The Etiquette of Job Searching While Employed

Q. I know that HR laws and policies protect employees and candidates, but is there anything to protect an employee who is looking for a new job? If I ask someone who works at my current employer to informally put in a good word for me with someone they know at another company that I’m interested in working at, is that person bound by any laws or common HR policies from telling my boss, current HR, or senior leader? Or is he free to tell them, if he wanted to, maybe out of loyalty to our employer?

A. Can you keep this information in confidence? Most people can’t, and you need to be careful about your job search conversations when you are currently employed. When you are unemployed, your goal is to network with as many people as possible and let former colleagues, friends and people you meet know what types of jobs and employers you seek. While you are employed, your choice of who to include in your job search activity needs to remain limited to those who can support your activity without jeopardizing your current job.

There are no laws or policies I am aware of which would protect you from someone sharing information about your plans to leave the company, and seek new employment. Using colleagues who can recommend you, and provide positive references for you at a new employer is an effective way to run a successful job search. But before you tell someone your plans consider the persons role within the organization, and the position they will be in once they have this information. Select wisely a person who has demonstrated support and loyalty to your success.


If the person is a senior leader, or a human resources person they may see the need to disclose the information to the organization to minimize disruption to the work force, and help plan for your departure Sometimes what we expect to be “understood” – keeping information confidential – is anything but, and being very direct is the best course of action. If you want to share sensitive information, you need to let the person know that the information is confidential, and you do not expect them to divulge anything you say to others, and then ask if they are comfortable continuing the conversation. “Joe, I’d like to ask your help with a confidential situation, but I don’t want to put you in an awkward position at the company. I’d like to keep our conversation between us. Do you think we can make that happen? If not I understand, but I had to ask since this is really important”.

This person may believe the organization needs to know as they will still be an employee after you have departed. Your risk in having this information shared is, even if you choose not to leave, you will not be treated as a long-term employee anymore. You will be passed over for developmental opportunities or stretch assignments as the organization no longer sees you as a long-term employee.

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