How to job hunt from your current job


A lot of people worry that they can’t get another job because they don’t have time to find one. This is why hunting for a job from your cube is totally standard. It used to be that people stayed in their jobs 40 years, and a job hunt was an earth-shattering event, and there was no Internet. In that environment, telling people to keep the job hunt out of the office was fine.

Today, people switch jobs every two years between the age of 18 and 32. Which means that most job hunts do not have a start and finish—they are continuous. And this is smart, because so much of job hunting is being aware of the market (i.e. surfing at work) and networking (long lunch, anyone?).

In today’s environment, job hunting from the job you have is totally mainstream. Here are tips on how to do it right:

1. Don’t feel guilty.
Employers expect that you will look for a job while you have a job. Your boss probably did it. And your boss’s boss. And if they didn’t, why not? Why would you quit a job before you have a job when every statistic in the world shows that people who are employed are more likely to get hired by someone else?

It would be absolutely impossible to do all your job hunting from home, because business hours are the hours that both you and your possible new manager are working. Get your work done well at your current job no matter what. You owe that to your employer. Beyond that, your time is yours and job hunt if you want.

2. Schedule interviews for the beginning or the end of the day.
The goal is to interrupt your current job as little as possible while you’re looking for a new job. In terms of schedule, this means an interview before you’d typically need to be at work or an interview at the end of the day. In the latter case, you might even be able to get all your essential work for the day done before you leave. Less disruption means fewer inquiries about your intentions.

3. Don’t dress up for interviews if you can help it.
It’s awkward to tell your current boss that you are looking to leave. It makes working with him hard because he knows he’s not your first choice. So you don’t need to be sneaky beyond what is ethically comfortable, but you don’t need to beg the question either. This means that if you have an interview, you can leave early from work simply by saying, “I have personal plans,” which would be true. But if you have personal plans and you look like you’re dressed up, people will ask. Who dresses up for anything at 4pm except an interview?

4. Don’t do phone interviews from your cube.
Your voice will sound insane—like you’re running from the FBI or hiding an illicit phone call from a parent. Which you sort of are, since everyone in the office can hear you, and as soon as there is a hushed voice in a cube, the rest of the office hushes to try to hear. On top of this, there is no way that you will give your best interview when you are trying, in the back of your mind, to convince yourself that none of this is happening.

A potential employer will respect you for saying that you cannot do the interview immediately but they can schedule a time—at lunch perhaps?—when you can leave the office to do the interview. You will sound like a good time manager.

The most important thing to remember is that what you’re doing is in the range of normal and fair. If you sound unsure of yourself during your job hunt, you won’t land a job. So the first thing to get sure about is the fact that you should be hunting. From your cube.

48 replies
  1. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:

    Penelope: This is good how-to advice for the candidate; how about the recruiters? Why do THEY set up interviews when the candidate is at work? Why do they offer interview times in the middle of the day (not at lunch)? Yes, they have to work a job too but may be if the industry shifted its practices as a whole, life would be simpler for so many!

    How about a column for recruiters not pissing off candidates by being unsympathetic and uncreative?

  2. Rick
    Rick says:

    Penelope: Yes, no one should feel guilty about job hunting from within their cube. But you need to be discreet, even a little bit sneaky, and smart.

    In other words, don’t hunt for a job at the expense of your current duties, and don’t use your company’s phone system or e-mail to communicate with recruiters and would-be employers. Even if you believe you can trust your current employer, err on the side of distrust. And as for not dressing up, I agree. Keep your “interview wardrobe” in your car and leave yourself enough time to stop at a restroom en route to your interview.

    Shefaly: I like your idea about recruiters – and potential employers – being sympathetic to the currently employed. There is something to be said about potential difficulty some job seekers might have in securing even a half day off for “personal time.”

  3. Muneerah
    Muneerah says:

    Thank goodness! Hiding my new resume and cover letter was beginning to border on the ridiculous. My one question is, what if you can’t help it and you have to dress up for your interview?

    • Kara
      Kara says:

      If you need to dress up for your interview, just wear nice slacks and a camisole with a sweater or cardigan to the office. Keep a blazer in your car, and just put that on when you get to your interview.

  4. Jen L
    Jen L says:

    Penelope, I think that this is really bad advice. For one thing, most workplaces have policies regarding the use of work equipment. Job hunting while using this equipment could violate those policies and possibly result in being fired. This actually happened to my sister. She was fired for using her employer’s fax machine to fax a resume during her lunch break. And, because she violated the policy her employer had in place for appropriate uses of workplace equipment, she didn’t receive unemployment insurance either. Luckily she found another job relatively quickly, and was not unemployed for long.

