UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Tips for a confidential job search


By John Worth

Despite some recent headlines suggesting that the economy and job market really are improving, many employees are still walking on eggshells and fearing that they will be impacted by an upcoming or future layoff at their company. Given this level of anxiety, it certainly is not surprising that many employees are actively conducting job searches or at least “exploring other opportunities.” In addition, some employees have delayed their searches for a year or more due to the difficult job market and are now making up for lost time.

Unfortunately, this anxiety can work both ways. Many employers are nervous about losing key employees, especially with staff and departments already having been cut to the bone. They may be less forgiving about increased absences or actions that suggest decreased motivation. These attitudes may impact assignments and even prospects for promotion. Should you put your job search on hold? Absolutely not! Should you be extra careful to keep your search confidential? Absolutely! Here are a few suggestions that can help.

Be VERY careful with social media. The lines between professional and personal communication have become quite blurry. Don’t use Twitter or Facebook to vent about your boring job, unfair boss or need to find a new job. If you must vent, speak in person or on the phone with a trusted friend and let the person know that the conversation is confidential. Being seen by others as a whiner or complainer will not help you gain a promotion or plum assignment. In some cases, it can even lead to your dismissal.

Don’t go to work in your interview clothes. While this may seem obvious, it is done more often than you might think. If your employer has a casual dress code and you are expected to be in professional or business casual attire for an outside interview, bring your interview clothes in your car and change in a nearby restaurant. Nothing will cause tongues to wag faster than being seen in a suit for no obvious reason.

Avoid conducting conversations and interviews during work hours. If you are contacted for an interview, let the recruiter know that, while you are very interested in the position, you would like to schedule the conversation before or after work hours to be fair to your current employer. Most recruiters will understand your rationale and view it as a sign of professionalism. If the interview to be scheduled is lengthy or involves meeting with several people, arrange to take a full day off so that you will not be rushed by the interview logistics or if the meetings last longer than scheduled. Use any extra time for additional research into the company and preparation for the key points you want to make.

Update and refine your references. As you update your list of references, be sure to let them know that you are conducting a search and would like to use their name. Tell them that your search is confidential at this point and that your employer is not aware that you are looking for a new position. Avoid giving the name of anyone at your current employer at the outset. If the interview process moves on, tell your prospective employer that you will be very willing to provide the names of people at your current company once an offer has been given.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful. Please contact me at john_worth@unc.edu if you have any questions or would like to arrange an appointment.