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Guide to a Stealthy - and Successful - Job Search

By Susan P. Joyce

If you are currently employed, your smartest strategy is to conduct a "stealth job search." A stealth job search can help you protect your job and your income, and a below-your-employer's- radar job search is possible even today.

Employers, not surprisingly, tend to view a job-seeking employee as "disloyal," not focused on their work, and a threat to company secrets, customer lists, etc. So maintaining a low profile is the smart thing to do, even though it makes your job search a bit trickier.

Unfortunately, it is not unusual to hear of someone being fired for job hunting, an employer attitude that pre-dates the Internet.

While the employer attitude is not new, current technology offers many new ways for a job search to be "outed" and the job to be lost.

Conducting a "stealthy" job search may feel dishonest. But, quitting one job before you have another one makes finding that new job much more difficult for you (see Don't Quit First for the reasons).

Realistically, a stealth job search is your most effective option. Following these steps will not only protect your job, they will protect your identity, too.

1. Do your job search at home.

You have no guarantee of privacy - even during your lunch or other "personal time" - while you are at work.

Your employer may monitor your use of e-mail, your Web surfing habits, and even the voice mail messages left for you, assuming that you aren't an independent contractor using your own assets and working in your home.


2. Keep a low electronic profile of your job search.

Don't announce your job search in Twitter, your blog, your Facebook or LinkedIn accounts, or in an e-mail sent to the general world.

Don't hire a resume distribution service to post your resume at dozens of job sites or e-mail it to thousands of employers and recruiters. It could so easily end up in the wrong hands or become visible to someone in your current employer's organization.

Some employers do regularly scan resume banks, like Indeed Resume, Monster, and CareerBuilder, looking for the resumes of current employees. So, if you post on those sites, follow the tips in # 6, below.

3.  Carefully raise your personal visibility.

Create a strong and complete LinkedIn Profile in addition to other appropriate Websites (more on using social media for job search). Join local professional and business organizations, and be an active member, representing your current employer and yourself.

On LinkedIn:

  • Be open about where you work, if other employees (like your boss) also have LinkedIn Profiles.
  • Describe your job in ways that reflect well on your employer without disclosing anything considered company confidential.
  • Brag about your employer and their product and services, so your employer may view your LinkedIn Profile as helpful for their marketing (if someone there sees it).

Having a good network of people who know you is the best insurance you can have against a long, painful job search after a job loss. Network building is a lifelong project, and it should make you more valuable to each of your employers, too.

4. Monitor and clean up any "digital dirt" about yourself.

Google (and Bing, etc.) yourself regularly. Just type your name into the search box to see what the search engines are showing people about you.

[For details about online reputation management, read Defensive Googling.]

IF there is something bad in the first 10 or 20 results, you need to raise your personal online profile to push those entries down below # 20. Raise your visibility in social media. Establish a LinkedIn Profile with your professional name, if you don't already have one. Keep it up-to-date, filled with appropriate keywords for you, and saying very nice things about your current employer (in case anyone from there is looking).

[For more ideas about where to establish public profiles to help you manage your online reputation, read Reputation Management or Recovery on]

5. Let Google track employers and opportunities for you.

Develop a list of potential employers where you would like to work, and sign up for free Google Alerts ( for jobs posted on the organizations' Websites or when related news about the employer is picked up by Google. Have the alerts sent to your personal (not your work!) e-mail address! See Job-Hunt's Using Google Alerts article for tips and detailed information.

6. Be VERY careful when posting your resume on a job board.

Do NOT openly post your resume at any job sites, particularly with your name and the name of your current employer visible! Unless you can post your resume as "private" or "confidential," don't post it.

Sign up for the job alerts, but don't have them sent to your work e-mail address where your current employer could find them. Read Job-Hunt's Cyber-Safe Resume article for tips on converting your resume to one that will protect your privacy and your current job.

When your job search is over, be sure to delete all the copies of your resumes posted on job boards. (If you cannot delete the resume at the end of your job search, turn it into nonsense, particularly your name and contact information.)

7. Use your personal cell phone number on your resume.

Using your employer's name, address, and phone numbers as your contact information is a very good way to blow your cover, and makes it impossible for you to stay in touch if you leave or lose your job. Just think how awkward it would be if your boss answered your phone and a recruiter was calling, or a co-worker picked up your messages and found one from a recruiter!

Be cautious about using your personal cell phone if you also use it regularly for your job. Your employer may be able to monitor your contacts as well as your calls on that phone. If the can monitor your cell phone, use a different phone for your job search, copying over your contacts to the new phone.

8. Use your home or other non-work e-mail address to for your job search.

See # 1, above, for the reason. In addition, if you lose your job, you'll lose access to your work e-mail account, so anyone trying to reach you about your job search will be unable to contact you. Avoid the problem by not using your work email address.

This recommendation most definitely applies to your LinkedIn account, too! Your LinkedIn account is linked to an email address - be sure that address is your personal email address so you don't become one of the job seekers who loses access to your LinkedIn Profile when you lose your job.

9. Disguise your current employer's name on your resume.

You don't want your job search to be "outed" by your boss or a recruiter accidentally (or on purpose) stumbling over your resume on Indeed or CareerBuilder, etc. So, don't put your current employer's name (e.g. IBM or Acme Widgets, etc.) on your resume.

[And, if your job title is unique to your employer, replace that, too.]

Substitute a description in place of your employer's name - so, assuming you work for IBM, in place of "IBM" on your resume put "Multi-National Fortune 50 Information Technology Company."  If you work for Acme Widgets, you would describe your employer as "Manufacturer of [description of Widgets, without using the word "Widget"].".

This recommendation also applies to product and/or service names unique to your employer.  So, if you worked in the Acme Widget marketing department, assuming that "Widget" was a unique, trademarked brand name, you would describe your work with out using the word "Widget" in the job title or description in addition to disguising the company name.

The goal is making sure your resume doesn't appear in a search through the resume database on the employer's name - that's a set of keywords you don't want to have on your resume (unless you are a former employee)! Yes, your resume may not be included in some relevant search results, but you won't become unemployed.

10. Add an "effective date" at the bottom of your resume.

Hopefully this will keep you from being haunted by an old resume, if your current employer finds it online. If they see the date is before you started working for them, they should be less concerned.

For an example, see the Sample ASCII Text Resume.

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, a stealth job search may be necessary to retain your income stream.  Do your best not to let anyone where you work know what you are doing.  Even your best friend at work might let something slip that could result in you losing your job, so best not to put anyone (or yourself) in that position.

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 Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.


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