    Do people look for a new job while at work? Of course. Should you encourage this behavior? Absolutely not. As a recruiter, I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received from job seekers using their current employer’s email account. Think about this. Why would I want to hire you when I know that you’re looking for a job while at your current job? How do I know that you’re not going to do that at my company? And how do I know that you’re not going to be using your work time and my equipment to do it? Duh.

    The internet is available 24/7. Job hunt on your own time.

  5. Miriam Salpeter
    Miriam Salpeter says:

    Yes, realistically, most job searches will happen from the office. However, you should be aware of your employer's policy about using work computers and networks for personal use. I recently blogged on the fact that your work e-mail isn't private: (February 11)

    Many employers (50%) routinely review email sent by their employees. Reportedly, 19% of employers hire someone whose job it is to review outgoing e-mail. People have been fired for looking for a job from work.

    If you want to time your exit yourself and not be shown the door, it may be wise to conduct your online job searching from home, on a personal computer and network. Since online searching is available 24 hours a day, there is really no reason you can't zap your resume and use email after hours to try to set up appointments.

    Miriam Salpeter

  6. t h rive
    t h rive says:

    True and true. I’m not afraid to go scope out a potential new office (or at least it’s location) during lunch. BUT I have yet to go as far as an interview as I’m not actually looking…

    Also, a company that would want to watch everything you do (or develop some sort of keyword system?) would need to have a lot of extra cashflow. Overall, I’d say who has TIME to snoop on employees internet action? I think most generally want you to be at least worried.

  7. t h rive
    t h rive says:

    @ Jen L – tough luck for your sister. Did she get ‘busted’ faxing this? Who uses fax anymore anyway?

    p.s – i work for a small, friendly company. Different story.

  8. Jen L
    Jen L says:

    t h rive – It happened about five years ago. And she actually faxed it because she was reluctant to use her company’s email system because they monitored it. She was busted while in the act. It wasn’t her smartest moment, which kind of underlines the whole job hunting while at work thing.

  9. tinyhands
    tinyhands says:

    If there is ever an article directed at recruiters/hiring managers, please be sure to note that it is common courtesy to reply to inquiries. Unfortunately, this is all too UNcommon, with recruiters claiming to be “unable to reply to all candidates.” I don’t buy it and I find it lazy, rude, and disrespectful when people cannot perform the job they are paid to do. (Naturally this bothers me about anyone failing to perform their job duties, whether they are a recruiter or working the drive-thru.)

    If you’re a recruiter who is getting too many responses to which to respond, here’s an idea: Take down the ad.

  10. funkright
    funkright says:

    I don’t believe that Penelope is espousing the use of the current employers equipment, but is outlining the fact that you need not feel guilty about pursuing a new position while in the employ of someone else, that you can use parts of your work day to accomplish this (lunch) and what, effectively, not to do in the workplace when working toward this new goal (new employment).

  11. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    Looks like an article aimed at recruiters is now going to be very welcome :-)

    Since there will always be more candidates than recruiters… (hopefully!)

  12. t h rive
    t h rive says:

    @Jen L – that would be like if I got busted changing my current company’s CV template so that I could scan it, insert my profile/work, and email it out.

    THAT would be an embarrassing moment.

    5 years ago was 5 years ago though, so I wonder if things would be generally different surrounding use of equipment at work…I mean, most of us won’t have fax machines at home – but I guess there’s always Kinkos or whathaveyou…

  13. Kathy S
    Kathy S says:

    I’ve been job hunting while employed and I was able to do it outside work hours (it hasn’t been easy) but I do think that it is inappropriate to visit sites like etc.. while working. I do research companies but I don’t go to explicit sites that are obvious.

    Also, I completely DISAGREE with “don’t dress up for interviews”. All I do is leave work at 1PM, go to Burger King and order a chicken sandwich then change in the bathroom into a nice suit and get back in my car and drive to the interview. Just bring a change of clothes!!

  14. MariaMH
    MariaMH says:

    Even though I am someone who is looking for a job while not working, I will say that you should definitely use a personal e-mail account and cell phone, if possible, to do your search. Use a simple e-mail address, preferably with your name like – instead of Set up your Monster, Indeed, CareerBuilder, etc. search results to come to that e-mail address too. The nice part about the cell phone is that you should be able to check your phone during the day (even if you don’t leave it on) and you can create a professional voice-mail greeting instead of the really cute one your spouse came up with that features the chipmunks singing some annoying greeting! And then if you do need to step out to make a call or do an interview, you can use your cell phone in your car (a land line is better because of reception issues but you may not have a choice). If people in your office aren’t too anal and nosy, you can always work through your lunch and schedule a phone interview right before or after lunch.

