You’ve decided it’s time for a change. But, in today’s social media environment, how do you work on a job search if you don’t want your current employer to know that you want to make a job change until you hand in that resignation letter?
A stealth search is the answer for you.
What is a Stealth Job Search?
A stealth job search is conducted a little differently from a normal job search.
In a normal job search, you apply openly for jobs, ask your contacts to keep an ear open for relevant opportunities, and although you might not tell your boss or employer you are looking, you do tell other people.
In a stealth search, you are only going to tell a limited number of people you are looking for a job. Those people might include: close friends or family if you choose, contacts you can trust to keep it quiet, and the people you need to have prepared to be a reference. Anyone else, you simply say that you are interested in building a new skill or learning more about the people who are successful in your chosen career.
In a normal job search, the more people you tell, the better. In a stealth search, the less people you tell, the safer.
Stealth Search Preparation
You need to prepare for a stealth search, just as you would for a typical job search. Before you get too far in, you need the following:
Stealth Search Email Address
System for Tracking Contacts
Your Stealth Search Email Address
Even if no one else reads your email at work, do not use your present employer’s email address for your stealth search communications. The best strategy is to set up a free email address from a service like Gmail, specifically for your job search.
With a new address you can set it up with a conservative name (such as email@example.com) or something that is descriptive of your target career (such as firstname.lastname@example.org).
Your e-mail address is part of your first impression, so it is very important that you don’t use funny, cute, or suggestive addresses.
Of the free email providers, I suggest Gmail. It’s simple to set up on your phone, check from anywhere, and unlike a provider like AOL, Netscape (or even Yahoo) it doesn’t create the perception that you might not be tech-savvy.
The other benefit of creating an email account specifically for your job search is that you are less likely to accidentally send the wrong email to a job search contact or to have your job search contacts receive a spam message from you if your email address gets into the hands of hackers.
Your Message System
You need a reliable way to get phone messages that are private and cannot be accessed by anyone at work.
Your greeting should be suitably professional and include your name, so an employer can be sure they have reached the correct number. Also, make sure you have a way to check your messages at least twice a day from wherever you are.
Your System for Tracking Contacts
Whether you use an app, a spreadsheet or a low-tech paper system, you need some kind of system for tracking applications, conversations, interviews, contact information, and so on, and for reminding you to follow up on your contacts.
These are the types of information you will want to track:
Date of Contact
Date to Take Action or Follow Up
Description of Action or Follow Up
It’s especially important to keep track of anyone who helps you in your job search, so you can circle back and thank them when you do land that fabulous new job.
You don’t necessarily have to have your resume ready before you begin a stealth search, but you won’t want to wait too long and then have to scramble to get it ready if you haven’t updated it in a while.
For a quick and easy resume update, see my post on how to Update Your Resume While Binge-Watching Your Favorite Show.
Make sure your resume is tailored toward your target job, with keywords/phrases that are used in job postings for jobs that are similar to what you want.
You can also ask people you meet in your field to take a quick look at your resume (after it is updated, of course) and provide you with feedback. But, be sure you don’t make a big ask like this one until you’ve built a relationship or done something to earn their time.
Your LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn is a great tool for both networking and job search, as well as a good place to do research.
You don’t have to have the perfect LinkedIn profile to start your stealth search, but having the basics will help. And the more complete your profile is, the higher your profile will show up in search results when recruiters are looking for candidates like you.
The most important areas to complete are your title, summary, current job experience, and education.
Your title and summary are the most important areas. Here are a couple of tips for making your title and summary count:
1-Your LinkedIn title does not have to be your job title (and shouldn’t be unless your job title contains all of the important keywords for your chosen field).
2-Your LinkedIn summary should not be the same as your summary/profile at the top of your resume or your first job detail bullets. You can use the information from your resume to create your LinkedIn summary, but it’s better to introduce it with something more personable.
Think of your LinkedIn summary as how you would tell someone about your professional experiences and expertise if you met them at a professional event, and they asked you about your professional background and philosophy.
When you are working on a stealth search, you will have to make a decision about whether or not to use LinkedIn’s Open Candidate feature. The feature allows you to signal to recruiters that you are open to opportunities. It does not show up in your profile; it only shows up for recruiters who pay the fee for that type of account.
The benefit of Open Candidate is that your profile will show up higher in search results when recruiters are searching for candidates like you.
