how to look for a job when you’re already employed

Job-searching is hard enough under any circumstances, but doing it when you already have a job presents special challenges: How do you schedule interviews during the work day? Can you do a phone interview from your office? What about getting a reference from your current boss?

Here are eight tips for searching for a new job when you’re already employed:

1. Don’t job search on your employer’s time, and especially not from your work computer. You may think no one will find out, but some companies do look at employees’ web histories, and having yours full of job listings isn’t a good idea.

2. Don’t use your employer’s resources, like their postage, printer, or copy machine. The one time you print off a job description will inevitably be the time you accidentally send your print job to your boss’s printer or when your boss’s boss finds your resume in the hallway printer. It’s not worth the risk.

(Side note: I once had a candidate FedEx me his resume, using his employer’s account. I could see right there on the shipping slip that he’d billed the cost to his employer. This type of thing is an automatic rejection, because how you treat your current employer can be a good indication of how you’ll treat your next one.)

3. Similarly, don’t use your work email address for correspondence related to your job search. This may sound obvious, but I regularly receive resumes from candidates sent from their work accounts. Not only is this an improper use of your current employer’s resources, but it will look really, really bad to the employer you want to work for.

4. Don’t post your resume on online job boards. This isn’t a terribly effective job-search strategy in most cases anyway, and it has the added risk that someone from your current company will see it.

5. Try to conduct phone interviews from outside your office—ideally from home or somewhere else private. If that’s not an option, consider taking the call from your cell phone in your parked car. Use your office only if you’re absolutely sure you won’t be interrupted.

6. Scheduling in-person interviews can be especially tricky when you already have a job. You can try asking the interviewer to schedule the meeting for first thing in the morning or late in the day, or during lunch time (although be aware that a good interview will often take more time than a typical lunch hour). But you might need to take a personal day or half-day because you have “an appointment,” “an out-of-town visitor,” “some family business,” or so forth.

7. If your workplace is business casual and you show up in a suit because you have an interview later that day, be prepared for the (maybe half-joking) question, “Got an interview?” It might be simpler to bring a change of clothes with you and change outfits somewhere before you arrive to the interview.

8. It’s fine to tell prospective employers that you don’t want your current employer contacted as a reference, since your boss doesn’t know that you’re looking. This is normal and employers will understand why you’re asking it. However, in the rare instance that an employer insists on talking with your current manager, you can explain you’ll be glad to allow it once you have a firm offer (which can be contingent on that reference).

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. Erica*

    I’d like to add a reminder not to tweet, blog and Facebook about it openly. I can’t believe how many times I’ve seen that happen, and people forgot they had co-workers as friends or didn’t have their accounts set to private.

  2. Anonymous*

    What about when you need to interview out of town? How can you rationalize taking off 1-2 days?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’ve got to either be vague or make something up, unfortunately! For instance, “something has come up that I can’t change the timing of,” etc. Of course, if they won’t let you have the time off, there’s little you can do.

  3. Mike C.*

    I don’t quite understand the idea of allowing them to interview your supervisor only with a contingent offer in hand. At least in my experience bosses are terrible about employees looking to leave, and I can only imagine that such a call would cause them to say terrible things about you or otherwise try to sink your candidacy. So either the new (hopefully) employer sees through it and the exercise was a waste of time, or they don’t and the offer is rescinded with the candidate left to whatever punishments the current boss can come up with. What can the hiring employer hope to learn that won’t be dramatically colored by the realization one of their own is about ready to jump ship?

    Am I just not used to the normal ways of business or is there something I’m missing here?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s very rare for a manager to give a bad reference just in order to keep an employee from leaving. I’m not saying it never happens, but it’s very uncommon (both for legal and human decency reasons).

      1. anon-2*

        You’d be surprised at what stunts management would pull in desperate situations, especially if they’re going to lose a prized employee who would only be replaceable with someone else after a long transitional period.

        In my 39 years in the working world, I’ve seen enough managerial dirty tricks to write a book. Undermining people, character assassinations, falsifying a subordinate’s abilities, denying promotions on specious events, holding up compensation and promotions, and so forth.