    And as others have said, you can apply online or e-mail your resume outside of work hours. By the way, if you haven’t looked in a while it is almost exclusively done online – in 6 months I have yet to send a paper resume and cover letter.

    Also, if your dress code isn’t really casual (believe it or not, there are some places you are still required to dress up a bit), you can always wear the pants/skirt to your suit and a blouse/shirt then add the jacket (and tie if you’re a guy) in your car. And, if you’re just starting to look, start wearing the parts to your suits now, then when you wear them on a real interview day, no one will notice. (And as Penelope has mentioned in other columns, if you haven’t been dressing up for work, maybe you should.)

  15. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    When I have an interview, I keep my jacket, briefcase, make-up and nice shoes in the car. If you don’t have a car, perhaps you should get a Zipcar or borrow one the day of the interview. Or perhaps you could carry things in a drycleaning bag.

    I used to like to randomly dress up, just to throw off co-workers.

    Now I run my own business, so it doesn’t matter.

  16. Kale
    Kale says:

    @ MariaMH – good advice w/ the email and clothes. I recently started dressing a bit nicer in my jeans and sneakers office. When my co-workers ask why I’m dressed up, I tell them I’ve been watching too much “What Not To Wear”

  17. Todd Rhoad
    Todd Rhoad says:

    This isn’t unexpected. In fact, we should anticipate that this phenomenon will only increase with time. Looking at the statistics below, one can only imagine how much time actually is spent on what I like to call ‘Plan B.’

    Over the course of a lifetime, the average American changes jobs 10 times and switches careers three times, according to a 2002 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    57% of job seekers utilize the Internet for submitting resumes and applying for jobs, according to a recent survey conducted by the Conference Board, a non-profit research organization.

    34% of people found their last job through a job board online, states a 2005 study by the International Association of Employment Web Sites.

    61% of Internet Users conduct non-work related research and activities in the workplace, according to a survey.

    Research conducted by, a network of niche recruitment websites, shows that the highest traffic period for job seekers to view available job postings online is between the hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm.

    The latest craze for companies is to reduce operating expenses through the transformation to a Virtual Organization (VO). This actually limits career mobility even more than a traditional organization. Job searching will only continue to grow. VOs are just starting up and will last for some time before there is any relief in sight.

    The big question here is not “is it okay to search at work?”, it’s more interesting to know why so much of it is going on. These statistics aren’t normal and seem to be growing. The answer may lie with the relationship between improving organizational profits and the benefits to the employees. Obviously, the return on investment for employees is not where it needs to be.

    As VOs grow, it is useful to grasp some understanding into how they operate and what the impact could be to your career. I address this is my forthcoming book, “Virtual Organizations: 75 Things Your Career Should Now.”

    For help on how to improve career mobility in traditional organizations, read “Blitz the Ladder.”

    It’s going to get a lot tougher in the near future. But it doesn’t have to be if you educate yourself and build your support.

    Never Climb Alone,

  18. Working Girl
    Working Girl says:

    Refreshingly honest.

    Believe it or not, people have always looked for a job while still at the soon-to-be former job. The trick is to not rub your boss’s nose in it.

    Be subtle. Be smart. It’s relatively easy to work your way around not using company equipment, not wearing interview clothes to the current job (good suggestions in the other comments), and not engaging in too much blatant search while you’re supposed to be working.

    You needn’t feel guilty. You never needed to feel guilty, even in the “old days” Penelope mentions. People talked about loyalty and whatnot but it was BS and everybody knew it was BS.

    (The 40-years-at-one-company thing was merely a blip in the history of time, post WWII, pre-now. That was the anomaly. We’re back to normal.)

  19. Lisa Natoli
    Lisa Natoli says:

    i totally absolutely love your blog. i love the way you write, and the way your mind works. i read every day. I should post more comments. You are a breath of fresh air.

  20. Robert Besaw
    Robert Besaw says:

    All good advice. As a former recruiter. I have a couple pieces of advice around the questions in the comments.

    Dress code – If you are meeting the employer directly and not just the recruiter – take your clothes with you and only wear part of it in, leaving the rest in the car. Most places are business casual so if you’re wearing slacks or dockers, wear those in. A button down shirt/blouse look normal enough and leave the jacket and tie in the car. Those are quick ways to get around that. If it’s a formal interview, where the shirt and leave the suit in the car. A quick stop at a gas station will only take about 3 minutes to change and be on your way.

    Recruiters – Most of them understand you currently have a job. I would routinely meet candidates at lunch somewhere convenient to their work. A lot can be told about a person over a meal that doesn’t come out in a office environment.

