Job Search Tips: How Secret Do You Need to Be About Looking for Another Job?

After learning I’ve made the jump from being in the “exciting” world of actuary to videography, most people become curious. They ask:


When did you know it was time to go?

First, I was motivated by awesome career articles over at Vested. Here’s what it boils down to:

Common wisdom dictates that people should try to hide their job search as much as possible. And that’s a time-honored notion that makes a great deal of sense for the most part. Employers can punish those who are looking for a job, considering them disloyal or expendable.

Or they frown on the distraction such a process might be to a person. If nothing else, a job search is often considered evidence that the person is deeply dissatisfied with his job, making him a prime first candidate when layoffs are needed.

While these notions can be legitimate concerns for your supervisor, such perceptions are usually somewhat unreasonable. Everybody has to look for another job at some point. This, however, is the reality of the matter, and most people are forced to take their job search efforts underground.

But hiding your job search can actually hinder your efforts to find a new job. It’s a fine line between networking and misplacing your trust. So who can you tell? How do you know that your efforts to find a new job will be kept in appropriate confidence?

How to Know Who to Trust About Your Job Search

There are several criteria you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to discuss your job search plans, most of which apply to a wide range of positions and industries.

How High Up in the Company Are You?

Generally speaking, the higher up in a company you are, the more secretive you have to be about your job search. There is generally more at stake in the upper ranks. It’s not uncommon for news of pending high-level personnel shifts to have a dramatic effect on the company’s bottom line, influencing stock prices, vendor relations, and other key variables. On the other extreme, for part-time and entry-level jobs it’s often assumed that a certain percentage of the staff is actively looking for other opportunities, so it’s not such a big deal to be open about it.

How Much Can a Person Help Your Job Search?

To some degree, keeping quiet about your job search is the exact opposite of effective networking. If you work within an industry that’s tightly connected from company to company, the mere rumor of your job search is sometimes enough to land you an offer at a rival company. But it’s always a gamble. Your boss might find out and he might not be too thrilled that you’re entertaining ideas of going to the competition. Move carefully, weighing the risks as you go.

How Well Can This Person Keep a Secret?

There are always a few people in any office that are like leaky buckets with information. You know the kind. You tell them something with the caveat “Don’t tell anyone else this,” and by lunchtime dozens of people are repeating the secret back to you. Don’t be tempted to confide in such blabbermouths, no matter what your job search stands to gain. All it takes is a casual remark in the lunchroom to land you an awkward interrogation with the boss regarding your career plans.

Trust Your Gut

You know your company’s people, culture, and rules better than anyone. Some organizations actively encourage discussing career plans, in the hope of fostering an appealing environment for ambitious, career-minded professionals. Other companies have the misguided notion that its employees shouldn’t even think of leaving their company, and they’re viewed as traitors for thinking of starting a job search. You be the judge.

Regardless of how open you decide to be about your job search, secrecy should be an important issue at all points of it. Tell too much and you could find yourself out of work tomorrow. Keep it too secret and you could be missing out on terrific opportunities that your colleagues know of. Practice finding the right mix of caution and care to make your little secret just secret enough.