Looking for a job … while at work?

It may sound like a bad idea but research shows most of us do it already, and it may even be unavoidable. However, there are ways to do it respectfully.

These days, most professionals look for a new job while still employed — 78 percent of professionals are comfortable doing so, according to a survey from staffing firm Accountemps — but would it surprise you to know that 64 percent also said they’d likely job search while at work?

Frankly, that shouldn’t be shocking. Most full-time workers spend 40 hours or more at work every week, and so do hiring managers. That puts workers in an awkward situation — if a new position that’s just perfect gets posted at 10 a.m., or if a hiring manager for a job you’ve applied for calls or emails you in the middle of your workday with a question about your portfolio or resume, or to schedule an interview, should you respond immediately to ensure you don’t miss out on an opportunity or wait until after hours? Doing the “right” thing could cost you a job you really want.

What if you are offered an interview, but it’s for the next day at 11 a.m.? Job interviews never seem to take place after hours. You can take a personal day, asking for time off to potentially leave your company behind, or lie and call in sick, but even that’s still conducting your job search while your current employer is paying you.

The reality is, if you’re looking for a new job it’s nearly impossible not to do some of that searching while you’re on the clock. Increasingly, workers seem to be okay with that.

A 2011 Monster survey found that one-quarter of people spend over three hours per week searching for a job while at work, a number that’s likely increased due to the prevalence of smartphones, which present much less risk for companies tracking your online activity when you’re on the clock.

A 2015 Pew Research study backs that up, noting 28 percent of American job seekers — including 53 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds — use smartphones during their job search. Additionally, the study showed 43 percent of people ages 18–29 and 36 percent of people ages 30–49 use social media to look for new job opportunities.

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean workers shouldn’t use caution when they’re looking for jobs.

“Even though it’s a candidates market, looking for a new opportunity during business hours can be risky and potentially threaten current job security,” notes Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager of Accountemps in Madison. “While it’s okay to pursue new opportunities while employed, a search should never interfere with your current job. Your employer might question your loyalty and commitment to the job, which could impact their decisions regarding choice work assignments. An employee could potentially be dismissed if the company decides against investing further time and resources on someone who is looking to leave.”



According to the Accountemps survey, younger workers ages 18 to 34 are the most open to conducting job search activities at work (72 percent), compared to workers ages 35 to 54 (63 percent) and 55 and older (46 percent). In addition, the research showed men are more likely to conduct job search activities from the workplace (72 percent) than women (55 percent).

Workers may feel they have more leverage in the job market while they’re employed, says Truckenbrod. “The hot job market in Madison means there are available opportunities that could offer more fulfillment, income, and advancement potential. Some people feel it’s easier to find a job when they already have one. Most try to have another job lined up before they leave so they can take the time to weigh their options. It’s also tough to know how long it will take to find a job, and many workers don’t want to take a chance that they could be out of work for a significant amount of time while job hunting, perhaps creating a hole in [his or her] work history.”

If you are going to look for a new job while you’re still employed, Truckenbrod offers some tips on how to do it effectively and with respect to your current employer:

  • Be discreet. Avoid mentioning your job search on social media or discussing it with co-workers. Let your prospective employer know that your job search should be kept confidential.
  • Use personal resources. Don’t use company equipment and resources for your search. Most companies track your internet usage, so anything related to your job search may raise suspicions.
  • Don’t dress differently. If you show up to work in a suit and tie because you have a job interview that day, but you never wear a suit and tie to work, this will raise suspicions.
  • Schedule interviews during non-work hours (assuming that’s possible) or take a personal day.
  • Ask for help. Work with a staffing firm to avoid distractions that could impact your current job.
  • Speak kindly. Never bad mouth your current employer. Keep your discussions focused on the positive benefits of moving forward in a new role, rather than on what you’re trying to escape.
  • Avoid burning bridges. Show consideration for the company that you’re leaving. Give two weeks notice and tie up loose ends. This will leave a positive last impression. Most managers will understand if a job wasn’t right for you. It can be a small business world, so depart respectfully to ensure positive references from former employers.

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