Ready for a new job? Most career experts would tell you to start looking while you’re still employed. But when you do—you must tread carefully.
“When you’re working, your professional network is working for you because you’re constantly interacting with your industry contacts,” says Andy Teach, a corporate veteran and author ofFrom Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time. “They can inform you about jobs you may not be aware of. If you’re not working, you’re out of sight and out of mind.”
Sara Menke, the founder and chief executive of Premier, a boutique staffing firm in San Francisco, says having a job while looking for a job makes you that much more attractive to a potential employer. “Companies want to hire the best of the best and [those people] are usually employed,” she says. “Plus, quitting your job before having a job is a big risk that you should avoid. Most people do not have endless streams of income, so you should stay in your position until you get that firm offer for new employment.”
Teach agrees. He says most potential employers prefer candidates who currently have a job because it gives them more confidence that you’ll be a good hire. “If you don’t currently have a job, it raises a lot of questions and puts you in a defensive position, and you won’t be coming at them from a position of strength,” he says.
Furthermore, when you look for a job while you still have a job, there tends to be less pressure on you, he adds. “If you don’t get the new job, you have your current job to fall back on and you can just try again. Having a job gives you confidence because you’re not in a desperate situation. You may need a new job, you may want a new job, but you don’t have to have a new job, unlike someone who is out of work.”
Another reason to start looking while you’re still employed: Having a job while searching for new employment gives you leverage when it comes to negotiating terms for the new gig, Teach says. “You’re in a greater position to make demands and get what you want. Without a job, this leverage goes out the window.”
While the experts highly advise against quitting or waiting until you’re fired to start your job search—there are risks associated with job hunting while you’re still employed.
Perhaps the biggest danger of looking for a new job while you have one is that someone at your company will find out and tell others, Teach says. If your boss finds out, he or she may take it personally and see it as a lack of loyalty to them and the company. “They will assume that you’re unhappy and worst case scenario, may start taking steps to terminate you. Supervisors want employees who are committed to the job, not to a job search.”
Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, author and president of Humor at Work, agrees. He says the biggest danger is the optics and the fear of a backlash from your employer, who may view your job search as being “almost treasonous.” Depending on the maturity level of your immediate supervisor, “they may seek ways to punish your efforts, such as freezing you out of discussions and opportunities. And obviously, if the new job you are seeking is with a major competitor, then certainly ethical issues will arise and even legal issues around conflict of interest.  Depending on the job and environment, you may even be perceived as a security threat,” he says.
Another danger is that if you start to focus too much on getting a new job, you may not be giving your full attention to your current employer, says Teri Hockett, the chief executive ofWhat’s For Work?, a career site for women. “You’ll not only be impacting your company, but your own professional credibility. You may no longer be considered for prime assignments and projects, and this can hurt you in a multitude of ways from your confidence level to your networking capabilities when you need them at an all-time high.”
So, to avoid these potential consequences and to ensure a successful job search while you’re still employed, here’s what you should and shouldn’t do:
Don’t tell anyone at work. “Do not share your search and impending departure information with the rumor mill,” Hockett says. Depending on your relationship with your boss, you may want to share information about your job search, but letting co-workers know can make it difficult for you to leave on a good note, especially if they are vying for your job.
Teach adds: “There’s an old World War II saying, ‘Loose lips sink ships.’ In your case, loose lips can jeopardize your current and prospective job.” If you tell one person at work that you’re looking for a new job, you might as well tell everyone. The exception to this would be if your boss has told you about upcoming layoffs and has offered to help you in your job search, he says.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is 100% complete. With so many people on LinkedIn, having a complete profile these days won’t raise any suspicions, Teach says. “Perhaps the first place a hiring manager will look when they have a job candidate is at the job candidate’s LinkedIn profile. It’s best to keep it updated all the time so that you don’t have to rush to complete it when you start looking for a new job.” However, don’t indicate that you’re looking for new job opportunities on your profile, in case your current employer monitors your page.
Never bad-mouth your current employer.  “Even if you are in a bad situation with a tyrannical Vader-like boss, it’s prudent to take the high road, demonstrate some class and ensure that you don’t burn any bridges,” Kerr says. Keep your conversations and your psyche focused on the positive benefits of moving forward, rather than the negative aspect of what you are trying to escape.
Let your prospective employer know that your job search should be kept confidential. Teach suggests that you inform them that you don’t want your current employer to know that you’re looking for a new job and would appreciate it if they told as few people as possible that you are interviewing.
Don’t use any of your current co-workers or supervisors as references. If one of them is contacted while you’re looking for a new job and they’re not aware you’re looking for a new job, you’ll have a lot of explaining to do, Teach says. Don’t put yourself in this position.
Schedule interviews during non-work hours. “Remember the key is to keep productivity up while at work, and missing work hours can directly have an effect on this,” Menke says. “Don’t create a situation where your employer will question your loyalty due to your absence at obvious work hours.”
Try to schedule informational interviews and job interviews before work (perhaps a breakfast meeting), during lunch, after work, or on personal days, if possible, Teach says. “If you inform the interviewer that you’d prefer to keep your job search a secret, they may try to accommodate you by scheduling your interview during non-work hours, which will raise the least suspicion with your current employer,” he says. “You may even consider using unused vacation days to interview since you’d be losing these days anyway if you get a new job.”
Don’t use the company computer, Internet, fax machine, or phone in your job search. Most companies track your Internet usage so anything related to your job search may raise suspicions, Teach says. “Your company may also track your phone use so it’s best if you use your personal cell phone to further your job search, but make sure no one at work overhears your conversations.”
Stay focused on your current job. Continue to perform at or above your current performance level, Hockett says. “It is important to show respect and professionalism to your current employer.”
Kerr agrees. He says you should never check out prematurely or “go on autopilot.” “As difficult as this may be, this is the time to keep doing stellar work, to preserve your reputation and be able to leave, when the time comes, with your head held high.”
Teach says though it can be hard to stay focused on your current job when a job search requires a lot of time and effort, you must remember who is “giving you that paycheck every week or two.”
Don’t dress differently than normal. If you show up to work in a suit and tie because you have a job interview that day but you never wear a suit and tie to work, this will raise suspicions, to say the least. “Bring your interview clothes with you to work and change in the car or in the restroom when you get to your destination,” Teach says.
Don’t mention your job search in social media. “It may find its way back to your current employer, and prospective employers may view your lack of discretion unfavorably,” Hockett says.
Teach agrees. He says you may think you have privacy settings, “but you’d be surprised how many people have access to your social profiles.” Also, don’t forget to remind your close friends not to mention your job search online, too.
Don’t post your résumé on job boards. Menke says it’s highly possible that your current employer will see your résumé posted, “which can potentially create a situation in which you will be let go.”
Always be honest if confronted by your supervisor or a manager. Though most of these points are telling you how to prevent your employer from finding out you’re looking for a new job—if and when they explicitly ask you about your intentions, don’t lie!
“There’s nothing to be gained by being deceptive–if indeed you’ve decided to keep the search under your hat–and it will threaten to bite you in the backside later,” Kerr says.
Slow down the search if you realize you’re happy where you are. You should never completely stop looking for employment opportunities, but if you realize throughout your job search that you are at a great company, that you have a great job, and that you really are lucky to be where you are, it’s okay to be less aggressive and put the search on the back burner, Menke says.
This is an update of a piece that ran previously.