007 Job Hunter: How NOT to Blow Your Cover

Paranoid? Good, you’ll live longer, at least in the career sense. Never is this more true than when you’re in a difficult situation at work, and then you start a job-hunt. Being open about things will see your prospects of future pay rises and promotion plummet. Perceived disloyalty is both remembered and punished forever, no matter what reassurances you get.

Within many security, sales and creative roles it’s common for employees to be sent home and put on gardening leave when they resign. Even before that point, you can find yourself side-lined if it’s even suspected that your loyalties may lay elsewhere in the future.

You win with your actions, not with your intentions. Get those words tattooed on the inside of your eyelids and keep your job-hunting activities secret. Make no mistake, it is incredibly tough to do so in these days of eternal connectedness and you need to go deep undercover. If you’re an already-employed serious job hunter, strip down to your camos, paint up, clamp the knife in your teeth and slip quietly into the jungle, figuratively speaking.

Here are my top tips for surviving your mission:

Don’t tell anyone

A secret is just not a secret when someone else knows it. Work on a need-to-know basis, but remember: no-one needs to know. Keep work friends out of the loop. That’s hard, but if they’re truly your friends they’ll forgive you later. Good friends, at work or outside, may not mean to put a bullet in you, but a simple Facebook post, even vague and in jest, can give you away in a trice.

Don’t change your attitude

Any manager worth their salt will be highly attuned to subtle shifts of attitude in their individual staff members. Even if they personally don’t have enough salt for a bag of chips, there’s always a risk that your mendacious co-worker will knife you in the back for personal advantage if they suspect you’re looking elsewhere. Whatever your normal attitude, don’t change.

Don’t change your behaviour

A sudden day off for a spurious reason – “I ran over my cat in the driveway” – is the classic sign of a secret job hunter. Even though you don’t yet know which days you’ll need for interviews, find a believable reason why you might need time off in the future and feed it into the conversation now. When the time comes for time out, no one will twitch. Don’t take calls in the office and then step outside to talk, unless you regularly do this anyway.

Don’t change your LinkedIn status

Obviously, changing it to “Open to offers” would be the equivalent of sending up flares in the dark, but LinkedIn, and many other social media sites, can betray you in several diabolical ways.

  • Play with the detail of your privacy settings, but don’t suddenly become invisible.
  • Update your profile but try not to keep making wild and diverse changes.
  • Watch who you connect with and don’t visibly connect with recruiters.
  • Be wary what you say to new contacts as you network.
  • For the love of God, do not send around a contact details update request.

Don’t leave traces at work

This is for the truly paranoid. Leave nothing at work, not even locked in your desk drawers – the weirdo in your office will already have secret keys anyway. Don’t use your work computer for browsing job ads, agencies or checking your messages and emails – network logs show history and your IT department can get around your passwords. The same goes for your work mobile, and don’t use it for job-hunting calls. Don’t browse competitor’s sites. Be aware of landline phone logs. Yes, it’s unlikely anyone will go through them, but on some network systems it’s very easy for employers to set up automatic flagging of certain numbers, email addresses and websites used. Don’t assume a separate meetings room is in fact private and secure when you have to do those skype or phone conversations. If you can, use an entirely separate mobile, turn off visible notifications and use a secure password, or preferably your fingerprint, to unlock it.

Don’t provide references

Explicitly state that reference checks should only be completed by arrangement, and following an offer. Explicitly request confidentiality at every stage and get that confirmed in writing or on email, if possible.

Don’t lose control of your data

Lockdown recruiters from the outset. NEVER let them send your CV out unless they clear it with you first. Some recruiters blast CVs at the world and not only does this sour your presence in the market, word can accidentally filter back to your employer as someone makes a ‘discrete’ enquiry about you. For companies you interview with, ask for confidentiality.

You truly don’t need to start behaving like a cross between Zorro and Inspector Clouseau on a bad acid trip, and that is in fact the point. If you don’t draw attention to yourself, either overtly or covertly, then ironically you’ll be hiding in that safest place of all – in plain sight.

About the author: Jon Gregory is an author, editor, blogger & trainer on all things job hunting, interview prep & career development.

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