        In fact, some have told me to write one, but it would be unethical to do so. Unfortuately, while it would be a good “beware of these tactics” guide , some would use it as a management model!

  4. SAN*

    For the suit, I’d actually encourage people to “dress up” once a week even in a business casual environment. Maybe just a shirt and tie (for men) but something. Call it formal Wednesday’s. Helpful in both setting a slightly better tone and if/when you are interviewing.

    As far as a suit for interviewing, as always, depends on the place. Last place I went to I downgraded to a slacks and a formal shirt – anything more would have been overkill.

    As far as supervisory reference, I’ll put in one caveat – if you have a very unusual relationship with your supervisor, you might be able to get a supervisory reference. But I’ll admit i have a very unusual relationship – one reason I’m still with my current outfit. That and the next career step doesn’t come up very often – and so far as been with outfits I’m not interested in being part of for 5 to 10 years.

  5. Anonymous*

    It’s hard for the long term unemployed to get noticed when there are so many disgruntled employed people looking for other jobs. We jobless are shoved to the back of the line, not allowed to work in order to survive. Damn, this is so depressing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Don’t get depressed! Read some of the success stories on here — there really are ways to stand out from other candidates and rise to the top of the pack!

    2. Joey*

      Chin up! Theres hope. For me the ones who get thrown to the bottom of the pile are the ones who have no business applying to my job (qualifications aren’t right), don’t care about my job (they’ll take anything), or have a poor attitude. I hear so many people say they can “do” the job but that’s not going to cut it-there’s tons of people who can do the job. What I want is someone to articulate and have the backup to show me why they’re everything I wanted for this job plus some extra things I may not have even thought of.

    3. Lexy*

      I was laid off in March 2009 and got a new permanent job (I had some temp gigs) that I’ll be starting in July!

      It’s not hopeless. Keep working at it and learning new things and try to stay positive (easier said than done, I know, but try).

      I hope it works out for you too!

    4. Anonymous*

      It can definitely feel like the world is against you, and there is no hope of ever finding a job. It’s very, very, very difficult out there. Have hope though because you will eventually find something. I’ve been laid off since March 2010, and I just found my dream job. The best advice I can give is to take AAM’s advice to heart because it really helped me, and I felt so prepared for the interviews and really comfortable. Alison really knows what she’s talking about, and if you listen to her, then you’ll be on the right path!

    5. anon-2*

      I don’t care what the “experts” say — I was unemployed once, and couldn’t buy an interview. Getting employment when you’re unemployed is much more difficult than migrating from one job to another.

      Once I WAS gainfully employed, my phone rang off the hook, including two potential employers who had previously rejected me.

  6. Liz*

    Fwiw, a lot of my graduate school friends are looking for opportunities overseas. Things won’t be picking up in the US any time soon, so we might as well make the best of it. Overseas opportunities allow us to have unique experiences and understandings of particular industries, and they give us something that’s more interesting than temping in the US.

    Some of the people who tried it aren’t planning to come back, either. (US policy makers should probably be worried about this, but my friends seem very happy).

    So, obviously it’s not for everyone, and you need a little cushion of savings for a ticket out of the country and other moving expenses. But it’s better than sitting around waiting for someone to fix the employment situation. At least for now, the reality is that some very good people won’t be able to find jobs in the US for a few years. What we do with those years could be awful, or it could at least be interesting and give us some good stories.

    Best of luck to everyone who’s unemployed. Again, I know so many fabulous and very employable people who just can’t find work right now, and it’s not their fault.

  7. ha!*

    I know it’s so HARD to look for a job when you already have one.

    What a timely article. Over 3 million of us have been unemployed for over a year, but “oh! what should I do! I want a different job.”

    How is life in your castle in the clouds. Cause I can tell you down here on the ground, it sucks.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow. You know that if people who are already employed don’t leave their jobs, there will be no openings for people who are unemployed, right?

      This is not a contest as to who has the most hardship. It’s hard for many people, in many different circumstances, right now.

  8. Emma*

    I’m not happy where I currently work and I need advice. I am rewriting my CV and wondered how to write it. Should I include who I am working for? I’m worried they would contact my current employer which will clearly get me sacked.

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