Career

Job hunting at work? You're not alone

Aug. 1, 2013 at 4:38 AM ET

job hunting at work
James Lauritz / Getty Images
If you are doing some job hunting at work, try to be a discreet about it so you don't tip off your co-workers, or your boss.

Here’s a potential sign the job market is slowly improving: Some people are feeling comfortable looking for a new job even while they’re supposed to be doing their current one.

A new survey from staffing firm Accountemps finds that about 3 in 10 workers would be likely to do things like search for a job online or take a call from a recruiter even while they are at work.

The findings, which Accountemps said were based on phone interviews with a nationally representative group of 427 workers, come amid signs that the job market is slowly starting to get better after five extremely difficult years.

“(There’s) more action in the marketplace,” said Dawn Fay, district president for staffing firm Robert Half International, whose divisions include Accountemps.

The economy added 195,000 jobs in June, and the unemployment rate stayed steady at 7.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The July employment data is scheduled to be released Friday.

At least some of those people appear to be perusing jobs while on the clock. The jobs website CareerBuilder said about two-thirds of all visits to its site come during standard working hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Recruitment experts say they aren’t that surprised to find that a good chunk of people are comfortable looking for work while they are at work. After all, if you are job-hunting in today’s fast-paced environment, it’s hard to avoid the occasional workday call from a recruiter or e-mail from a hiring manager.

While it’s probably OK to quickly respond to an e-mail or set aside a lunch break for a job interview, experts say it’s not OK to spend the bulk of your office hours job hunting.

For one thing, you may not give a good impression to your potential employer if they think you’re overly willing to slack off at your current job. And for another, you don’t want to actually start doing poor work at your current job, and end up burning your bridges with your current employer.

“You will have to be a little bit accessible, but there’s a line that you draw,” said Patti Johnson, chief executive of the human resources consulting firm PeopleResults.

Another big no-no: Using your work computer, e-mail account or cell phone to conduct job searches. Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide,” recommends that job-hunting workers take their personal smart phone to a private place – not the bathroom – for any communication with potential new employers.

He recently had a client who committed the major faux pas of conducting a job interview in his cubicle.

“Lo and behold, what happened? His boss discovered him,” Cohen said.

The incident ended up adding to the feeling that the employee was exercising poor judgment.

That may be getting off easy. Fay, of Robert Half, said she’s heard of employers who fired employees once they got wind that the person was job hunting because they thought it showed a lack of commitment.

Other overt clues to avoid include printing out a resume using a shared office printer, posting a resume on a jobs site your employer might frequent or publicly changing your LinkedIn status to make clear you’re looking for new opportunities.

Johnson, of PeopleResults, said a friend of hers who had been conducting some breakfast and lunch meetings with potential employers realized she might be spilling the beans when her boss noticed that she was dressing up more for work.

In that situation, Johnson said it’s best to deflect any tension with a quip about wanting to look nicer or having recently gone shopping.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” she said. “Don’t let someone else’s comment take you someplace you’re not ready to go.”

If your boss does ask you specifically if you are looking for new work, experts say it’s important to stay professional – especially if you don’t yet have a new job offer.

“You can say, ‘I’ve gotten some calls but I certainly haven’t made a decision to leave,’” Johnson said.

Fay, of Robert Half, said another big mistake is to tell too many people – especially at the office – that you are unhappy and looking for a new job. That can make you the target of office gossip, and end up hurting your standing if you don’t end up leaving.

“If you’re not happy in your job, tell your manager,” Fay said. “Tell someone who can do something about it.”

Sharlyn Lauby, author of the blog HR Bartender, said some bosses may not judge you for looking for a new job, especially if there are plans to cut staff or they know you don’t have much advancement opportunity in your current position.

In those cases, it may be fine to share with your employer that you may need to occasionally leave early or take some personal time for job interviews.

Still, that’s no excuse for doing less than stellar work while you are still at your current job. After all, she said, you always want your current employer to think well of you.

Years ago, Lauby said she was in a position where her boss knew she was looking for a new opportunity and let her job hunt while at work, within reason. But she said being attentive to her current job paid off, and years later that same employer called and asked her if she’s like to come back.

“The world is very small and how you exit can close some doors for you,” Lauby said.

Allison Linn is a reporter at CNBC. Follow her on Twitter @allisondlinn or send her an e-mail.


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