    If you really need to look at a job while at work, do it at lunch or on your time. I would not want an employee to work for me that was doing other things while he was supposed to be working. That may seem harsh but a job is not an entitlement. We get paid for productivity.

  21. duh
    duh says:

    the comments about email snooping, web browser listing, and packet sniffing are correct.

    Employers can and will read your emails – so use https secure encrypted emails – e.g. hushmail, or your own server.

    Employers can and will eavesdrop on your instant messengers. But also about your web browsing – and it doesn’t take a hireling to do the job, a simple scan of the outgoing web request log will do the trick, and then all IT has to do is have another script that automatically scans for any http://DOMAIN/resumes or /jobs or /careers and associate that IP with the one on your desk. 5-10 lines of code will do it, and there’s packages out there that do this already.

    I personally take this as bad ethics – if you’re unhappy in your job, you should tell your boss, and not waste company time looking for a new job. Howabout just quit and search for one full time while on 2 week severance? It would buy you not only the respect of your former team, but maybe some for yourself as well.

  22. Ariana
    Ariana says:

    I once conducted a job search while employed, taking only the final interview during work hours. I had to meet with the board members at the new company, so I took 3 hours of leave, stating a personal appointment.

    When I resigned, my boss (who was fairly new at the time) asked me to stay and then chuckled and said he knew it was coming from the day I had taken the 3 hours. He made the resignation process easy with his understanding of the fact that people do move on. His well-wishes at the end of the meeting were sincere.

    I’m going to try to remember that the next time an employee resigns—he was a good leader to the end, and I’d work for him again.

  23. Pam
    Pam says:

    Recruiters will almost always be very flexible about when they see a candidate, early, lunch, late. However if you are going in to see people other than the recruiter, you have to understand that the recruiter isn’t the one setting the time, he/she has to work with the availability of all involved and often managers are traveling or just booked so you grab whatever time slot they give you.

    Also, it is imperative that you dress up for an interview! However, that doesn’t mean you have to wear the outfit to work. Go halfway, wear nice pants/skirt, and whatever shirt you plan to wear, and then add tie and jacket on your way to the interview.

    If you don’t dress up for the interview, you put yourself at a huge disadvantage. Even if the company is casual and you’ll never wear the suit again, it’s still a sign of respect to wear it to the interview…and if you don’t, you’ll be up against people who do, and don’t kid yourself that it doesn’t matter. It does.

  24. Steve Errey
    Steve Errey says:

    Of course it’s okay to seek new employment during work hours – and I’d suggest that an employer who snoops, judges and punishes people who do so is an employer who doesn’t deserve your skills, strengths and experience let alone your loyalty.

    I always suggest that people imagine themselves as CEO of ‘You Inc.’, a company of one with you in charge that specialises in offering services that only you can provide in the manner that you provide them. Amongst others, your responsibilities as CEO of ‘You Inc’ are to set a clear vision based on what’s important and relevant to you; to put strategies in place for the future and growth of the company, and to make sure that you’re selling your services to the best clients (i.e. organisations) to enhance your portfolio, track record and experience.

    So the question is one of strategy, and people move jobs so that they can pursue strategies to ensure the growth, prosperity and future of their company of one.

    As for dressing for interviews, it’s clearly down to industry specifics and your own circumstances. I’ve personally aced interviews wearing jeans and a t-shirt (having explained that I’m coming straight from an agency environment and am unable to change) and been offered the job, and I’ve been turned down for jobs where I interviewed in my very best suit and tie.

    The bottom line? You gotta do what’s necessary.

  25. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    Even if the internet is open 24/7, I’m not. I commute at least 2 hours a day and then work at least 8. When I’m not at work, I need to cook, eat, sleep, walk my dog, workout, and take a damn break. And if you work at a desk all day, the last thing you want to do when you get home is go online.

    I thank you Penelope for saying this. This isn’t about being irresponsible. It’s about being realistic about our time and energy constraints.

  26. michael cardus
    michael cardus says:

    Looking for jobs while you are 18-32, keeps you valuable and also aids in keeping your interview skills sharp and resume (CV) current.
    If you as am employee like a workplace you should keep viewing and seeing what else is out there.
    I often send job leads to friends, that I know hate their job –

  27. resume writer
    resume writer says:

    You definitely should not feel guilty for making a move to improve your value and position, but discretion is the key. Know your environment and stay below the radar.

    As a resume writer, I am usually working with clients working the cubical search. Being an online resume service, we can offer the flexibility of after-hour interviews and consultations. Also, when calling clients at work, I am careful when leaving message on general company voicemail that does not specifically sound as though it is the client’s.

