Looking for jobs when you’re already employed can feel awkward, like you’re cheating on your current employer. There are the logistical issues that come with scheduling interviews during your work day (how many “doctor’s appointments” can you really get away with?), as well as the guilt you might feel about sneaking around.
The thing is, applying for jobs is a natural part of your professional work experience. In fact, potential employers take it as a good sign when a candidate is already employed, says Danny Roberts, Senior Technical Recruiter at Skillacademy. “Recruiters are looking for people who don’t have huge gaps in employment, who are fresh in their current role, and who are ready for a leap,” he says.
That said, it can still feel kind of shady. Here’s how to make time to look for jobs when you already have a job, and ways to be discreet and respectful about it.
Clear your schedule for interviews
Fitting a job interview into your already hectic work schedule is tough, but it’s worth it to allot ample time for the call or meeting.
If your interview is on the phone or over Zoom, find a quiet space where you know you’ll have privacy to speak freely. Sometimes, you have to get creative: “I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people in hallways, stairways, cars in parking lots, or conference rooms — all kinds of crazy places trying to be quiet and private,” Danny says. And if your interview is IRL, make sure you’re factoring travel time into your schedule.
Consider scheduling the call before or after work hours or during a lunch break if you can. Sometimes you need to resort to a white lie and block off your calendar for an “appointment” to take an interview uninterrupted.
Avoid doing interviews when you’re preoccupied with another task, like commuting, Danny says. “If you’re not present, and you’re not being your full self, it feels very dismissive to the person you’re talking to,” he says.
Narrow your search
A common mistake that people make when they’re applying for jobs is thinking that the wider you cast your net, the sooner you’ll catch something, Danny says. In truth, “you end up watering down your process and burning yourself out,” he says.
Instead, be selective about the jobs you’re applying to. If you’re just flinging your resume anywhere it lands, “you end up wasting a lot of people’s time, including your own,” Danny says. Not to mention, you end up burning yourself out trying to stay on top of everything you have to do at your current job.
Spread out your references
You’ll probably have to provide references at some point in the job-search process. If you’re currently in a role, the good news is you’re not expected to get a referral from a coworker or boss at your current company, Danny says.
Typically, people choose references from a job that they had prior. If this is your first job, you could ask a teacher, mentor, coach, or club member who knows you well enough to speak to your work ethic. “Try to scatter [your references] to give a sampling of people from different stages of your career, as well as different stakeholders you’ve worked with,” Danny says. References generally understand that they should keep the details about your job search private, so don’t stress about them spilling the news.
Manage your time
Job-searching can be so involved and intensive that it can feel like having another full-time job. In addition to phone, Zoom, and in-person interviews, you might have homework, multi-stage projects, and presentations to prepare on top of balancing your current day-to-day responsibilities.
Working on a job application or take-home project for a new job while you’re technically on the clock is generally considered bad form. Instead of waiting until the end of the day to sit down and start applications, think about when you’ll feel the most productive. First thing in the morning? At 9 p.m.? Sunday after you’ve slept in? “Think about the time you’re setting aside for each one, so that you can really shine and be at your best,” Danny says. If you have paid time off, you might want to devote a day to prepare for interviews or work on application assignments.
For the most part, recruiters and hiring managers are understanding about the amount of time and effort that goes into job-searching. Be realistic about your workload and don’t be afraid to ask for some flexibility, like more time to complete a project or a later interview date than they suggest. You can frame it like this: “I want to make sure I devote the appropriate time and attention that this assignment deserves, while also meeting the expectations in my current role.” That way, it’s clear that you’re enthusiastic about the opportunity, but still taking your position seriously.