Keeping Your Job Hunt Secret Is Harder Now -- But Here's How to Do It

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Mon Jan 24 19:39:27 PST 2005


The Wall Street Journal

      January 25, 2005


Keeping Your Job Hunt
 Secret Is Harder Now --
 But Here's How to Do It

January 25, 2005

Miserable at work? Ready to jump ship? Thanks to the improving job market,
the likelihood that you will find something has increased.

But you may encounter an unanticipated problem: It's harder than ever to
conceal a job hunt from colleagues and supervisors. Casual dress codes make
your nice interview suit more conspicuous. Many employers are using
monitoring software to track their employees' Web surfing, e-mails and
instant messages. In addition, open-plan office layouts can complicate your
efforts to conduct job-search phone calls discreetly.

Don't worry. There are still plenty of ways to keep your hunt off your
boss's radar screen. And the proliferation of alternate workplace
arrangements -- including companies' more relaxed attitudes toward
telecommuting -- can actually help your covert job search.

Even if you work from home only part-time, you can take advantage of the
extra privacy. Kamela Pancroft, a 40-year-old human-resources executive in
Castle Rock, Colo., tried to schedule job interviews during the two days a
week that she worked from home last year. After several months of
searching, she got a new job in October as an HR vice president for a
mortgage banker. Her old boss didn't have a clue that she had been looking.

Avoiding a common pitfall, Ms. Pancroft used her home computer and private
America Online e-mail account to send risumis and conduct other aspects of
her search. You should never depend on your company's equipment or e-mail
account when you're aiming to job hop, career counselors warn.

Relatively inexpensive computer-monitoring software lets businesses track
and review your office computer use. Your boss doesn't have to catch you
job hunting. He can just ask the information-technology department to
retrieve a record of your computer activities.

Company officials probably don't review your communication constantly, but
it's likely they'll do so if they think you're doing something wrong, says
Donald Harris, president of HR Privacy Solutions, an employee-privacy
consulting firm in New York. "What people are allowed to do [at work] in
the U.S. is pretty much set by the employer," Mr. Harris cautions. By
contrast, workers in Europe have stronger privacy rights on the job.

When posting your risumi in a Web-site jobs database, keep your identity as
secret as possible., for instance, allows you to hide your name
and contact information. The popular Web site sends you an e-mail when
someone shows interest in your risumi.

Describe your employer generically rather than divulging its actual name,
advises Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a San
Diego-based group that studies workplace privacy issues. If you work for
Procter & Gamble, for example, you could refer to it as a "large
consumer-products company" in your risumi.

Advance planning will solve the casual-dress dilemma. In pursuit of a
horticulture research-associate position at a local university this past
fall, Jonathan Ervin didn't want to don the work boots and khaki pants that
he usually wore to work as a manager at a wholesale nursery. So the
31-year-old Stokesdale, N.C., resident left a suit in his car the morning
of the university-job interview. At midday, he drove to a local farmers'
market and hid behind a dumpster to change. He used his car's rear
passenger door to "screen any areas that were not blocked" by the dumpster,
he recalls. (He subsequently quit his job to conduct his search full time.)

Another approach is to alter your daily routine so that your job search
attracts less attention. A 30-year-old book editor in New York grew anxious
several weeks ago when a nosey secretary glanced at her unusually fancy
outfit -- a nice suit for a job interview that day -- and chided, "People
notice things."

The editor says she now wears a suit once or twice a week, hoping that when
she does have an interview, the suit won't stand out as much. Despite the
secretary's warning, she doesn't think her boss suspects that she's looking
for a new job.

You can also lower your risk of exposure by using a cellphone to make
job-search contacts from an isolated part of your workplace. Mr. Ervin, for
instance, placed calls from a secluded area of the nursery. When co-workers
walked past him, he shooed them away. They assumed that he was conducting
an important business call and shouldn't be interrupted.

For the ultimate in privacy during a job search, splurge and book a hotel
room near your office for the day. The unconventional arrangement makes
sense if you can't work from home, dislike using a cellphone to call
potential employers, and lack a private office at work. Lunchtime absences
are less noticeable.

"You definitely want to err on the side of discretion," says Brad Karsh,
president of JobBound, a Chicago career-counseling company.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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