blog post, or conference presentation or workshop; or perhaps interviewing experts on a topic then posting your findings and analysis.
- Tell people you trust about your job search, but stress the importance of not having this information made public, except to potential hiring managers.
- If you haven’t already, join professional organizations and become as active as your time allows in order to expand your network and raise your professional visibility outside your employer.
- Let potential employers know that your current employer doesn’t know about your job search. They should be able to contact your references (if outside employer), but not to contact your current employer to verify employment information until an offer is in play and you know you’re going to accept it.
Meanwhile, keep in mind….
There are some basic caveats to stealth job hunting that will keep you from inadvertent missteps that may result in an early exit from your current job. For example:
- Don’t apply to blind ads – it could be from your current employer.
- Don’t use any office equipment or other resources to apply for jobs. Besides being an issue of basic ethics, using your own technology and off-hours time will help you avoid any embarrassing disasters like leaving your resume on the office copier. Similarly, never have a conversation regarding a potential new job in your office. Those walls are so thin….
- Again an ethics issue, don’t call in sick to go to an interview; instead, take a personal or vacation day or try to arrange your interviews before/after work or during your lunch hour.
- Try not to change your behavior or office routine – any changes are likely to draw curiosity and concern from your boss and coworkers (perfect example: the office slacker, whose normal attire is cargo pants and flip-flops, arrives in a suit and tie).
- Keep your performance level as high as possible even after you’ve made a decision to move on. You owe it to your employer, but especially to your fellow staffers. Even if you feel miserable and are struggling to manage a bad attitude, present your best self at the office so that your coworkers (who are staying with the company) don’t have to deal with your toxic feelings.
- Don’t burn bridges. With your employer, with your colleagues, with the individual who will be brought in to replace you. Create a transition based on positive actions and relationships, and take the extra step of create documentation that will help your replacement quickly get up to speed.
- When it’s time to leave, tell your boss first. (Well, maybe you can tell your BFF at lunch that day, but then immediately tell your boss.) No matter what you think of your boss, it’s a matter of professional respect, and one that also indicates a high level of professionalism on your part. Which is, of course, the way you’d like to be remembered.
An easier way to stealth job search
With the exception of actually applying for jobs, all of the actions above could – and should – be part of your ongoing approach to keeping your professional options open. In some ways, you should always be in stealth job search mode because you never know what changes might be heading your way that will affect your employment status. Translation: you could be laid off at any moment.
So it just makes sense to have an up-to-date, terrific resume ready to go at all times. It makes sense to have your own personal business cards with your own contact information (rather than having only your corporate card). It makes sense to periodically read job postings, and to continue to invest in building your network and your professional visibility.
The ultimate approach for career resiliency is to hope for the best and plan for the worst. Not a bad approach for stealth job searching, either.