How to Look for a New Job While You Still Have Your Old One

Dwight Schrute working at Staples

Dwight Schrute working at Staples instead of Dunder Mifflin on The Office | NBC

A promotion and raise are years away in your current job, and you’ve decided to speed up that process by looking for a role in a new company. Or perhaps you can’t take any more of your toxic co-worker or unpredictable boss, and you’re finally heading for the door. If you’re like most people, you’re continuing to work while you start your job search, since a few months without a steady income is a no-go.

In fact, starting a job search while you still have your current gig is a smart choice, if you go about it the right way. “Companies want to hire the best of the best and [those people] are usually employed,” Sara Menke, the founder and chief executive of Premier, a boutique staffing firm in San Francisco, told Forbes. What’s more, continuing in your current job gives you more bargaining power. You won’t give off an air of desperation, and you’ll be able to use your existing role to your advantage. On the flip side, quitting before you have another job lined up can be a red flag to potential employers.

“If you don’t currently have a job, it raises a lot of questions and puts you in a defensive position, and you won’t be coming at them from a position of strength,” Andy Teach, a corporate veteran and author of From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time, told Forbes.

Job hopping is now an acceptable way to climb the career ladder, and plenty of people are on the job search while they’re still reporting for their original 9-to-5. The only trick is make sure you’re doing so while remaining professional and not giving yourself away before you planned to. Here are the rules for job searching on the job.

1. Watch your body language

Candid picture of a female boss and business team collaborating

Are you continuing to be proactive in the office? | iStock.com/julief514

A general rule of thumb is to keep your job search very, very quiet at work. You might trust a co-worker with most information, but this news is best kept to yourself until you’ve accepted another offer. As soon as you mentally decide to look for new opportunities, you’ll have to keep a close eye on how you’re portraying yourself in the office. The wrong body language can destroy your chances in a job interview, but it can also give your boss a heads-up that you might be on the way out. Slumping in your chair, lacking interest in activities you used to be excited about, and a change in your overall behavior could tip your hand too early.

Your behaviors might hint at your intentions, but a drastic change in your outward appearance will be like waving a giant red flag. If you typically wear casual clothes but show up one day in a suit, it’s going to alert your co-workers that something is amiss. U.S. News & World Report suggests changing at an off-site location for an interview if necessary.

2. Don’t neglect your current duties

business man working in office

Businessman working in office | iStock.com/anyaberkut

You might already be thinking of the most efficient way to pack up your office, but it’s important that you stick to your role until your last day at the old job. Not only will this keep you in good graces with your boss and colleagues, but it will prevent potentially damaging consequences.

“… If you let yourself slack off, not only will your boss and co-workers notice, you could wind up with a demotion, on probation or possibly even fired. Then you’ll have to explain to prospective employers why you are no longer employed, and that could set your search back even further,” CareerBuilder explains. When possible, it might even be a good idea to take on extra assignments — even if you’re not mentally excited about them. “You want to make sure that there’s no visible sign that, internally, your heart’s not in it,” Patti Johnson, CEO and founder of PeopleResults, a Texas-based human resources firm, told U.S. News.

3. Apply outside of work hours

Man applying for job on internet with coffee on table

Man applying for job from a coffee shop | iStock.com/Rawpixel

If you’ve spent any amount of time looking for a new job, you know it can take as many hours as your full-time gig. Still, resist the temptation to search on LinkedIn on your company laptop. There’s a time and place for using your work email, and a job search isn’t one of them.

If you’re found out, your boss has a valid accusation of time theft, since you’re literally punching a clock to look for new ways to get a paycheck. Though this is mostly an ethical decision, chances are searching for a new job at work won’t yield successful results anyway. If you’re paranoid about being found out, you’re less likely to make any real headway in the first place, Jaime Petkanics,  a career adviser and founder of The Prepary, told U.S. News. “I think all aspects of the job search require focus, and if you’re worried about someone coming by, or pausing to pick up a phone call, or complete a task, you’re not going to give searching, resume updating (or whatever else) the attention it deserves,” Petkanics said.

4. Direct calls to your cellphone

Girl touching a screen of her smarthone

Taking a call on a smartphone | iStock.com/Pinkypills

You want to avoid taking job search-related calls in the office, where your co-workers might be in earshot. Using your cellphone and personal email account for job searches is key, and be prepared to duck out for an extended lunch or quick break to return those inquiries.

Confidentiality is key here. In addition to keeping your news quiet on your end, make sure that you ask potential employers to respect your situation as well. Provide references from previous jobs instead of your current one, PayScale recommends, and ask that they allow you to break the news yourself. When you’ve accepted a job offer, you can always follow up with references from your current employer.

5. Take a personal day for interviews

Calendar Events Plan Planner Organization

Work calendar | iStock.com/scyther5

In an ideal world, you would be able to schedule your job interviews on off-work hours, but your schedule might not allow that to happen. If you’re worried about being too obvious with job interviews, consider taking a vacation or personal day to fully prepare and have the interview. Whatever you do, don’t take a sick day for time off.

The reason is this: If your interviewer asks about how you were available, you can honestly say you took a personal day for the meeting. Personal days can be used for any purpose at the last minute, even if they’re somewhat inconvenient for your current employer. That will look better than saying you took a sick day. If you’re outright lying to your current boss, why should a potential new manager trust you to be completely ethical moving forward?

6. Remain professional after giving your notice

Businessman Holding Folder And Plant In Cardboard Box

Businessman leaving his job | iStock.com/AndreyPopov

If you do find a new job, make sure to remain professional during the transition period. You might need to rely on your current colleagues for references down the road, so don’t burn bridges at the last minute. Two weeks’ notice is generally acceptable, during which you’ll need to stay on top of your duties and perhaps train your replacement.

What happens if you get caught midway through the process? You have a few options. U.S. News suggests coming completely clean if your boss asks about your job search activity. That way, you can maintain your credibility and hopefully retain them as a contact in the future.

However, that might put your current position at risk — especially if you don’t find a new job quickly. If you’re worried about that possibility, Job-Hunt.org suggests a different tactic. Try saying something along the lines of, “I occasionally compare my current opportunity with the rest of the world, and I’m still here.” You can add why you like your current position and explain if you’re looking for additional responsibilities. If you truly like your current job, that might lead to a way to advance without switching at all. If you’re still looking for a new job, it gives you a diplomatic way to address the issue without answering the question head-on.

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