Joyce Lain Kennedy

DEAR JOYCE: Although happily employed, family matters persuade me to relocate and look for a new job. Until I land new employment, it's imperative that word of my job hunt not get out or I'll be fired. To pull off a secret search, what's the best way to proceed? -- B.B.

In the old days you usually could keep a sneaky job search hush-hush by writing "confidential" in boldface type on your resume, and by reminding recruiters of the critical need for zipped lips. Even in that simpler world, word of your search sometimes leaked as a result of clerical error, mindless gossip or coworker malice.

Fast forward: Executing a clandestine search in today's digital age is infinitely more difficult, as information has become slippery as an eel. News you don't want used travels way too fast and vastly too far to assume your search is a state secret.

Should your efforts to depart the premises be discovered, even if you're not booted out in this employers' market, you'll lose management's trust. To stay in the shadows, follow these seven tips.

No guarantees.

Steer clear of social media such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Forgo sending networking letters by e-mail. Why? Well-meaning pals may jeopardize your job by forwarding your message to A, who forwards it to B, who forwards it to C (your boss, or a troublemaking coworker who drops it on your boss's desk). Activate your network contacts -- carefully and individually -- on the phone.

Recruiters' restraint.

Independent recruiters can be fabulous helpmates in changing jobs -- or blowing your cover. Insist on being told each forwarding address before your resume takes wing. Don't worry about sounding like a nag as you emphasize confidentiality.

Avatar cloaking.

Consider stripping your resume of your name and the name of your current employer, and substituting generic descriptions for any fact that can nail you. (Examples: "Accomplished Process Engineer," "Large Manufacturing Company.") Create a new cell phone number and free new e-mail address for your contact data.

Worried about embedded identifying data lurking in a Microsoft document? Google "Remove hidden data."

Distribution control.

Online resume-blasting services and job boards make it too easy to drop your resume on hundreds, even thousands of companies with a simple click of the send button.

Avoid all resume-sending services, period. Use job boards carefully: Start by reading the site's user policy. Then choose every confidentiality option to mask your identity. Activate blocking features to keep your resume away from your current employer and other companies you designate. Pray.

Minimizing exposure.

When a job ad contains the name of the advertising company, reduce vulnerability by sending your resume directly to the employer. (Yes, bypass the job board.) Additionally, use job board search agents, which automatically sift through posted jobs and e-mail you when suitable ones are posted.

Collecting tributes.

Permit no reference-checking contact with your current employer until you receive a signed offer letter. Instead, solve the endorsement challenge by collecting references from earlier employers, former coworkers who've left your current employer, and individuals whose respect you've gained through professional and civic activities. (Just say you're digging a well before you're thirsty and building a references folder.)

Shrewd searching.

Skip Internet services that ask for too much information (more than name, e-mail and user name); operators may be collecting data to sell to others without your awareness. Disconnect your name from your special search e-mail address. Don't give out company business cards or any work-related contact information (use your own mobile phone). Review posted online profiles for identity tip-offs on your confidential resume. Don't search on company time (duh!).

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Personal Finance - Seven Tips for Secret Job Search