Undercover Job Hunting

Ready to move on? Follow these 12 dos and don'ts for job searching discreetly when you're employed.

Hello reader. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find a better paying, more satisfying job, attend interviews and secure references -- all without tipping off your current boss. This message will self destruct.

*Cue music*

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Choosing the Right Job
Row 1 - Cell 0 Hot Career Trends for 2008
Row 2 - Cell 0 Job Hunting Myths

Coordinating a job hunt while you're employed may seem like an impossible mission. But your covert op can pay off big, whether you're a young adult moving on from your first real job or a seasoned professional looking for a change of pace. These 12 dos and don'ts will help you pull off a successful search ethically and discreetly:

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1. DO tell your boss if you're interested in advancing. If you prefer to stay with the company but are ready for a promotion or a change, be clear with your boss about your intentions.

A good time to do this is after a stellar performance review or after doing a great job on a project. Say, "I'm excited about working here, and I've been willing to pay my dues. But there's so much more I can contribute. Is there a time we can sit down and have a chat about how I could take on more responsibility and discuss my future with the company?"

2. DON'T tell your boss you're looking elsewhere. If you're ready to move on, it's generally best not to tell anyone at work that you're sniffing around before you have a new job lined up -- you might find yourself prematurely unemployed.

The company knows it has to replace you, and it could find your replacement before you're ready to go. Or your boss may see you as disloyal and make your life difficult until you leave. The average job hunt takes four months, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, so take care not to jump the gun.

3. DON'T job hunt at the office. Polishing your résumé or browsing classifieds on the company's time and computer is flat out unethical. Your current employer might catch you. Plus your misuse of company time might turn off a prospective employer if he or she notices, for example, that your résumé was e-mailed during business hours.

You can do a lot of your hunting at night and on weekends. Touch up your résumé, send e-mails and call employers to leave a voicemail. You also can use your time at home to research different companies and opportunities.

4. DO use an appropriate e-mail address. That means you shouldn't use your work e-mail address, or a goofy-sounding personal e-mail account. Set up a more professional free account using your name or initials. Employers won't take you seriously if you have "pookiewookie@email.com" emblazoned on your résumé.

5. DO hand out your cell phone number. You don't want prospective employers calling you at work. Instead, give them your cell phone number and check your voicemail during breaks.

Again, make sure your greeting has a professional tone. Don't use the generic message that comes preprogrammed on your voicemail. You don't want employers hanging up wondering if they called the right number. Clearly state your name, and politely ask callers to leave a message.

6. DON'T post your résumé online for all to see. Your current employer may find it. Then you'll have some explaining to do. Besides, the best way to job hunt is through networking and industry-specific channels, not by blanketing the Web with your life story. Get more tips on how to find a job.

7. DO time your interviews well. You can slip away for a job interview during your lunch hour or early in the morning before work, as long as you're confident you'll make it back to work in time. You may need to take your lunch break earlier or later in the day to accommodate the interviewer's schedule.

It's okay to take a personal day or use vacation time to attend interviews. Use the time well by packing as many interviews into a day as possible. But you should never call in sick -- it's dishonest.

8. DON'T badmouth your current employer. Job hunting can be a lot like dating: Complaining about your ex is a big turn-off. When interviewers ask you why you want to leave your current job, give a diplomatic answer.

Instead of "I hate my boss. She won't give me more money, and I work with a bunch of morons," make it: "I don't feel like I am able to show my full potential in my current position " or "I'm ready to take my career to the next level, and there isn't a suitable opportunity to advance where I am right now."

9. DO mind your attire. If you're heading to an interview directly from the office, take stock of what you're wearing. If you normally dress in business clothes at work, your wardrobe shouldn't be a problem. But if your office is more casual, you're going to tip a few people off if you show up one day in a suit and tie.

Instead, keep your suit in the car and change clothes at a gas station, or swing by home for a costume change. It's a little Clark Kent-ish, but even if you normally wear jeans to work, you shouldn't wear them to an interview.

10. DO handle references with care. References can be tricky, especially if you're leaving your first job out of college because you don't have any former employers to draw upon. It's common practice to request that prospective employers not call your current boss until they make you an offer.

You might offer copies of your past performance reviews. If you have a mentor you trust who knows you are shopping around, consider enlisting him or her as a discreet reference. Or perhaps a co-worker or superior you worked closely with in the past who has since moved on to another company, or another business associate outside the office.

11. DO give plenty of notice before you quit. Two-weeks is the standard, but some industries may require more or less time. Make your announcement in writing. Offering to help find or train a replacement is a nice gesture, but you are under no obligation to stay longer. Your new employer will be expecting you to start on schedule.

12. DO keep in touch. Before you go, make sure you give your contact information to your colleagues and gather theirs. And once you're gone, stay in touch and keep everyone up to date of your continued successes. This will help you maintain a network of career contacts that could come in handy for future job searches.

Erin Burt
Contributing Editor, Kiplinger.com