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Using Email for a Stealth Job Search When Employed

By Susan P. Joyce

Be very circumspect when job hunting while employed. Why? Because most employers do not trust employees who are looking for a job elsewhere.

Unfortunately, employers' concerns about employees who job hunt often are often grounded in painful experience -- those employees are not focused on doing a good job. Worst of all, departing employees may take important proprietary information with them when they leave, like client lists or supplier information.

So job seekers are frequently fired when their job hunting efforts are discovered. Yes, they can "do that" - it is usually legal, at least in the U.S.A.

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Paranoia Is Appropriate

I've been told by several people that worrying about someone in an employer's organization reading employee email is being paranoid.

True. But, that doesn't mean the concern is groundless.

Smart job seekers always assume that someone representing their employer has access and may be veiweing any/all of their Internet activities and e-mail messages at work.

The employer may be too busy or have other priorities, but don't count on it.

Job hunting at work is a very risky activity.

Your Use of Email Can Blow Your Cover

In the U.S.A., federal law supports an employer's right to view employee e-mail, particularly in financial services organizations where sharing information is very closely regulated.

Your employer should have an e-mail and Internet "acceptable use" policy published, but, even if they don't have a policy, don't assume that you have any privacy.

Avoid Using Your Employer's Assets for Your Job Search Email

Assume that your employer monitors your use of company email, including messages sent using the computer, tablet, and smart phone you use which were provided by your employer. This caution applies whether or not you use your employers equipment at home, at work, or in between. If you employer bought it and is paying for your connection, you should be very cautious.

Don't send email while you are at work, unless you use your personal smart phone or tablet (one you bought with your credit card, using an Internet or cellular connection that you pay for personally). And be very careful at work not to send or receive using your personal equipment via your employers WiFi or BlueTooth networks.

Set Up a Personal Email Account for Your Job Search

This is very easy to do using Google's Gmail, Yahoo!, AOL, or Outlook.com (from Microsoft). Again, use your own personal equipment (computer, tablet, or smart phone) to access your personal email account to access an Internet connection which you - not your employer - pays for.

Don't E-Mail Your Biggest Secret or Concern!

Over the past few years, I've read very personal information about someone, openly shared via a large email distribution list for job search, that really made me cringe at the consequences:

  • A job seeker asked if the 15-year-old record of a failed drug test would be uncovered by one of the reference checking services.
  • Another job seeker asked if his sealed juvenile arrest record for DWI (10 years in the past) could surface to ruin his chances at a job.

In both cases, the person's name and e-mail address was published along with the question. Also in both cases, the answer to the question being asked was probably "no" - until the job seekers themselves made pubic announcements by asking their questions in a public forum! These 2 job seekers "outed" themselves.

E-mail often seems like an informal conversation among friends. It is most definitely NOT! Don't put your biggest secret (or fear) in writing in an e-mail, even to your best friend or favorite relative because:

  • Messages sent to large or public distribution lists are often very widely distributed and may end up being archived on a Website where they can be pulled into search engine databases and found later.
  • A majority of large employers routinely retain and scan all e-mail in the company's e-mail system, looking for information and security leaks.
  • Employers also monitor Internet and Web usage, so using a personal or Web-based e-mail system (like Gmail, Comcast, etc.) isn't protection against snooping.
  • Messages get forwarded, and you have no control, or knowledge of, where they may go after you hit that "Send" button.
  • Messages are stored - by the e-mail software (cleaned your Sent Mail folder lately?) and, often, by the e-mail systems and Internet e-mail infrastructure as part of routine backups. Some organizations and systems archive messages for several years.

More About Stealth Job Search


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.