Career Advice

Get Caught Job Searching at Work? Here's How to Turn it Around

A new year means countless people are looking for a new job. The problem though is they are often doing it on the company’s dime. While it’s unethical to say the least, getting caught in the act during work hours can be downright damaging. For one thing, your employer is paying you to perform a task not apply for jobs which will make you look bad, and accordingly it could force you to make a move sooner than you planned.

“No matter what the employer is doing you are still getting paid so you have to be sensitive to that,” says JD Conway, technical recruiter and talent acquisition partner at BambooHR. But if you do it anyway and get busted “only good can come out of you owning the situation.”

Get busted, own up.

In this mobile and technology driven employment market it’s easy to jump on a job search website or send your resume from your iPhone all the while sitting at your desk “working.” While it only takes a few minutes, add that up over the course of a week and that’s a lot of lost productivity for the company that is paying your salary. Most career experts say to save the job searching and interviewing to lunch breaks, free time or before or after work hours. That way you won’t be wasting your company’s money and if you do find a new job you can exit gracefully.

But if you didn’t heed that advice, and your boss found out, you need to address the situation head-on instead of letting it get worse. “If you know that your manager found out you were looking for jobs, address the situation and talk about it with them. Own up to your mistake, and apologize,” says Adam Ochstein, founder and CEO of StratEx, a Chicago-based firm HR software company. “Have an honest conversation about why you’re looking, what about your current position makes you unhappy, and what would make you happy in the role.”

Don’t use it as leverage if you don’t want to stay

Getting busted looking for a new job on the company’s dime can only result in a couple of scenarios, both of which require you to own your actions. If you deny it or otherwise pretend nothing happened than it will sour your relationship with your boss and worse tarnish your reputation in the industry, particularly if you are in a field where everyone knows everyone.

Conway says on the one hand your boss may find out about your hunting and wish you luck but it can also open up dialogue about your career trajectory within the organization. “It could be a really good time to address concerns or changes within the company or department that your boss should have considered or should be considering in the future,” says Conway. Not to mention it can be a lesson for the employee to speak up when they are unhappy and give their company a chance to counter or make it right before starting a job search, he says.

For employees who do get busted looking for a job but don’t actually want to leave, trust could become an issue, said Ochstein. Employers will now worry that you are planning to leave or will easily jump ship if you don’t like what’s going on. Ochstein says in order to fix that, the trust will have to be rebuilt on both sides. “Employees need to ask themselves, if they were ready to look for a job while working at their current position, do they want to fix the relationship there or do they want to move on,” he says. After all the last thing you want to do is accept a raise or new role and leave three months later anyway.

At the end of the day, one of the worst things a busted employee should do is use the situation as a way to get more money out of their employer. Even if the company counters and gives you a raise they will always question your loyalty going forward. “You don’t want to look like a mercenary,” says Conway. “It will destroy loyalty if you look like only money matters.” Ultimately, nothing can protect a reputation more than being honest and acting with integrity even if the company doesn’t.