The drawback is that there is a possibility that a recruiter connected with your organization could see your signal.
LinkedIn does say they try to shield your Open Candidate signal from recruiters that are officially part of your organization or are affiliated with your organization. However, if an outside recruiter is working on searches connected to your organization, or is trying to get business from your organization, it is possible that your “Open Candidate” status could filter back to your employer.
So, you need to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of turning on the Open Candidate signal based on your particular situation.
In addition to filling out your title, summary, and experience, you will want to build your skills endorsements and recommendations. Recommendations carry more weight than endorsements (and obviously, take more work to get). You will want to get at least three recommendations from former bosses, co-workers, vendors, or others who can speak to your professional credentials.
Work on building your network by connecting to people you have worked with or had professional experiences with. Be judicious about the people you connect with at your current employer during your stealth search.
Also, join LinkedIn groups that are relevant to your job and profession. Begin participating in the group by commenting and answering questions where you can, and connecting to people you “meet” in the group through your participation.
*Important note on LinkedIn stealth job searches: Be sure to turn off profile edit notifications while you are making ANY changes to your LinkedIn profile. You don’t want your boss or people or other people in your company see you making lots of changes to your profile; a sure sign someone is job searching.
(Settings & Privacy => Privacy => Sharing profile edits).
Even in a stealth job search, I recommend you line up at least three professional references early on in your search. Obviously, your choices for references may be different than those you would choose for an open job search. You might not want to choose someone from your current job unless you are sure they can keep your request confidential.
When you embark on a job search (stealth or otherwise), you always want to check with your references to make sure they are okay with it, and send them a copy of your current resume so they have your experience and expertise handy when needed.
Generally, to provide a reference list to a potential employer, you will want each person’s current title/organization, phone number, and email address.
Your Stealth Job Search Elevator Pitch
The idea behind having a prepared elevator pitch is to be ready in case you have an unexpected opportunity (if you find yourself riding in the elevator with a VIP, for example) to tell someone about your product (you).
The pitch also helps you in conversations at career-related events such as professional meetings, during informal/informational interviews, and when your friend’s friend—who happens to work at a company you are interested in—asks you about what you do.
Here’s a simple formula for putting together your elevator pitch.
1) Your name and any affiliation you want to mention (including the name of the person that referred you, when appropriate).
2) A two or three sentence highlight of your work experience.
3) A one or two sentence explanation of the career area you are exploring (or specific information gap).
4) Your specific question for that person (if you have one):
“My work experience is in marketing, training, higher education, and coaching. During my career, I have worked in government, small business, a global ad agency, and in my own business. I’m very interested in the consulting field.”
“Are you familiar with the trend of X in consulting? What do you think about it?”
“What do think are the most important skills and experiences for someone working in consulting?”
“Could I talk with you about your experience working for X firm?”
“Could I ask you about your career in consulting?”
“I’ve heard it is very difficult to get your foot in the door. May I ask how you got your job, and if you have any advice for someone wanting to get into consulting?”
The Tactics of a Stealth Job Search
The tactics of a stealth job search are heavily dependent on networking and being visible among other professionals in your industry or field.
If you thought, “oh, no!” when you read that word—networking—you are not alone. In my work with hundreds of professionals on career issues, I have found that the vast majority either dislike or downright detest networking.
It is unfortunate because networking is the one of the most powerful tools you can use for career success. And it is an essential part of any job search strategy, stealth or otherwise.
In my experience, there are three fatal mistakes that keep people from networking and keep them from doing it well.
The First Networking Mistake: Expecting Too Much, Too Soon
Networking is about relationships, not about transactions. And relationships are built a step at a time.
The mistake of expecting too much, too soon, is especially prevalent when someone is networking to find a new job. What happens is they focus on asking about jobs instead of asking for information and advice. That kind of networking (the transaction-based kind) makes just about everyone uncomfortable.
So, what are the appropriate expectations for networking when you are attending a professional meeting, for example?
Should you expect to leave the meeting with job leads? No.
Your goal in this type of situation is to meet some people, have a few minutes of conversation, and leave with their contact information. The real value for you will come in the follow up after the meeting, when you contact someone you met, and have the opportunity for more one-to-one conversation.
If you attend a professional meeting or event with the intent of networking, focus just on meeting people, having a short conversation, and getting their business card or contact information.
