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Hit The Ground Running

How To Secretly Apply For A Job At Your Company's Top Competitor

There's nothing wrong with eyeing the competition when it's right for your career—just be careful how you go about it.

[Photo: Flickr user foam]

There comes a time in your career when the company you work for just doesn’t do it for you anymore. You don’t feel the same thrill you once did when you see your employer’s logo first thing in the morning, and your willingness to hang around the office after working hours is rapidly declining. If you like what you do but not where you’re doing it, there’s a good chance the competition is looking mighty fine right about now.

Let’s get something straight: Eyeing the competition does not mean you’re a terrible person. Sometimes it’s simply the most strategic career move, particularly if your firm’s rapidly losing market share or your bosses don’t have you on a promotion path.

All that said, you do not want to get caught on this job search strategy. If your company finds out you’re thinking of defecting—and then you don’t get the job or whatever—you could end up losing the perfectly okay position you have now, especially if you share information you’re not supposed to. These tips can help you explore your options without raising any red flags.

1. Check Your Contract

Before you make any public moves, check to see if your current employment agreement includes a noncompete clause. Also check for a nondisclosure agreement, or NDA, which governs what information you can share about your work. The agreement will often specify constraints based on time and geography, for example.

Each state generally has its own laws and guidelines regarding noncompetes and other types of restrictive covenants, says Erin Kilgore, an attorney with Kean Miller in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who specializes in employment law. To make sure you’re not breaking any contractual agreements, check with an attorney before you begin your job search.

Fudge Your Resume (It’s Okay, We Promise)

If you signed an NDA, your promise to protect confidential information also applies to your resume, which needs to showcase your achievements and abilities without giving away company secrets.

Omit all mentions of new products, business plans, strategies, and any other instances where you’re offering insider knowledge. Protect your current employer’s privacy by sharing financial results as percentages, rather than hard numbers, says Fred Coon, CEO of Stewart, Cooper & Coon, a Phoenix-based human capital strategies firm. You may also need to redact names of clients with whom you worked. For example, you might write, "Represented a large retail store," rather than outright naming the store. (Again, check the details of your current agreement to see what level of disclosure is permissible.)

Police Your Peeking

The easiest and lowest-risk way to look for a job with the competition? Search online. In addition, follow their social media feeds. Keep your eyes and ears open to what the company is up to. Just make sure you don’t use your current employer’s networks to perform any aspect of your job search, advises Ben Brooks, an executive coach in New York City. Use your personal email, on your personal devices, on your own time. You may even need to be careful about your smartphone, if your employer provided it to you for work.

Save yourself a bunch of time by setting up job alerts online. This way, all opportunities land discretely in your inbox for you to check out once you get home.

Networking is another good way to learn about potential openings at the competition, but it’s a small world, so as you’re talking with colleagues on the other side of the fence, don’t show all your cards at once. After all, you never know who is a friend of your current boss. And if you do feel like you can trust someone to tell them you’re looking, you should specifically say, "This is a confidential."

Enlist The Help Of Pros

Working with an executive recruiter can also help you maintain a low profile. They can negotiate the search on your behalf, protecting your identity until it’s necessary to disclose it.

"Within any given function or level, there are typically four to five executive search consultants who are handling 75% to 90% of the search assignments in which you would be interested," says Jason Hanold, an executive recruiter with Hanold Associates in Evanston, Illinois. "So get to know the best of the best executive search partners within your functional area or level."

Ferret out the top search partners by attending industry events and seeing which recruiting firms are prominently represented. Reach out to the heads of industry associations to see who they’d recommend as a third-party recruiter.

"Within certain industries or geographic markets, word can travel fast that someone is [job searching]," Brooks says. "Disclose your interest to recruiters with a solid track record and reputation, and those who understand your need for discretion."

For the most part, you don’t need to be paranoid. "These headhunters have it in their best interest to not blow your cover," notes Vicki Salemi, Monster’s career expert and a former recruiter. "They get paid a commission for every hire they make, so if something happens to deter you from getting hired by the competition, there goes their commission."

Take The Plunge

And if you do happen upon a job from your rival listed on Monster? "Yes, it is safe to apply to a job with the competitor online," says Salemi, who reinforces the importance of applying on your own computer and on your own time.

You might well find yourself getting a quicker response than you have from any previous job application, she adds.

"In my experience," says Salemi, "if you applied from a competitor, you were immediately a hot prospect. The mentality was that if our competitors deem you worthy of hiring, then we should, too."

This article originally appeared on Monster and is reprinted with permission.

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