How Do I Hide My Job Hunt From My Bosses?

Last Updated Apr 21, 2009 3:56 PM EDT

Dear Stanley,
I work for a small firm in a big-small city where everyone in my profession seems to know everyone. I feel as if I'm going to lose my mind and go through a total meltdown if I stay in my current position, but I'm afraid that my bosses will find out that I'm job hunting and I'll get fired any way. I can't afford to go without pay otherwise I'd have already quit. What's the best way to find a job without being found out?
Stressed in St. Louis

Dear St. Louis Stresser,

This is a classic conundrum. The best time to look for a job is when you have one. But how do you do it without losing it? The fact is, most of the job applicants I interview are gainfully employed. It's not impossible to get both jobs done, but you have to be smart about it. Here are a few dos and don'ts:

Don't use your office phone as a contact number. I know. It sounds dumb. But you'd be amazed how many forget it and end up receiving unwanted inquiries at their current place of employment, which soon becomes their former one if they're not lucky.

Do schedule all your interviews on your own time. This means early morning breakfasts, lunch and after work. Any potential boss you want to work for will actually respect your determination to keep on doing your present job until you don't have to anymore.

Do make clear in ALL interviews with prospective employers that ALL conversations are to be confidential. People are used to this. All over America and the world, folks who have jobs are talking with people who are offering new ones. A vast majority of the time, nobody gets busted.

Don't slack off at your real job. If anything, you want to make yourself more non-fungible than ever. That way if, God forbid, they do find out that your eye is wandering, they will consider it a tragedy for them and not for you.

I'll tell you a little story. A few years ago, my friend Bob became dissatisfied with his job. He didn't hate it; he just wanted more for doing less. So he quietly arranged a lunch with the head of a rival company, who was pleased to entertain Bob. Sure enough, before long a job offer materialized: a promotion with a lot more money for just going across the street. Bob figured, hey, that's that. My current shop doesn't really appreciate me, I'll tell them I'm going, and all will be well. So he went into his boss's office and told him the good news, and don't you think that the boss got very red in the face, expostulated for a while about Bob's importance to the firm, and then offered him a big raise and a new title if he only would stay. Guess what. He stayed.

Now, this kind of thing doesn't happen every day. And I'm a big believer that when you get a new job, you take it. But still, it's nice to know that sometimes it's the guy who wants to leave who ends up calling the shots.