How to find a job before you leave your old one

Keep your job search under wraps.
By Matthew Philpott

When the time comes to make your next career move, it's unquestionably more comfortable to start your job search while you're still employed. 

One big advantage to looking for a job while you currently have one is the opportunity to be choosy. You aren't under pressure to take first offers, and that can give you more freedom to negotiate job offers.

But job hunting while you have a job can have certain drawbacks. You may be wondering what could happen if your boss finds out you are searching, for instance, especially if you don't find a new job right away. You may also be concerned about how your leaving will affect your organization and co-workers.

If it's time for you to start exploring your options, here are some tips on doing it the right way.

  • Try not to feel guilty about wanting to leave. "I think a lot of people in their first jobs don't yet realize they are not expected to stay there forever," said Lauren Cox, CPA, CGMA, who began her career as an auditor in a high-travel job but now is the assistant vice chancellor for foundation finance at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro. "It's OK to have that clarity and it's OK to take that next step."
  • Keep it secret, keep it safe. When it comes time to start exploring your options, it's almost always best to keep that information to yourself.
  • "The truth is, it is easier to find a job while you are presently employed," said Sarah Dardeno, director of recruiting, accounting and finance, at Hollister Staffing in Boston. "For that reason alone, you want to protect your current job and employment status while searching for the next opportunity."

    And keeping your privacy in mind also extends to your work accounts and computers.

    "If you are currently working, make sure to use your personal email versus a work email for any job inquiries," suggested Natalie Hoffman, operations manager at accounting and finance recruiting firm Accountability Resources in Austin, Texas.

  • Find references who won't blow your cover. "Offer up references who do not jeopardize your current employment: a peer you trust to keep your job search confidential or a former co-worker who has moved on to a new company," said Dardeno.
  • Schedule your interviews so you miss minimal work time. Keeping your job hunt hush-hush is smart, and most likely you will need to find time to interview discreetly for a new position. While it's a smart idea to save up paid time off for job interviews, Dardeno suggested asking your interviewers to if they are available outside of typical business hours.
  • "Sometimes, companies can schedule an interview in the early morning or very late in the afternoon," Dardeno said. "That way you only have to arrive about an hour late to work or leave an hour early instead of missing a full day."

    Hoffman added that it may be useful to ask your potential employer about conducting parts of the interview process over video chat, using FaceTime or Skype to minimize your time away from work.

  • Be careful about how you speak about your current employer during an interview. Job interviews are often where we roll out our best behavior, but make sure that courtesy isn't extended just to your potential new employer.
  • "Never say anything negative about your current company, manager, or co-workers," Dardeno said, as interviewers often assume a candidate bad-mouthing their current employer would likely complain about their organizations as well.

    If you can't avoid pointing out some the negatives of your current job, she said, it's best to keep your criticisms brief and to mention some positive aspect of your organization.

    During interviews, stress how selective you've been in applying for positions, and let potential employers know it's their job you want, and not your current job you don't want, Dardeno advised.

    "Be positive, humble, and eager to learn," she said. "Those qualities are always in high demand."

  • Leave the right way. When it comes time to put in your notice, it may be difficult to know what to expect. But chances are your supervisor has been in this position many times before.
  • "I would always advise giving a fair notice — typically two weeks — to your supervisor," Hoffman said. "You never want to burn a bridge. That bridge could come in handy down the road in unforeseen ways."

    Jessica Juliano, CPA, senior executive recruiter for Warren Averett Staffing & Recruiting in Birmingham, Ala., agreed that giving the standard two weeks' notice is important. But she added that if you are leaving a small firm and the impact of your leaving may be more deeply felt, it's OK to negotiate a later start date with your new job to give your current employer a little extra room to fill your role.

    "Negotiating start times shows integrity to your current employer, and it shows your character and loyalty to your new employer," Juliano said. "And companies want to hire responsible and loyal employees."

Matthew Philpott is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at

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