How to Keep Your Job Search Confidential

By Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC of the Columbia Career Coaches Network 

When you're employed, you need to keep your job search confidential. If you decide not to leave, you don't want your employer to question your loyalty. If you do decide to leave, you want to take your time to find something you really want and leave on your own schedule. Yet, I've seen many job seekers inadvertently out themselves—sure, they don't say outright that they are looking for another job, but their actions betray them. Avoid these four mistakes to keep your job search confidential.

You dress differently

If your office is casual and you start dressing up, it's very noticeable. An easy last-minute fix is to keep a jacket handy to dress up your outfit for an interview or to have an outright change of clothes on hand. A more subtle, long-term fix is to gradually dress more neatly, formally, and interview-appropriately every day so it becomes your daily style and not an announcement of your job search intentions.

You are not present in the office

There are only so many doctor's appointments you can have before you run out of excuses and fail to keep your job search confidential. Experiment with not giving any reason for time off—just leave and if you're asked about it, then mention you had a personal appointment. Try not to volunteer more details when you take time off—it's hard to keep track of those white-lie details! If you're going to play around with your schedule, be sure to come in early and stay late sometimes so you can point to how you're still present but just on a different schedule. An ideal long-term fix would be to negotiate for a flexible schedule outright, whether it's a condensed schedule that leaves a day or two off per week or a remote location that enables you to more easily schedule interviews. When you are out of the office more regularly, then it's not so obvious when you're not physically present for your job.

You are not present mentally or emotionally

Physical presence is only one way to reveal you're not there for your employer. Lack of mental focus or emotional caring can be just as revealing. You always want to continue meeting deadlines because long-term you never want to burn bridges and short-term you want a good reference. But in addition to doing the minimum, you still want to appear invested in the company. Pay attention and contribute at meetings. Continue to lunch with colleagues and participate in office talk about how the company stock is doing or who might get assigned to what project. When you check out prematurely, you do not keep your job search confidential.

Your social media activity spikes

You certainly don't want to post anything about looking for a job or even asking career-related advice because these admissions will not keep your job search confidential. However, even if you don't think you're saying or doing something obvious, your level of activity might provoke suspicion. Make sure your privacy settings are such that updates to your LinkedIn profile aren't broadcast to everyone—including your current boss and colleagues. Make sure you don't do all of your activity so close together, such as sending out lots of connection invites. There are tech tools, such as Joberate, that scrape social media activity looking for signs that people are leaving! In general, regular and minimal social media activity is ideal, but it's even more critical to avoid spikes of activity when you want to keep your job search confidential.

In a future without jobs, career management means you need to keep your pipeline full of opportunities. In this way, even if you don't want to look for another job, you should always be listening. You should always be meeting with people. You should know how to keep your job search confidential, even when it's not an official search but part of coping with today's economic realities.


Caroline is a career columnist for, and and formerly wrote for CNBC, and Portfolio. She is the author of 3 books: “Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career” (2015, Forbes); “Six Steps To Job Search Success” (2011, Flat World Knowledge); and “How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times” (2010, Two Harbors Press). She teaches Professional Development and Negotiation courses at Columbia University and received a grant from the Jones New York Empowerment Fund for her work with the mid-career professional. A classically trained pianist at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music, Caroline stays active in the arts, performing stand-up comedy.

Learn more about the Columbia Career Coaches Network.