Confidentiality and Your Job Search

“Looking for new opportunities.” That is what I tell attendees at my speaking events and my career counseling clients to write, front and center, right after their names, on their LinkedIn profiles so that the world will know that they are looking for a new job. Of course, there is always one exception: You don’t do that if you don’t want your current employer to know that you are looking!

Seems pretty obvious but one person just called me, desperate for help, panicking, because she was just fired by her boss. She had seen her LinkedIn profile, saw the “Looking for…” statement, and found a replacement.

We all make mistakes, but there are “mistakes” and there are “mistakes” and this definitely falls under the heading of a “mistake.”

What makes this ironic is that this morning I decided to go for a walk. It was chilly, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and I thought it would be refreshing. I did not know it would also be entertaining.

As I was walking I heard a commotion. Being a nice Jewish boy I will not repeat verbatim what the wife was (justifiably) saying to her husband, but suffice it to say I will never understand why people do not delete the call logs, voice mail messages, and text messages from their phones especially if they are of a “sensitive” nature. Hubby got caught.

In my book there is no excuse for cheating. Period. End of sentence. So hubby will get what he deserves (hopefully within the bounds of federal and state law…). But looking for a new employer is, of course, totally different than looking for a new life partner (in place of or in addition to the one you currently have). It is not immoral. It is not indecent. It is, in fact, quite common. You just don’t want to broadcast it.

I don’t know which is more accurate: Is conducting a confidential job search a “zero sum game” or “Catch 22?” In the first place, the more people who know about your search the less confidentiality you have. But the fewer people who know about your job search, the less effectiveness you have. In the second place, if you don’t tell people about your search they can’t help you, but if you tell people about your search eventually your boss may find out about it. I guess they are both equally accurate.

So now comes the big question: How do you conduct a confidential job search when you are employed and can’t afford for your boss to find out? The word is “discreet.”

If you are looking to change careers, in other words, to enter a new industry, your problem may not be that serious. After all, you are not going to be networking with people who are likely to know your boss. And if, by chance, she finds out about it, all you have to say that you are interested in the industry, find it fascinating, and want to learn more about it. Of course, if she says she knows you are handing out resumes, then my advice is to come clean. Maybe an honest conversation will result in your finding a solution, if possible, to the reason(s) why you are looking for a new career. In any case, adding “liar” to “disloyal” is never a good idea.

Of course when looking for a new job in the same industry, the odds are better (or worse depending on your point of view) that the boss will hear about it. The answer, again, is to always be discreet and make certain that when you are letting it be known that you are looking for a new job that you always say and write that you are applying “in confidence.” If someone were to tell your boss that you are looking to leave, and she fires you, and you can prove who told her, you might (I’m not an attorney) have grounds for a law suit against the person who violated your confidence. But there is good news:

A funny thing usually happens when you tell someone that you want to talk to them “in confidence” or “confidentially.” They are complimented. You are telling them that you trust them. Most people like that feeling. It means they have a good reputation. If they violate that trust, you will be able to destroy their reputation. They won’t want that. So don’t worry.

But the bottom line is, if you are employed and looking for a change, there is no way to conduct a totally confidential job search. Be prepared! As with everything else in life, and as hubby found out, you have to be willing to be held accountable for your actions.

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 300,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador.

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

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