As a rule, honesty is usually the best policy when it comes to your career. Don’t lie about your experience, salary or education — you will get caught. Don’t pretend you know what you’re talking about, because you’ll eventually say something that makes you look like a fool. Don’t inflate your job title just to sound important — it will make you look worse.
But when you’re hunting for a job, you might need to stretch the truth a little bit. At the very least, you’ll probably need to get creative when explaining some of your actions. Each job is different, but in most workplaces the boss frowns on employees looking for another job. No one wants to hear, “Hey, I’m running out to interview for a job with a better salary!” at the office.
While we won’t tell you to lie to your boss, we do think you should know about these ways to keep your job search private without harming your current gig:
Let your search do double duty
Career counselor and executive coach Roy Cohen advises employed job seekers to take a two-pronged approach to updating their professional profiles on sites such as LinkedIn. “Make sure that you have a fully fleshed-out LinkedIn profile that promotes both you and your company,” Cohen says.
Take a similar approach with networking.
“Attend as many conferences as possible,” Cohen adds. “They offer you the opportunity to circulate professionally on behalf of your company and yourself.”
Plan interviews strategically
“There are just so many dental emergencies and unexpected family health matters that can be used to explain an absence from the office,” Cohen says. “For networking meetings, always aim for early morning, lunch or after work. Interviews are another matter entirely. The goal is to either string together all of your meetings or arrange one at a time early or late in the day.”
Timing is important. Slipping out of the office for an hour is easier when your boss or gossipy co-worker is relaxing on a beach.
“Find out, to the best of your ability, when your boss and other colleagues will be out of the office, say for business events, conferences or vacation,” Cohen says. “Less monitoring means more freedom to escape from the office.”
Keep the job search to your personal computer
When you’re eager to ditch your current job or you’re just bored sitting at your computer, you might think browsing job postings on the clock is acceptable. That’s not true. Your employer probably has a policy against job searching on the company dime, so don’t risk your job.
“Many work computers are monitored for activity that is not work-related,” Cohen says. “[It's] probably better to use a handheld device like an iPhone to do research. Use your cell phone for nonwork-related calls, and if you do not have a private office, find a private place to make calls. One of my clients actually arranged to have a phone interview at his desk, which was in an open cubicle. Not surprising, his call was heard by others, and he was fired not long after.”
Perhaps the only exception to the rule is if your company has warned that layoffs are coming and that they will affect a large portion of the company. Cohen says your new priority is to find a new job, so the risk is probably worth it in that scenario.
Dress for the role you have, not the role you want
Most job seekers dress up for a job interview, but not all job seekers work in a formal environment. If you show up in a suit at your startup where jeans and sandals are the norm, people will notice. You might be able to make up a reason for wearing a tie once, but if it’s happening every week, you need a new plan.
“It is a challenge for both men and women in a job search. One option is to have a change of clothes so as not to draw attention to the obvious and then to change off-premises, in a gym for example,” Cohen says. “Once in awhile, all of us need to dress up, but that is the exception.”
“It is never easy to carve out time for a job search. Acknowledge that fact, and don’t beat yourself up for not accomplishing as much as you think you should have,” Cohen says. “Also know that even in the best searches, something will inevitably slip through the cracks. Just know that you will make up for the lapse when your life and schedule stabilize.”
Don’t slack off
Even though getting a new job is your goal, the search shouldn’t cost you the job you have. If you’re going to slack off, wait until you’ve already given your two weeks’ notice (and even then it’s not the wisest way to leave your job). But until you’ve accepted another offer, don’t neglect your current duties.
“Arrive early and/or stay late occasionally at work to fulfill your commitments,” Cohen says. “The shortest path to termination is to not finish your work assignments. When you meet your deadlines, you have far more freedom to stretch the rules.”