Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

All Your Tricky Questions About Job Hunting on the Job, Answered

You might be tired of hearing this by now, but regardless, it’s true: Job hopping is the new normal. That means people today are scoping out their prospects anytime, anywhere—including at the office.

While it’s definitely not ideal, sometimes skimming openings while sitting at your desk is a necessity. When you’re balancing work, friends, your health, and life, you need to fit your search in whenever you can—and in today’s competitive market, you have to move swiftly in order to move to the next round.

But make no mistake: Looking for new opportunities at work poses a risk. As a longtime HR leader, I can testify—there’s no better way to burn professional bridges than being caught red-handed doing this. But, if you’re going to go for it anyway, you need to tread carefully.

Fortunately, there’s a number of things you can do to make sure you land your dream position in a timely fashion while still staying respectful to your employer (and out of trouble). So before you embark on your hunt, read up on the answers to all the burning questions you didn’t know who to ask.

What’s the Best Way to Use My Time at Work if I am Job Searching?

With all the information you could ever want to know literally at your fingertips, it can be tempting to do a deep-dive investigation of your prospects throughout the work day. But even if you’re planning to leave, you need to stay respectful to your company (if for no other reason than that a bad reputation can come back to haunt you.)

Anything that can wait—research, cover letters, applications—should be done at home. Keep your time spent on the job search at work minimal, and focus first on urgent matters like responding to timely emails and doing phone interviews.

What Do I Do if the Interview Times Conflict With My Actual Job?

When you’re excited about an opportunity, you may feel like you have to bend over backwards to accommodate the hiring manager’s schedule. But your time matters, too. If a suggested interview date or deadline doesn’t work for you, you’re well within your right to politely push back—just explain that it’s not ideal for your schedule and offer some alternate times.

Remember: Recruiters are just as eager to find the perfect candidate as you are to find the perfect job, and if you show a lot of promise, they’ll probably be more than willing to give you an extension or find a workaround. Hiring managers who offer non-negotiable meeting times are few and far between—and if they’re truly in a time crunch, they’ll likely clue you in.

How Can I Keep This on the DL (for as Long as Possible)?

At the end of the day, your own behavior is more likely to give away the fact that you’re on the hunt for a new opportunity than anything else. If you nervously glance over your shoulder every few minutes or schedule three dentist meetings in a week, people will talk.

That being said, there are other ways you can have your cover blown. For example, anything you do on your office computer can be tracked, so think twice before going to sites that might provoke HR suspicion. Some companies monitor activity less than others, but regardless, there’s still no guarantee that your site history and communications will stay private.

And if you’re serious about staying stealth, dip into your PTO hours. It doesn’t have to be for weeks at a time. If you buckle down and plan in advance, a few hours here and a half-day there will allow you to blaze through multiple applications and interviews.

And, What Happens if I Get Caught?

Letting your employer know that you’re in the market for a new job is a difficult conversation, but if someone catches you in the act at the office, it’s absolutely the right move to make. Most people can recognize a hasty, panicked lie when they hear one, and once they do, your credibility goes out the window.

When you have to come clean about your job search, you likely won’t get a thrilled reaction from anyone, but if you have a good relationship with a management team that genuinely cares about your professional growth, they might just understand and want to hold onto you for as long as you’re willing to stay. And if they don’t? Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do other than admit it and apologize. Oh, and then put your search into overdrive so you’re not stuck in that awkward situation for too long.

Let’s Get Real: Can I Get Fired for This?

Like it or not, if you’re an hourly employee and you get caught prowling for a new position at work, you might as well prepare to pack your bags and leave. When you get paid for your time, each minute you’re on the clock is at your employer’s expense—so doing anything other than what you’re supposed to is effectively stealing from them.

If you’re a salaried employee, however, you have a little more wiggle room. With how connected our society is, it’s nearly impossible to completely separate your personal and professional lives: Sometimes you answer emails on the weekends, and other times you have to leave a meeting to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Job hunting definitely falls into the “personal” category, and at times, it may bleed into your work life a little bit—just make sure you’re using your time judiciously.

Finding your next big opportunity is tough enough on its own—add a full-time job, and it’s made that much more stressful. With only so many hours in a day, it makes sense that you might want to take a chance and cross off some of those to-do’s in the midst of your nine-to-five. But if you don’t want to take the risk, that’s perfectly understandable as well. Ultimately, I can’t be the one to tell you what you should do. But now that you have the facts—the good, bad, and ugly—hopefully, you’re ready to decide what your game plan will be.

Photo of person on tablet courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.