Ah, the age old conundrum: How do you get out of that job you sort of hate, without losing that job you sort of hate?
OK, maybe you don’t hate it. But if you’re looking to exit stage left (ASAP) from your current job, how do you network with other professionals—the very people who may be instrumental to your forward progress—without tipping off your colleagues (or, worse, your boss)?
Carefully, that’s how. Very carefully. Here are just a few ideas to help you pull it off.
1. Approach Networking With Genuine Interest, Rather Than Obvious Job Search Intent
If it’s imperative for you to keep a lid on the fact that you’re searching, you don’t want to approach relative strangers and immediately bust out the details about what you’re up to. Because guess what? Those relative strangers may know your boss, your colleagues, or your clients. Not ideal.
A better way to go about it is to approach people who may be helpful to the hunt in a curious, genuine manner. Ask them about their jobs, their companies, and the things they enjoy most. Probe, without coming right out and saying, “I want a job at your company. Can I give you my resume?”
Instead, be interested in and interesting to the people you approach. You can gather tons of good information about a prospective employer using this method and, if you build enough rapport and trust with this person, you may feel comfortable revealing your intentions as the conversation unfolds.
2. Be Aware of Your LinkedIn Messaging, Especially in the Headline and Summary
While you most certainly want to align your LinkedIn headline and summary sections to the requirements and preferences of your target audience, don’t make it obvious that you’re up to something.
For instance, if you’re currently working in a territory sales position but want to shift into corporate finance, it’s going to look a bit fishy if, all of the sudden, you’re showcasing nothing but your finance strengths on LinkedIn. Certainly, you can—and should—weave some of this messaging in (and reach out to people in the financial sector as you network), but keep in mind that your current boss and co-workers may be popping by your profile. And, yes, they’ll wonder what you’re up to.
Likewise, if you join any career or job search related groups on LinkedIn, hide the logos from your profile. Nothing screams “Hey, I’m looking!” quite like a bunch of job seeker group logos.
3. Consider Volunteering at, Instead of “Attending” Certain Networking Events
I worked with a client—a covert job seeker—who revealed that he’d recently attended a local career networking event. Five minutes in, he bumped into the director of marketing at his current employer. Hello, awkward moment. He still can’t look her in the eye, and it’s been three weeks.
One great alternative to this scenario is to consider volunteering at job search networking events. Just call up the coordinator and see if she needs someone to work the registration desk or help out with other tasks. That way, you get all of the benefits of the networking opportunity (typically, at no cost), and if you bump into the director of marketing? You have a perfectly good explanation for being there.
4. Be Careful Who You Tell
People love to blab. They just love to. So, for the love, don’t count on colleagues (unless they are beyond tight confidants) to keep mum when you whisper, "I'm trying to get outta here" in their ears. Pick your networking people wisely.
Likewise, when you begin interviewing, be sure and emphasize to everyone in your path (including recruiters and prospective employers) that your search is confidential. Mention it more than once.
It’s definitely tricky navigating a career transition when you’ve got to fly under the radar, but it’s by no means impossible. Networking will (truly) get you everywhere in job search, so don’t scrap it entirely out of fear you’ll get caught.
Instead, get scrappy. And strategic. You may have a job that you sort of hate, but don’t lose it before you’ve landed that job you really love.