    William Mitchell, CPRW

  28. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    I found myself in this situation once – I knew my current job was awful but couldn’t find time to look for a new one. The job was even taking up all my personal time so I couldn’t job hunt after hours. So I quit the job without knowing where I would go next. And you know what? When I called one of my clients to tell her I was leaving the company she asked where I was going next and when I told her I didn’t know, she started recruiting me to come work for her. That was something she couldn’t do as long as I was employed by my current company, since she had signed a contract not to poach the company’s employees. But once I had quit, she was free of that obligation. I ended up working for her and it was a dream job – that would never have been possible if I hadn’t quit my current job before I started hunting for my next one.

    So in my case, it was good that I quit my current job before I started pursuing my next one.

  29. Amy at Career Search
    Amy at Career Search says:

    The key to job hunting at work is to minimize the amount of time you spend doing it. It’s easy to spend hours online on your resume and searching for new opportunities- which is a great way to free yourself up for a new job, when your current employer fires you.

  30. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    What’s the statistic; 70% of jobs go un posted so if you are going to get one it is from someone you know. That means job hunting at work may not be hunting at all, it may be an email from a past co-worker telling you about a job. But this all comes down to keeping your network up to date. One note, if you are going to give your cell phone number to the recruiter tell them that it’s your cell, and though they can reach you anytime you may have to call them back. That will set precedence that if they call you at work and you tell them you can call them back they understand why.

  31. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Why would you need to use company email to contact a prospective employer? Use a web-based email service like mail2web…you just log in with your regular username and password and voila! You’re sending email from your personal email address. You can even BCC yourself on it so you have a copy.

  32. The Office Newb
    The Office Newb says:

    I totally agree with your advice on NOT dressing for interviews. I once worked with a woman who normally dressed like a complete sob at the office–sweatpants, no make-up, you name it. One week she started coming in late and was all dressed up with hair and make-up done. She looked really good too. A few days after that she gave notice.

    If you’re normally a t-shirt and jeans person and suddenly show up at work one day in a three-piece suit, people are going to notice.

  33. Jada
    Jada says:

    While in a job hunt, the question of the interviewing company would be if they can contact my current employer. How do I avoid this? I do not want my manager to know that I am looking for a new position.

  34. Gail
    Gail says:

    I have a question about interviews. Is it better to be the first interviewed, the last or in the middle and is any part of the day better or worse than another? Thanks

  35. Rick
    Rick says:

    Interesting question. Personal opinion: It’s better to be first because you may well set the bar for the rest of the candidates. If you’re a strong candidate and they like you and know you can do the job, you’re likely the immediate front-runner. Time of day, I think, is relative. For me, I’m at my peak in the morning, so I’m most likely to be engaged and fully focused at that time of day (I was interviewed between 8 and 9 a.m. for my current job). If you want to schedule an interview, aim for the time of day when you’re most likely to be your most productive and focused.

  36. done it before
    done it before says:

    It’s perfectly acceptable to tell a prospective employer that your current employer is unaware of your job search and as such you would appreciate it if they didn’t contact them. If they won’t respect that then you don’t want to work for them.

    I have also taken the approach that I would be happy to have my offer contingent upon successful verification of references – e.g. you give me the offer and i accept, but if you call my employer and get a negative reference you are free to withdraw the offer. No one’s ever not accepted that, and in most cases, they skip even checking. But I have other references they can check.

    Is there someone besides your immediate manager who you trust that would be willing to vouch for you? If you have other references from other employers that may be enough.

  37. Jim
    Jim says:

    I have a question. I am interviewed with a company and was talking to the Owner during the interview process and we were both excited about moving forward. Well- the guy knows the VP of Sales at my company and somehow “asked” him about me. I was advised by my VP that I was going to be put on a written warning and they were aware that I was looking for a job. This has caused a LOT of problems for me as know I am going through a horrible hostile work environment. I even ended up telling HR that I felt like I was being discriminated against and then the stepped up the disciplinary process.

    Now I am paranoid about interviewing for other jobs and have even asked this latest guy to be confidential. He hasn’t responded and now I feel everyone talks to everyone and that nobody keeps anything private anymore.

    Ahhh- I just want to leave my current employer, find a human (new employer) who is decent and professional.


    Lost and hopeful

  38. Gerri
    Gerri says:

    This is GREAT news… My mom always tells me “DON’T LOOK FOR A JOB WHILE YOU’RE AT WORK” which leaves me to look for a job – NEVER…because who has freakin’ time to look for a job besides while they’re at work… or at home after getting fired/laid-off/after quitting a job. So I’m pleased to be told that it’s perfectly OK to look for a job while working.


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