Any job search can contain unexpected hazards—it more or less goes with the territory. However, if you’re a currently-employed executive planning a confidential job search, the potential perils ahead of you give a whole new meaning to the concept of risk.

executive_job_search_confidentialThe view from the executive ranks can be exciting and invigorating; however, at that level even a small misstep might have disastrous consequences. Premature or unplanned communication of your intent to secure a new position is certainly a misstep you want to avoid—and not a small one.

To put it another way: When you’re at or near the top of your career “mountain,” you need to keep in mind that it’s a long way down and an incautious move could send you over the edge.

What Precautions Should You Take?

Start by understanding that no precautions can assure you of 100 percent confidentiality in your job search. If anyone claims it’s possible, question their sanity!

That said, you do have options you’ll want to seriously consider. By that, I don’t mean very basic pointers such as not wearing a suit and tie to work when you have an interview if you normally dress in casual slacks and a dress shirt. Take that sort of thing as a given.

Here are five precautions to help preserve the confidentiality of your executive job search:

1. An ounce of prevention:

Before you reach the point of launching your job search—preferably long before—evaluate as many risk factors as you can and begin identifying possible counter-measures. Planning can’t prevent all possible slip-ups, but it certainly helps reduce them.

2. Unnecessary exposure:

In spy movies, you’re likely to hear one character say to another, “Trust me,” and you know the person he’s speaking to should absolutely not trust him. Finding people you can trust to discuss your confidential search with can be a major challenge, but begin by limiting the number to what you can count on one hand—with one or two fingers left over.

3. Tip-off behavior changes:

These changes are along the lines of the clothing switch mentioned earlier, but less basic. If you’ll need to change some of your actions in order to free up time for your confidential search, create and implement a plan ahead of time that lets you credibly account for those actions. Don’t rely on improvising as you go along.

4. Online activity:

Some executives limit their online activity when they’re not actively searching, in order to avoid giving the impression they’re job hunting. I believe that’s a mistake, because then, when you do want to engage in strong activity on LinkedIn and other online venues, you could easily signal the advent of your search. It’s better to consistently maintain an active but not specifically job-search-oriented presence online.

5. Separation of “church and state”:

It ought to go without saying that you should keep your work and your personal activities (specifically, your job search) separate as much as humanly possible. However, I’ve known a few executives who apparently didn’t get the memo.

No matter how careful you think you’re being, if you choose to intermingle the two, someone could, in effect, be looking over your shoulder and blow your cover.

Your Disaster Recovery Plan

As the saying goes, “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.” Hopefully, you’ve taken all the steps you can think of to avoid the perils of a confidential executive job search before you launch the search. What else do you need?

How about a disaster recovery plan? Smart companies develop such a plan and keep it in readiness—hoping, of course, that they’ll never need to use it. As a smart executive, you will naturally do the same thing for your confidential job search.

Ask yourself these questions?

  1. Have I done my best to design a reasonably circumspect job search?
  2. Where am I most vulnerable—personally, professionally, financially? What can I do to reduce my vulnerability?
  3. If the worst happens, and my confidential job search becomes known before I’m ready, how can I handle it to minimize the damage as much as possible?

Then create your disaster recovery plan, keep it handy (somewhere away from work!), and focus on landing your next job without having to use it.


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