How to Keep Your Job Search Confidential
As a career coach, I get this question often: how do I look for a new job without my current boss finding out? Here are some tips:

1. Lock down your LinkedIn profile. If you are connected to any of your co-workers or your boss, and are also aggressively updating your LinkedIn profile, someone might notice. To ensure your updates aren’t being broadcast to the universe, fix your privacy settings. Click on the tiny icon of your own picture in the top right-hand corner of the screen, then click Privacy & Settings–Review. Then scroll down to Privacy Controls.

Turn on/off your activity broadcasts: unclick the box next to “Let people know when you change your profile, make recommendations, or follow companies”
Select who can see your activity feed: select “Only you.”
Select what others see when you’ve viewed their profile: this one I typically leave as “your name and headline.” By doing this, you are able to see which people view your profile. In addition, sometimes people have connected with me just because I visited their profile. But if you are worried that other will think you are stalking them just because you looked at their profile, keep this “anonymous.”

Also: it’s tempting to change your Industry and/or Location to the ones you are trying to target in future (for instance, if you plan to relocate to New York City from Seattle, you may be tempted to change your location to Seattle), or to list on your profile that you are seeking to make a transition to a new field. If you do this, be aware that you might get questions about it from your boss.

2. Network carefully. Reach out to new people or existing connections, but do so carefully, and one by one rather than through a broadcast message. (And it seems obvious, but DON’T tweet or share on Facebook that you’re looking!) When connecting with existing contacts, let them know that you are confidentially starting to think about next steps in your career, and ask for their advice. When reaching out to new contacts, tell them you’re simply expanding your network and learning about other organizations to get an understanding of best practices in your field. Get to know the other person and find out what you have in common–and most importantly, find out whether they know anyone at your current organization. Once you develop some rapport and trust, you can let them know you are thinking about your next steps and ask for their (confidential) help. And make sure to tell them to ask you first, before they let other people know you are looking.

3. Engage a search firm–carefully. One of the main reasons employers engage a search firm is that they can maintain confidentiality better than other recruitment methods. If you work with executive search firms, be sure to tell them (in your application and in your conversations) that your search is confidential. If they do background research on you as a candidate, tell them specifically which people are “off limits” to contact.

4. Apply carefully. Mention in your cover letter that your search is confidential. If an employer insists on speaking to someone at the place where you currently work as a reference, try to find a colleague you can trust as your confidante, who can give you a positive review. If the employer demands to get a reference from your current supervisor, it’s reasonable to ask the employer (a) for reassurance that you are the only finalist candidate; (b) what the salary for the position is, since you don’t want to jeopardize your current job for a position that pays less (this is probably the only time I recommend to ask about salary prior to an offer).

5. Give up, if you have to. I worked with the executive director of a nonprofit organization once, who was looking for a new ED position at another, similar nonprofit or philanthropy. However, all of the board members of the nonprofit where she was currently ED seemed to sit on the boards of the other organizations where she wanted to work. She had to work with an executive search firm to maintain confidentiality, but at some point, when she was closer to being a finalist, she was going to have to be interviewed by someone on her own board. Sometimes it’s really impossible to maintain total confidentiality in your search. On occasion, having the hard conversation with your boss(es) about why you’re looking around can actually lead to a positive and fruitful result, even including a raise or promotion to try to retain you. Sometimes, though, you have to make a tough choice and take a risk in order to find something else that is a better fit for you.