You’re not ready to go public with your job search, but you want to cultivate higher visibility in your industry and grow your connections to key decision-makers.
Before you go pasting on nametags three times a week, take a couple of lesson in stealth networking. Then consider how your career moves will look to your current boss, and what you’ll say if she asks you why you’ve been so active on the professional meeting circuit lately.
“You don’t want to look sneaky,” said Susan Joyce, publisher of the site Job-Hunt.org. Neither do you want to end up fired for active job hunting – and that does happen occasionally. (Unless they have an employment contract or a union contract, most workers can be fired at will for any reason or no reason.)
“Just do good networking in support of your job” and your employer, Joyce said. The more the networking can be an outgrowth or an add-on to your job, the more it seems natural and easy to manage.
You’ll need other strategies though to stay in stealth mode, including these:
Create careful replies to key questions. Plan good answers for coworkers and people you meet at networking events when they ask: So why are you looking for a new job? Or what’s behind all that schmoozing? If you work in a field that is in flux, you could say something like: “Given the uncertainty in this industry, it’s wise to keep your eyes open for possible Plan B opportunities.” Or “I’m not actively looking, just looking to build my circle of connections.” Or you could craft a sentence or two that indicates how much you appreciate your current assignment or boss, but you’re concerned both could be about to change dramatically. Once you’ve come up with a couple of statements and practiced them and polished them so they are clear, professional and positive, you will never be ambushed by a nosy co-worker who asks why you’re suddenly so interested in professional association meetings or what kind of job you’re seeking. If they’ve guessed that you are actively seeking a job at a company, ask them to keep it to themselves.
Create a job search group. In her book Wishcraft, Barbara Sher calls them success teams. They’re a group, usually six to eight people, who are collaborating to achieve similar goals, or sometimes quite different ones. Joyce suggests creating one for people who are all starting to seek new jobs. Then be sure to meet on off hours and not use any company resources for your group.
Volunteer to go to chamber meetings. This works especially well at a smaller company. It will help your employer become better known, and possibly bring in new business and it will “raise your own personal visibility” too, said Joyce. This is a good assignment to request even if you’re not in sales, as long as you can genuinely promote your employer.
Develop a second business card. In the Boston area they’re called networking cards and they omit your employer’s name or address and give your personal email and contact information instead, Joyce said. “Sometimes it’s more appropriate to give that out,” she said. And sometimes, you may give out your work card and your professional networking card to the same person.
Create a research project. In a post on Yellow Brick Road, career transitions coach Darrell Gurney suggests this stealth networking approach: Come up with an aspect of your industry that you want to delve into; then arrange meetings with leaders to learn from them. Ask some questions about their experiences, then go into “some carefully prepared questions on a very granular level.” This creates relationships and referrals, which could lead to work.
Stay on your own laptop and time. Do not use your professional email address or work time to set up coffee dates or send thank you notes. Your employer may monitor your email, your web usage and even voicemail messages left for you, Joyce said.
Carefully raise your personal visibility. Join a professional association committee. Develop a strong LinkedIn profile and start using other social media sites too. But do this slowly, and gradually so it doesn’t raise questions, Joyce said. And watch what you post on LinkedIn. Sometimes even asking questions about job search or possible openings in a job search group can be spotted by someone else at your employer.
The key is to be low-key and professional in your networking, and also make sure you’re working first for your current employer and exceeding expectations there. If your boss wouldn’t give you an excellent recommendation and your coworkers are bellyaching about your absences, all the networking and brand-building in the world will not compensate.