5 Ways to Conduct a Secret Job Search

Last Updated Feb 28, 2011 5:25 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I used to love my job. To make a long story short my boss (who is fantastic) has a new boss (who is not-so-fantastic). The culture of my team and the things I loved about my job are vanishing and I feel the need to make a move. I am in sales in an industry which functions like a very small town. If I send out a resume with my name and/or my company I will be able to measure in nanoseconds how quickly the news that I am looking will get back to my boss. Other colleagues "caught looking" have been summarily fired and I don't want that to be me. Is there a process for submitting resumes to open positions with either my name or my current company marked confidential without appearing that my current company is the CIA? Do recruiters just pass over such resumes in favor of someone who offers full disclosure? Please help! Thanks.
This is a tough situation. When everyone knows everyone else it's tough to fly under the radar. I would think, however, that recruiters would not be so stupid as to gossip about the candidates they are looking at at any given moment. They should not be doing that. As you pointed out, it can effectively destroy the candidates' current jobs.

Secondly, if your boss is fabulous and it's his boss that is a full fledged dork, have you thought about talking with him directly? A fabulous boss should be able to understand why you are looking to leave and not be prone to punish you for it. More likely, however, is that he may be able to fix the problem that you're having with his boss.

Of course, this isn't always possible, but one of the responsibilities of your boss is to develop all his people, and sometimes that means protecting them from irrational senior management.

If he would go running to his boss at the first sign that you're looking for a new job, he's not that fabulous. He may be good at the day to day managing, but fabulous bosses aren't mean or vindictive. Just saying.

Yes, you can submit a resume with the current company listed as confidential. It's likely to get ignored, though. Not that there aren't rational reasons why you would want to keep your current company confidential, it's just that unless you have a unique skill set, you've got a lot of competition and companies can eliminate anyone who has something sketchy on their resume.
  1. Think outside the industry. Yes, if you are a nuclear engineer, your best bet is going to be in the nuclear field. But, many, many people change industries all the time. If you start looking in other industries, the gossip won't be quite so quick to get back to your boss.
  2. Don't change your LinkedIn profile. This is generally the opposite advice for job seekers. However, it's super-de-duper easy to see who is desperately looking for a new job on LinkedIn. Suddenly their profiles are full and updated. (Remember, if you're linked to anyone at work, they will get emails saying, "Jane Doe has an updated profile!" When you get one of those three weeks in a row, there is no doubt that Jane Doe is looking for a new job.) Additionally, three new recommendations also point towards "job hunting!"
  3. Network with trustworthy people. You say that your industry is like a small town. This means you must know other people in your industry. I assume this means that you know people you can trust. This is where you make your networking work for you.
  4. Find people who have worked with/for the bad boss. If you know people who have worked with the bad boss in the past, they will make good contacts. These people know the nightmare you are dealing with and should be willing to keep it confidential.
  5. Don't wildly send out resumes. Carefully research and network to decide if this is job you are truly interested in before taking the risk of applying. In your cover letter mention that you are conducting a confidential job search. A good recruiter should know better than to gossip. However, by targeting and limiting your job search, you lower the possibility of exposure.
Everything in life has risks to it. Keep that in mind as you make your decision as to how to proceed. If you're too cautious you could well end up staying and miserable, or staying and being fired by the bad boss anyway. Decide how important it is to you to make a change and if the benefits outweigh the risks, go for it. Quietly.

For further reading:
Have a workplace dilemma? Send your question to EvilHRLady@gmail.com

Photo by L*u*z*A, Flickr, cc 2.0

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