How To Discreetly Look For A New Job While You’re At Work

You can’t always do your job search after-hours. Here’s how to be inconspicuous when you have to do it at work.

How To Discreetly Look For A New Job While You’re At Work

If you clicked on this article, there’s a high probability that you’re considering finding a new job. Maybe you’re actively applying. Maybe you’re just “keeping an eye open” (or you know, just “sneaking a peek” at those LinkedIn job alerts). Regardless of where you stand, though, you know the one cardinal rule: Do not, on any account, job search at work.


Seems obvious, right? You’re being paid by your current employer, and so you should use your work hours to do your job. Even if you’re unhappy. You’re ethically and contractually obligated to do the work they’re paying you for . . . right?

Well, here’s the “unpopular opinion” part. Following that rule–the one that we all know by heart because it’s just so obvious–is actually impossible. We’re about to argue that you can’t not job search at work. And–dare we say this– that’s okay.

Related: Former Recruiters Reveal The Industry’s Dark Secrets That Could Cost You Job Offers 

On Why Most Of Us Do It

Simple facts first. You spend at least 40 hours a week at work, probably more. And you’re not alone. As a society, we’re at work longer than ever. And that’s problem No. 1.

It’s one of the biggest catch-22s of the working world. Everyone has standard work days (more or less), meaning your next potential employer does, too. They’re busy, they’re distracted, and they get to you, the applicant, when they get to you. They go through resumes when they get in on Mondays, respond to questions about timing between afternoon meetings, send requests for a link to your portfolio or references on a 2 p.m. whim. That means all those emails and calls hit you when you’re supposed to be focusing on something else, namely your current job. So you’re faced with a decision: Do you respond immediately to make sure you don’t miss the opportunity, or do you do the “right” thing and wait until after hours?

Back in 2011, a Monster survey found that one-quarter of people are spending over three hours per week searching for a job at work. Presumably that number’s only climbed higher over the last six years. Our access to smartphones means the risk of companies tracking what we do online is much lower. And that means that we’re even less concerned about getting caught.


Actually, a 2015 Pew Research Study found that 28% of U.S. job seekers (and a whopping 53% of 18- to 29-year-olds) use smartphones during their job search. The study also found that 43% of people ages 18-29 and 36% of people ages 30-49 now use social media to look for work as well. Given that checking texts or tweeting personal updates from the office is rampant these days, it’s easy to see why more and more of us are actively looking for jobs at the office.

Related: Five Things To Do When You’ve Exhausted All The Job Boards

On Why It Can’t Be Helped

But just for the sake of argument, let’s say you don’t. You define clear boundaries. You keep your worlds separate. You’re ethically sound with a glorious amount of willpower–the kind that helps you just say no to checking your personal email at work, even when you’re waiting to hear back about your dream job. Major props. But . . . what happens when you get home to an email asking you to interview next Tuesday at 11 a.m.?

In this scenario, all of us feel awkward. How do you ask for time off when you’re using it to potentially leave your company behind? For some of us, there are personal days that we can take, no questions asked—although I’ve yet to encounter that. For the rest of us, our companies just don’t really operate that way.

Most of us, when faced with this dilemma, do some variation of a theme: We lie. We tell our bosses that we have a doctor’s appointment, or we call out sick. And in each of these cases–personal day, sick day, vacation day–we’re using paid time off to talk to another company. We’re missing important work hours simply because that’s how job searches work. It’s a sticky situation, one that inevitably feels a bit like betrayal. But when was the last time someone offered you an after-hours interview? What choice do you have, really?

Related: How To Tidy Up Your Digital Footprint Before Your First Job Search 


Let’s let go of illusions. Even beyond interviewing, we’ve all used work hours to search for a job. Some of us go full-on, scrolling through job boards when no one else is around, and some of us will try our best to just . . . not. But if a recruiter asks you to take a 15-minute pre-screen call without much notice? Chances are you step out into the hall.

Some might argue such moments don’t count as “job searching at work.” You’re entitled to breaks, and if you want to use one to talk to a recruiter, it’s your time, not your company’s. But even if you’re using personal days or lunch hours to work on job searching, every time you step away to focus on finding a new job, you’re taking your concentration off what you’re being paid to do. And every time you step back, you spend more time reconnecting to the tasks at hand.

Until the interviewing process changes (and it won’t), you will job search while at work. The system is stacked against you–from when hiring managers schedule meetings, to the extra hours you have to log to updating your portfolio and resume, thus resulting in creative burnout come Monday. Adding the burden of job searching to an already packed schedule means that you won’t be able to give 100% of yourself to your current work. It’s okay. Repeat this to yourself if it helps: I am in a transition period, and some things will slip through the cracks.

It doesn’t make you a bad person. It means that you’re prioritizing your own career and growth and putting yourself first. You’ll have to accept that you’re cheating a little. But it’s only temporary, right?

On Job Searching At Work The Hard Way

You can’t avoid the overlap, but the trick is doing it in a way that will least offend anybody. Here are some rules you should follow. They’re a little less black and white.

Just Don’t:

  • Use your company email address, phone, or computer for job searching. Honestly, this is less out of respect for your company (although that too) than it is for preserving your position while you still need it. Because yes, in some cases, you can get fired for looking for another job.
  • Over-explain when you ask for time off for an interview. The more fake details about your illness you give, the more likely they’ll suspect you.
  • If you’re updating your LinkedIn, be careful about alerts. It’s pretty obvious that you’re job hunting if your coworkers or, worse, your boss, gets hit with a bunch of LinkedIn update emails when they walk into the office.
  • Share with your coworkers that you’re hunting. At least not yet. There may be a time and a place when you need to use a trusted coworker for a reference, but keep in mind, you’re then asking them to take time away from their work to go to bat for you. It’s a big ask, and one that you’ll need to plan carefully.
  • Slack off. Look, we know it’s tempting, and that some of it can’t be avoided. We also spent this whole article telling you to cut yourself a break. But (because always) you don’t need to scroll job boards during normal work hours. You really don’t. Save the cheating on work behavior for the times it really matters, like when you need to leave early for an interview. After all, you might need those references next time you find yourself hunting.

A version of this article originally appeared on Career Contessa and is adapted with permission.