Job hunt, but subtly, while still employed


Dear Joan:
I'm planning on making a move to a different company within the next few months. I'm leaving because I'm looking for a job with more responsibility and because I don't like working for my boss. In other words, I'm leaving because I want to- not because I have to.

The dilemma comes in as to how I look for a job while I'm still employed. I don't want my boss to know I'm looking so that poses some problems during my search. Specifically, how do I avoid having a potential employer check my references. Also, how do I network with people in my city--many of them know my boss. One of the references I would like to use is my boss's manager. How do I do that without jeopardizing my current job?

And another source of contacts is my customer base and I'd like to network with them but I don't want to ruin the relationship and I'd like to stay in my field. Any advice?

Most people have one eye on their job and another on the job marketplace so they are constantly networking. It has become so commonplace that most people are sensitive to the need for confidentiality. If you take a few extra steps, it will reduce the risks while maximizing your job hunting efforts.

When you network with people, make sure you say nothing negative about your company or your boss. Instead of dwelling on the past, focus on the future. When anyone asks you why you're leaving, simply say you are looking for a position where you can use more of your skills. Talk about your ideal job, your talents, and your results. Beware of the temptation to add any comments about how your boss treated you. For example, if you said, "I'd stay where I am if only my boss would give me more responsibility" makes the listener wonder if you were the problem.

If your boss is well connected you may be better off networking with people you know and trust. Professional organizations are usually good places to start. Ask everyone to keep it confidential. Suggest that if they hear of any good leads they should call you and you will do the follow-up call. This will put you in control, instead of having your name spread all over town.

When you are filling out applications, there is usually a section where you are supposed to write the name and title of your current boss. List your boss but under his name write "Please don't contact-unaware I'm looking."

Are there other people you can use as references instead of your boss's manager? Past supervisors and managers might be better. The timing will be tricky if you use your boss's boss but if you feel he or she is going to be an important asset, here's how to do it.

Even if you are very close to this person, I wouldn't recommend that you tell him or her that you are looking until you are in the final stages of negotiations with a new employer.

Have two or three references typed on a sheet of paper and hand it to the interviewer when they ask for it. If you include your boss's boss, star it and include a note telling the interviewer that you prefer that this person be called only if they are considering you as a final candidate.

Networking with customers is risky, too. They aren't good prospects unless you have a personal, trusting relationship with them. Obviously, they won't be happy to see you leave your job so they will have mixed feelings about helping you. If you do mention anything, do it subtly. Gently bring up the subject of careers in general and gracefully mention that you're interested in moving to the next level in your career. Assure them that your service to them will not be affected and express confidence in your company's ability to replace you.

You may be in a field where your customers can follow you to your next employer. In that case, it will be safer to use them as contacts. And if your customers think you're wonderful, don't discount the possibility of working for them. You can suggest it by telling them how much you admire their company and how much you'd enjoy working for a company like theirs.

You also might want to consider a placement agency. Employment agencies and even temporary agencies are an excellent way to keep a low profile while you're still employed. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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