Ask Annie

Does your boss know you're job hunting?

February 4, 2011: 11:13 AM ET

Using social media options like LinkedIn can be a great way to network your way to a new job. But if you're already working, it's smart to keep a low profile. Here's how.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

Dear Annie: I'm thinking of changing jobs, so I read with interest your column about using LinkedIn and Facebook to connect with potential employers. One thing I'm wondering, though, is whether it's possible to do that without tipping off my current boss or colleagues to the fact that I'm looking. Isn't being active on social media sites the same as announcing that you're job hunting? —Cautious in Cleveland

Dear Cautious: Not necessarily. "You can and should be using LinkedIn to support the job you're doing now, by connecting with customers, joining industry groups, and answering questions in your area of expertise," says Susan Joyce, who runs career portal Job-Hunt.org.

"Doing those things serves a dual purpose. You'll be impressing prospective employers but also, if anyone questions why you're so active on LinkedIn, you can truthfully reply that it helps your current employer."

While you're wowing people online, though, don't announce that you're looking to make a move, which is often a surefire way to get the sack.

"I see so many people 'outing' themselves," says Joyce, who also presides over a group on LinkedIn called Job-Hunt Help that now has 4,378 members.

"When you join any group on LinkedIn, you have the option of including that group's logo in your profile," she notes. "With a job-hunting group, don't. And whatever you do, if you already have a job, don't use phrases like 'Seeking a position as…' in your profile or anywhere else."

Beyond that, Joyce offers these tips for conducting a "stealth job hunt":

Know your company's social media policy. "As employers catch on to how pervasive and influential social media have become, many of them are making policies that restrict your use of these sites," says Joyce. Dell (DELL), for one, actually "certifies" employees to speak on the company's behalf and warns that violators may be "subject to appropriate disciplinary action." Gulp. Check it out before you ramp up your visibility online.

Avoid contact settings that tip your hand. At the bottom of your LinkedIn profile, there's a "contact settings" feature that asks you to choose "opportunity preferences," two of which are "career opportunities" and "job inquiries." "Even if they're accurate, don't choose those," says Joyce. "They definitely wave a red flag in front of your employer."

Do your job search at home. Because employers can and do monitor staffers' email, web surfing, and even voicemail, job hunting while at work -- even during "personal" time, like your lunch hour -- is a mistake.

Give your personal cell phone number and a non-work email address as your contact information. Not only will this protect your privacy, but if you quit (or lose) the job you have now, employers will still be able to get in touch with you.

While you're at it, register your personal email address as a secondary address with LinkedIn. "The same password will work and, as of right now, those secondary email addresses are not visible to anyone," notes Joyce. "Who knows whether they'll ever make those addresses visible, but I'm betting they won't."

Be careful when posting your resume anywhere online. "Don't hire a resume distribution service to post your resume at dozens of job sites," says Joyce. "It could so easily end up in the wrong hands" -- namely, your current boss's, or a tattletale colleague's.

Before posting your resume on any job site, first make sure you can mark it "private" or "confidential" and delete it when your job search is over. You should also add an "effective date" at the bottom. "This could help you from being haunted by an old resume, later on," says Joyce. "If an employer comes across it and sees that it is dated before you started working for them, they should be less concerned."

Disguise your current employer's name on your resume. Instead of naming the company where you work now, use a generic description. Says Joyce, "Let's say for example that you work for IBM. In place of IBM on your resume, put 'global Fortune 50 information technology company.'" That way, although prospective employers can probably guess what you mean, at least if a manager or recruiter at Big Blue enters "IBM" (IBM) in a database or job board search field, your name won't pop right up.

Let Google track employers and opportunities for you. One way to expand the scope of your online search beyond LinkedIn: Come up with a list of companies where you might like to work and sign up for free Google alerts, so you're notified when jobs are posted on those organizations' web sites or when Google (GOOG) picks up news about an employer that may be useful to you. And, of course, have these alerts sent to your home email address, not to your office.

Good luck!

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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