How to Begin a Confidential Job Search

Q. I am currently employed, but have been directed by my manager to start looking for positions outside the organization. There are a number of people in my company who would be great networking contacts, but I am reluctant to approach them because I am still employed. What would be an appropriate way to position my potential departure?

A. You have been given part of the message from your manager, but not all of the information you need. It’s clear you need to start a job search, and the first step is to develop an effective public statement. You and your manager need to discuss the reason for your separation and agree on what you will say about why you are leaving, what he will say if asked, what the internal message will be and when that will be communicated. If you and your manager can’t agree on this, you may need to ask for support from human resources.

Your public statement needs to reflect well on you and the company. You need to be able to share this statement with your networking contacts and potential employers and not have it hurt your candidacy. You will also need references; you should be able to select internal people who will speak most strongly for you as a candidate.

An effective job search can’t be done in isolation, even when confidentiality is important. Let your manager know that there are colleagues within the organization who can help you look for an external opportunity and that you would like to be able to talk to them.
Find out whether he can support this, and to what extent. Are there specific people he does not want you to involve? If so, you need to understand why and what the boundaries are. There are many valid reasons for not gong public on people departing an organization. Some of these may work to your benefit, and others pose challenges.
Take advantage of this working notice period and make your search effective quickly. Start your search by letting your external contacts know you are starting a confidential search, and that other than your manager, your current employer is not aware of your departure. You can have this same conversation with recruiters.
Make sure your manager is also aware you’ll need a flexible schedule for networking, interviewing and professional association meetings. This might be difficult to negotiate, but it will make your search more effective in a timely fashion.
-Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner Keystone Partners

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