By Liz Ryan
The perennial debate question is: who has it tougher, an unemployed job-seeker or one who's working?
The unemployed person has time pressure on him or her to find a new job before savings are depleted.
But, at least the job search is out in the open. There are no secrets to keep.
If you are employed, you have some challenges to manage.
You're embarking on a stealth job search, your networking will be a bit different from the out-in-the-open job seeker's approach.
The stealth job seeker has to keep his or her job search quiet, but at least the revenue stream is untouched.
As a stealth job hunter, you can certainly reach out to trusted search people and to friends and colleagues you trust, letting them know that you're seeking your next opportunity. It is essential to remind these folks that your job search is on the QT.
You don't need word getting back to your current boss before you walk into his or her office to give notice.
You can attend networking events, and you should. However, it is not enough to say "Frankly, I'm trying to get out of my current job and find a new one."
People will forget those details, and the next thing you know, your down-the-street neighbor will be calling you to say "So James! Why didn't you tell me you were job-seeking?"
It's definitely NOT a great idea to share your job-search news with people you're meeting for the first time. If you feel that a particular person or two at a networking event is someone you'd like to know better, schedule a coffee, breakfast or lunch and share your job-search news then.
As a stealth job seeker, you can't say a word about your job-search on LinkedIn or any other social networking site. You can't post your resume on a big careers site like Monster - don't do it!
But you can let your networks know about your job search, and you must. I wouldn't use electronic means to do it. There is too much risk of a stray email message getting to the wrong person. It's time-consuming, but I recommend the phone or face-to-face catch-up meetings to spread your job-hunt news among your network.
As you begin to go on interviews, you'll rely on your network once more. You'll reach out to them to ask them what they know about certain employers. Every single time you speak to a friend or colleague about your job search, remind them of its confidential nature. It is very, very easy for people to forget that the whole world isn't supposed to know you're looking.
You can, of course, reach out to target employers via phone, email or surface mail in your stealth job search.
I don't recommend making overtures to target individuals via LinkedIn, unless you can guarantee that EVERY intermediate contact in the communication chain is a person you know well and trust. That isn't usually the case with LinkedIn, so err on the side of caution and pick up the phone, or send an old-fashioned surface mail letter when you can't be sure who sits between you and the person you seek to reach.
As you move down the pipeline with a given employer, you'll meet more and more people. It's not a bad idea to remind your prospective boss and the HR person in the mix that your job search is confidential, even if you mention it three or four times.
There is nothing you can do to prevent a prospective employer from asking its own employees, people who may have worked with you elsewhere or who have friends at your current organization, to report back on you. That's a risk that job-seekers unfortunately have to take.
Still, if your cubemate sidles up to you to say "So, my buddy Max called me to tell me you're interviewing at XYZ Corp and to ask about you - what's up?", be sure and thank Max for his (presumed!) kind words and to ask him to keep mum. Tell him that if you get the job, you'll take him out to dinner -- be sure you make good on that promise!
Liz Ryan is Job-Hunt's Networking Contributor. Liz is a former Fortune 500 VP and 25-year veteran of corporate human resources departments. In addition, Liz is the author of Happy About Online Networking and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the 21st century workplace. Find Liz on LinkedIn.