Focusing just on meeting people can relieve the pressure that many people feel about networking. You may even find yourself having fun!
The Second Networking Mistake: Assuming the Negative
People are reluctant to network because assume the experience will be negative. They assume that the person they are trying to contact will not want to talk with them or give them advice.
This negative assumption is a natural human reaction. Our brains are actually primed to lean toward the negative when confronted with an uncertain situation. It is a holdover from the days when fight or flight was a necessary instinct for survival. In those days, if you assumed the negative – that the rustling in the bushes was a predator – you survived.
I call this the Principle of Bermuda Triangles of Information, given a black hole or lack of information, our brains are compelled to fill that hole with negative conclusions, usually conclusions that are far more negative than reality.
Once you understand the Principle of Bermuda Triangles of Information, when you set out to network, you can fill that blank space with more positive expectations.
It is not unlikely that the person you contact will be more than happy to help you with the information or advice you are seeking. They could be flattered that you would ask them. They might be having a tough time at work, and need the ego boost that comes with someone looking to them as an expert, with advice to share. Or, they may just enjoy the opportunity to help other people.
The Third Networking Mistake: Failing To Be Persistent
Most people who fail at networking fail because they do not follow up or they give up too easily when things do not go their way.
Research shows that it can take five to seven attempts to make a connection with any one person. But, most people make one, or at the most, two attempts, and give up. They become the victim of a Bermuda Triangle of Information, assuming that the person they are contacting does not want to help.
The key to successful networking is what I call, “polite persistence.” When you are politely persistent, you make a contact, give the person a few days to a week to respond, and if they do not respond, make another contact.
In today’s environment, it can be tempting to expect someone to respond to your voice mail or e-mail immediately. However, if you put yourself in the shoes of your contact, you will realize that even if they have the intention of responding, other priorities may get in the way. Waiting a few days, or even up to a week, gives them an opportunity to respond, and also shows you respect their schedule and priorities.
Get Your Networking Ask In Gear
Some people do not like to network because they are uncomfortable about asking.
But when you do not ask, you miss out on opportunities.
When you do not ask, you tend to fill the blank with negative conclusions because of that Bermuda Triangle of Information.
When you do ask, surprising things happen.
You might learn about a trend in the industry, a new idea or an opportunity that would otherwise slip by.
You may also be surprised at how willing other people are to help you, if you just put your ask in gear.
Who Do You Ask?
One objection people often raise about networking is: “I don’t think I know anyone in a position to offer me a job.”
Remember, networking is not about asking people you know for a job!
Research shows when people find out about job openings through networking, it is not through close friends—those people they think of when they say “I don’t know anyone.”
Instead, the opportunities come through acquaintances or people they see occasionally or rarely, or through friends of friends or contacts of contacts.
This is often called the “strength of weak ties,” based a 1960s study by a Harvard graduate student, Mark Granovetter.
The strength of weak ties means that a person has weak ties with a big universe of people.
The Strength of Weak Ties
Studies show that an individual has a close relationship with about 11 or 12 people. An individual has a more distant relationship with around 150 people. And the average individual is acquainted with between 500 and 1500 people.
So, if you are acquainted with 500-1500 people, and your acquaintances are acquainted with 500-1500 people, just think how big a network potential you have!
Six Degrees of Separation
Do you remember the Will Smith movie: “Six Degrees of Separation?”
The theory of six degrees of separation is based on the belief that any two people are linked through a chain of about six other people.
Now, six is not always the exact number.
But the point is: experiments have demonstrated that any person can be reached through a limited number of other people.
Which means that if you have a particular job or company you’re interested in, networking can get you to the right person, with (give or take) six contact points.
Let’s put this into the context of a job search.
If you were to make three contacts a week, in about two weeks you would connect with the target person on the other end of that chain.
Of course, in the real world, there can be time gaps between conversations or meetings.
But even if you just completed that chain once a month, over the next year, you would have made at least 12 target connections.
How to Get Visible to Recruiters and Employers in a Stealth Job Search
In addition to direct networking, becoming active in your professional community is a very effective tactic for getting visible in a way that will ramp up your chances of getting contacted about job opportunities.
Take a Workshop or Seminar
Taking a workshop or seminar will give you the opportunity to meet other working professionals and to learn a specific skill or increase your depth of knowledge about your field or industry. Every person in the workshop or seminar can be a potential contact for you in your stealth job search.
