Monday, October 1, 2012

Keep Your Job Search Under Wraps

Like an amateur poker player who twitches whenever holding a full house, people seeking to change jobs have "tells" that cue co-workers and the boss into the fact.

There are the sloppy classics: leaving a résumé on the copier or missing work for a string of emergency "dental" and "medical" visits. Then there's the dead giveaway of dressing atypically well.

"I saw a woman I hired [at a prior employer] a few years ago come in one day and I realized that she was wearing the exact same suit as she had when she interviewed with me," says Charles Wardell, chief executive of Witt/Kieffer, an executive search firm in Oak Brook, Ill. "My instincts told me she was interviewing. She denied it, but I was right."

Given stress from stagnant careers, it makes sense that many workers would like a new gig. And while it can be helpful to network with select co-workers during a job search, discretion is key to maintaining a smooth work environment while trying to transition to a new job. A prematurely exposed job search can deepen rifts between employees and management, and damage morale. Additionally, co-workers can suffer if a manager's retaliation affects an entire team.

"Once the cat is out of the bag that you're looking for a job, your co-workers and your boss will treat you differently. It's human nature," says Art Papas, chief executive and co-founder of Bullhorn, a Boston recruiting-software firm. "And, if your search takes a long time, your performance, pay and job security could all be at risk."

Thoughtful planning can help job seekers avoid the classic mistakes. But experts warn that there are subtler behaviors that can expose a job search.

1. Dropping digital breadcrumbs
The three big online job-hunting giveaways: frequently updating a résumé, adding recommendations to a professional profile and connecting with recruiters on social networks, Mr. Papas says.

"You have to be careful about the digital breadcrumbs that you are leaving behind," he says. "Is there somebody watching? The answer is 'yes.' People generally don't ask for endorsements on [networking sites such as] LinkedIn unless they are thinking about a career search."

To avoid too much online activity at once, which can attract unwanted attention, experts recommend that workers always maintain a robust career profile, rather than waiting until the start of a job search to flesh out experience and contacts.

"If you haven't done that, take the leap and do so, just not in the same week you're showing up spiffier than usual after a 'doctor's appointment,' " says Meredith Haberfeld, an executive and career coach in New York.

2. Avoiding co-workers and the boss
Job hunters can arouse suspicions by dropping out of social office activities. Keeping up water-cooler conversations, even if you are taking a new job, is important, says Janette Marx, senior vice president at staffing firm Adecco.

"People don't want their friends to pick up on the fact that they are interviewing, and they don't want to be in a position to lie to their friends," Ms. Marx says. "But you need to be fully engaged, and be very aware not to distance yourself from current activities."

Even if you land a new job, it's important to remain professional and dependable and keep the respect of co-workers and your boss.

"You don't want to burn bridges," says Diane Gottsman, an etiquette expert based in San Antonio, Texas. "You want to make sure you leave in good standing."

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