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Job Search in Secret — Can I Search While Employed?

Q. After nearly 10 years at a corporate giant I was downsized in 2006. In 2010 by a series of coincidences I ended up back at the company in a different capacity. In the nearly 2 years I’ve been here there have been many cutbacks and restructures. The job I’m now doing isn’t even close to the job I accepted. I’m feeling like a steerage passenger on the Titanic. How do I explain my job hunting to potential employers when they see I’m looking to leave this company, especially in this market?

A. Everyone who has a job is entitled to look for a better job – even in this economy. Successful job seekers have a plan, and they work that plan until they find the right new job. A good plan does not involve risking your current job. It involves putting away some financial resources because severance and unemployment are limited, and successful job searches may outlast those limits.

The explanation employers want to hear about why you are job hunting is what you can do for them, and the contribution you can make to their organization. Hiring managers want to know what you are looking for in a job, proof of your capabilities, and that you are interested in their job and their company. This is the basis for an effective public statement, which is what you will use as you approach people who can impact your network and job search.

Job seekers who spend time focused on why they want to leave their current employer, and all that is wrong about their current role, company and colleagues don’t impress anyone. Your public statement should include a brief statement about why your current role doesn’t offer the opportunity for you to make maximum contributions to your current firm.

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But before you say that, make sure it is true. Is there another division or manager within your current firm where your skills might be more valued, and you might find more opportunity? Looking at internal roles is an early step in a successful job search plan.

Develop an effective resume, and protect that tool. Maximum exposure through job boards puts the confidentiality of your job search at risk, and many current employers frown on their employees conducting external job searches. The risk of posting your resume or of responding to blind ads is not matched by the very small potential reward of making it through the online screening process.

Working with a small number of recruiters can be effective as long as you have a clear understanding of how they work, and they are clear about the confidential nature of your search.

Your current network, and the network you build, will be most effective as you explore new opportunities. A good network can help explain why a job seeker like you is looking for advancement.

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