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Interviewing on the Sly

Interviewing on the Sly

Tips for Employed Job Seekers

When searching for a new job, dealing with prospective employers is stressful enough: the numerous rejections before you get to yes, grueling interviews, tense salary negotiations and more. But add the almost universal need to conceal your job search -- especially the interviews -- from your present employer, and the result distracts many job seekers from preparing for interviews and even conducting them properly.

We asked several experts how to mitigate the troubles of the professional who must protect his current job while interviewing for a new one. The toughest challenges fall into three categories: scheduling interviews into and around the workday, dressing to impress without setting off alarms at work and finding excuses for those mysterious "appointments."

Scheduling Interviews

The best strategy for scheduling job interviews is to set expectations with your prospects about the limits work places on your availability while remaining as flexible as possible. "Tell the recruiter or prospective employer early on about your hours of availability for phone calls," advises Lindsay Olson, a partner and recruiter with Paradigm Staffing in New York City.

Many initial screening interviews are conducted by phone. Tight schedules notwithstanding, it's critical to your present employment security to avoid doing phone interviews while the boss might be listening from the other side of the partition.

"Schedule your calls; don't try to do them on the fly," says Karen Loebbaka, director of recruiting for venture capital firm Bay Partners in Cupertino, California.

Even communicating with the prospective employer to arrange the interview can be problematic. "You've got to be creative -- maybe take your lunch hour from 1 to 2," when more managers at the prospective employer are likely to be back at their desks to take your call, says Melanie Szlucha, a job interview coach in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Some impatient employers and recruiters may not be satisfied with the once-a-day email habit of job seekers who wisely want to avoid their work computers. "Get Web service for your cellphone, or get a BlackBerry," recommends Olson. "Ten dollars a month for Web access is a small price to pay."

Pulling a Clark Kent

You know the drill: You work in a khakis or jeans office, but you've got to wear a suit to a lunch interview. If you need to pull a Clark Kent, plan what will serve as your phone booth in advance.

"I've changed my clothes in my car in a deserted parking lot," says Szlucha. "You can also use hotel or library restrooms." But the restroom of the coffee shop nearest the office is a bad place to dress up incognito.

Another tactic is to create a diversion with decoy dress-up days. "Start wearing dress clothes to work one or two days a week," says Szlucha. You may receive suspicious glances and knowing remarks at first, but the reaction likely will fade over time.

You can reduce the risk of raising suspicions by not dressing up more than necessary for a particular interview. "Call the receptionist or someone in HR and ask what's the dress code," advises Szlucha. "For your interview, go one level up from there."

Making Excuses

Now to face your biggest cold-sweat moment this side of the interview: communicating your workday absence to the boss.

Some observers advise unforthcoming honesty. "You need to maintain a very straightforward approach," says Brenda Greene, author of You've Got the Interview: Now What? "If anyone questions you, say you have an appointment. The less explaining you do, the less you'll have to cover up."

But if your employer corners you to ask about your "appointment," deception can be justified, some believe. "One should tell the truth when at all possible," says Michael Hoffman, director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College. "But it depends on the situation and environment you're working in. If you see no alternative, you may be forced to tell less than the whole truth."

Sometimes telling the truth would cause a greater harm, says Hoffman. "So it might be that saying you have a doctor's appointment is ethically permissible," he says.

The bottom line, Olson says: "Once you get to the point in your career where you need to make a change, there's nothing you can do about the need to lead a double life."

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