By Caroline M.L. Potter
If you've got a job, you probably want to hold on to it until you find another one, even if it's less than ideal. But remember, in most states, employment is at-will, meaning you can be fired for almost any reason (so long as it is not discriminatory) -- including looking for a new position.
So how can a job seeker tap the full power of her network without blowing her cover with her boss? Use these tips from national workplace columnist and career adviser Liz Ryan to keep your job search under wraps.
- Tell Your People -- in Person: Ryan says your network is your best resource for finding new opportunities, but use it with caution. "Because even our most well-meaning friends can inadvertently spill the beans in unfortunate ways, it's best to share this news in person, while you're looking in someone's eyes," she says. This will allow you to stress how important discretion is.
- Mix and Mingle: Start going to face-to-face networking events to expand your network. To keep things discrete, Ryan advises, "Don't announce, 'I'm job hunting.' Instead, tell other attendees, 'I work for XYZ Company doing A, B and C. Of course, like everyone else, I've got my eyes open right now.'"
- Build Your Profile to Raise Your Profile: Network from the comfort of your own home by creating or expanding your BeKnown and LinkedIn profiles. "Build your [professional networking profiles] and network by inviting friends and colleagues -- all but the people you work with right now -- to join your network," Ryan says.
- Tap Your Resources When Doing Research: When thinking about where you want to work next, Ryan says look first to your network. "Begin to research employers and reach out to them through trusted friends and colleagues who either work there now, used to work there or know people who can make introductions to the employer for you."
- Expand Your Network and Knowledge Online: Another way to build your network is to participate in online discussion groups. "Look for groups devoted to job search and career topics to grow your knowledge base and contacts," Ryan says.
- Broadcast Your Intentions: Ryan strongly advises job seekers to avoid any means of broadcast communications. "If you use a LinkedIn broadcast message or a group email to tell friends you're job hunting, there's an excellent chance that someone will not read it carefully and inadvertently tip your hand to the wrong people," she says. She also reminds folks with a vested interest in secrecy not to list their job hunting status on any social-networking sites.
- Find Out How You'll Fare at a Job Fair: Job fairs are attracting record numbers of attendees. If you are among them, there's a strong possibility you could run into someone who knows both you and your current employer, creating an awkward situation that could cost you your job. Therefore, says Ryan, "Avoid attending job fairs as a method to meet prospective employers."
- Count on Coworkers: Keep your search a secret from even your most trusted colleagues. "Asking current coworkers for help or advice with your job search puts them in a bad situation, torn between loyalty to you and their paycheck," Ryan says. "Don't ask them to do that."
- Blindly Respond to Blind Ads: Employers often use blind advertisements to attempt to find a replacement for a current employee who does not yet know he is about to be fired. Responding to one, then, puts you in jeopardy of applying to the very company for which you work (perhaps even for your very job). Even if it isn't the same position or a lateral one, Ryan says, "Don't send your resume to any blind job ads in which the employer is not clearly identified."
- Give Out References at Your Current Company: It's hard to get a job without references. In fact, solid references are often what seals the deal. However, you shouldn't use your current team members or supervisors as references. "You'll use these folks as reference-givers down the road, but while you're still working at XYZ Corp., it's not ethical or appropriate to ask XYZ-affiliated people to recommend you for a different job," Ryan says.