Get Active in a Professional Association
By joining the association, you will have access to the organization’s materials, including the newsletter, journals, and other educational materials. As a member, you can attend their events, such as conventions, monthly meetings, seminars and webinars, and use those events as an opportunity to learn more about the field, to make contacts in the field, and sometimes even to hear about job opportunities.
When you join an association, you also generally receive access to the membership directory, which gives you a ready source of networking contacts. And as a member of the organization, you have a natural connection to use when contacting other members.
You can also volunteer for a working committee or to help organize local chapter events for your professional organization, which will put you in contact with a wide range of people working in your industry or field.
Attend a Conference
Attending a professional conference in your field will give you the opportunity to enhance your knowledge of the current trends in the field, as well as to make contacts. It also has the advantage of putting you in face-to-face contact with people, so that when you follow up with them after the conference, the connection is much stronger than if you had just “met” them through social media or via e-mail.
If a professional conference is located in your area, you may even be able to volunteer to work the conference in exchange for a discount or complimentary registration. Large, national conferences often look for volunteers who can help out during the conference, and allow them to attend sessions as compensation.
By volunteering at a conference, you also have the opportunity to get to know the leaders of the organization, who are serving on the conference planning committee, and the staff of the organization who are putting on the event.
Volunteer in Your Community
Volunteering for a local not-for-profit organization that you are passionate about is another indirect way to meet people and raise your visibility in your community. Even if it’s not related to your target career, it can be a great way to make contacts.
Applying for Jobs in Your Stealth Search
Running a stealth job search doesn’t mean that you won’t also be simultaneously looking for job postings and applying when you find an opportunity that interests you.
There is no shortage of sites to find job postings, but generally your time will be better spent on more specialized, industry-specific job boards, than on the big, general job sites.
You can set up search alerts (and have them sent to your search-specific email) on many job boards once you know what job titles and/or keywords to target. This is the most efficient use of your limited job search time.
In addition to the big, general sites like Indeed.com, you can use LinkedIn to search opportunities, use industry-specific sites with job boards, and keep an eye on specific organizations. Depending on your industry and level, you might also check recruiting company web sites or work with recruiters.
There are several ways to find job openings on LinkedIn. The most obvious is to click on the Jobs tab and use “Update preferences” to set up criteria like industry, location and experience level (for job opportunities LinkedIn will show you and send you), and use the advanced search to actively review job postings. Make sure you don’t limit this search to your current job title because different companies use different titles. Another way to find jobs is to check the jobs tabs in your groups (this is different than the Jobs tab in your main menu). Also, you can check specific company pages on LinkedIn to see what is posted.
Industry-specific sites include organizations and associations that are specific to a profession or industry (usually a membership organization), and job sites that are specific to one industry or profession.
Why would you want to go narrow when there are big sites that do the work for you?
First, there are job opportunities that do not get posted on the big boards. Second, there are job postings on the big boards that have closed or have been withdrawn by employers that are still visible on the big boards. So you can miss valuable opportunities, or waste your time if you are relying only on a big aggregator site for postings.
Tip: When you do see a job posted on one of the big sites, try to find the post at the specific employer’s site to make sure it is still available, and when you find it, apply at the employer’s site, not on the big board.
Seeking Out Recruiters
If you are at the executive level or in a profession where there is a lot of demand, you may choose to seek out and connect with professional recruiters. However, keep in mind that recruiters work for an employer, not you. Contacting an unknown recruiter can be risky in a stealth search, unless you know the recruiter or know someone who can vouch for them
If you or one of your trusted friends/colleagues has had contact with a recruiter in the past, that would be a good person to connect (or reconnect) with.
Tips for Keeping Your Job Search Secret
- Don’t use your work computer to search job sites.
- Don’t create, print, or copy your resume at the office.
- Don’t use your work email to contact recruiters.
- Don’t confide in your colleagues, unless you are absolutely sure they will keep your secret.
- Don’t suddenly change your work schedule, take your personal photographs home, or change other behaviors that might signal you are looking.
- If you don’t normally wear interview clothes at work, don’t suddenly wear them on the day of an interview.
- Don’t follow other companies on LinkedIn (they show up on your profile).
Ready to Get Started on Your Stealth Job Search?
You don’t have to put your current job at risk to explore new job opportunities. You just need to use the tactics of a stealth job search instead.