Sweaty palms. Racing heart. Paranoid thoughts. Covert communications. Secret calls in the middle of the day. Living in constant fear of getting caught.

I’m not talking about how it feels to cheat on your partner; I’m talking about how it feels to look for a new job — without jeopardizing your current one.

You may not like sneaking around; you might even feel like what you’re doing is wrong. But here’s the thing: a job is not a marriage. You have every right to explore the best opportunity for you and sometimes that means making a change. The question is how to do it without feeling like a traitor and without someone finding out too soon.

The Battle of Fear

Looking for a new job is scary. The idea of rejection is scary. Trying to convey everything you’ve worked so hard to accomplish in a cover letter is scary. And the potential of your current boss finding out is really scary.

This fear isn’t just ‘emotional.’ There are very real consequences if your job search is not discreet, including the loss of your current position, loss of income and a strained relationship with your boss.

For some, looking for a new job while worrying their current boss will find out just provokes some anxiety, but for others, the fear is visceral. Living paycheck to paycheck, having a family to support, working in a field that could be difficult to find a new job in… these are all situations when the fear exists for tangible reasons.

Recognize that fear is natural, but don’t confuse it with a reason to stay put.

Here’s the thing: when fear takes hold, it manipulates emotion. As a result, we convince ourselves there are good reasons not to do what we’ve decided to do. In a job search, it often takes the form of loyalty:

I can’t look for a new job now, my company won’t survive without me.

How could I turn my back on my boss, who’s done so much for me?

I should stay put, I’m confident things will get better in time.

If you’ve made the decision to move, you need to remember the reasons why. If you were confident this is the right thing to do and your personal equation reiterates it, then letting statements like those above sabotages resolve. Remember: you have every right to chase your best life. You can still search for a new job without burning bridges by being respectful, discreet and smart.

It’s not a betrayal. Employment is not ‘til death do you part.

Accept that fear is part of the journey because ignoring it won’t make it go away. Distract the discomfort by focusing on strategy.

The Strategy, Part I: LinkedIn

The great thing about LinkedIn is that many are on it, so keeping your LinkedIn profile up-to-date isn’t suspicious, it’s expected. If you do it right, LinkedIn can be your best chance at finding a new opportunity (while remaining discreet).

Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date. An earlier post explains how to Maximize Your LinkedIn Profile, but to stay on topic, let’s outline the necessities here:

  1. If you’ve recently completed a major project that is either notable in your field or that you’re proud of, add it. If you’ve acquired a new skill or professional certification, add them. Anytime you achieve something that helps you build your professional brand, include it.

LinkedIn itself is helpful in making sure your profile is as complete as possible. When logged in and viewing your profile page, there is a status bar indicating how complete your profile is; make sure it is at 100%! The more complete your profile page, the more likely you are to be discovered by employers and recruiters as you apply for jobs.

Listing your skills, describe your current position, include your education… there’s simply no reason not to keep your profile full and robust. It’s a small thing that only helps your job search.

2. As you’re adding to your LinkedIn profile, keep industry or job keywords in mind. These are used by companies and recruiters when searching candidates, so including them improves the chance of being seen. (Location matters too, so be sure to list your zip code.)

TIP: If you aren’t sure which keywords to focus on, start a search for your dream job and look at the bullet points in the job opening. Are any of the bullet points things you’ve already done or know how to do? Use those to describe your experience on your LinkedIn profile.

3. Be sure your profile features a good image of yourself. The photo should be professional, clear and focus on your face. Dress appropriate to your industry. If you’re in finance or law, you should be in a blazer or button down. If you’re looking for a creative director or animation position, your attire can be more casual.

TIP: Smile! Smiling offers a positive first impression to prospective employers. If you look warm, engaging and professional in your profile picture, you’ve given a first impression to hiring managers before they’ve even met you.

4. Check the box that says you’re open to being contacted for job opportunities. (If you’re not sure how to find this, go to Settings > Communications > Email Frequency > and make sure ‘Jobs and Opportunities’ is checked.) This is difficult to see publicly, so it shouldn’t raise a red flag to your employer.

5. Once your profile is complete, join relevant groups. It’s easy to search for groups in your field, so find the ones that most interested you and make sure you engage in the groups after you join. This doesn’t mean try to take over as leader or being loud in your comments, but rather ask questions when you have them (the person who helps you could just be a hiring manager who may be interested in your skill set - or someone who knows one) or offer encouragement and support to other members when they share questions or comments. These groups may not turn into a full network tomorrow, but they are key to long-term growth of your professional network. Building real relationships matters.

Building relationships online is easier than you think. There are numerous opportunities to take an online relationship offline. For example, you could find someone in a group (or just another LinkedIn member) that knows a lot about what you want to do. Send them a LinkedIn message introducing yourself, complimenting their work, and stating that you’d love to learn more about what they do. You could also ask a very direct question if you have one.

TIP: Never ask for a job or an interview outright, but engage conversation about your field. If the other person responds and you build a rapport, maybe request to meet over lunch or coffee (if you live in the same area). LinkedIn is all about networking, so if you do it in an organic way that focuses on adding value more than taking it, this can be a great tool for your career.

6. Finally, ask for recommendations on a regular basis (and be prepared to offer them back).

Whether they be endorsements on your skill sets or written recommendations, they offer prospective employers an idea of what your past and current employers think of you without letting the cat out of the bag. Anytime you complete a project or hit a milestone with your team would be at a natural point to ask for a recommendation.

Remember, LinkedIn is going to be your best and most discreet job search tool. Keep your profile in shape, join relevant groups, ask for recommendations, and use LinkedIn’s job search tool — you may not even have to try another technique to find your next job.

The Strategy, Part II: Job Boards - Really!

Job boards used to be the premier way to search for jobs, but nowadays they’re going the way of the dinosaur. That said, they can still be used to find a job (just not in the exact way you’d expect).

  1. A listing on a job board such as Monster, Indeed or SimplyHired was likely posted by a staffing company, rather than the company actually hiring for the position. So when you find one you like and the name and contact information of someone at the staffing company is included, be proactive and give them a call!

TIP: Before you do, have a resume in an email ready to go. Ask to talk to someone about the position and explain that you’d like to learn more about it so you can tailor your resume accordingly. It’s very likely that the recruiter will want to talk to you right away, which is why it’s important to have your resume in an email ready to be sent. He or she will probably go over your resume while you’re on the phone and if you seem to be a good applicant, he or she will help you customize your resume.

2. If you search a listing and find that it was posted by the actual company, take the same action.

Check the company’s website for a contact number and call their main line. Tell them who you are, the position you are interested in applying for, and ask if there is more information you can have about the position before you apply.

TIP: Before you call the company, take a few minutes to do some research. Find key players in your desired department on LinkedIn to see if you have anything or anyone in common. Read the company’s website and search their press releases or other articles that may be written about them. Take a look at their social media platforms. In the small chance that you actually do get to talk to a hiring manager, you’ll want to be as prepared as possible. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so don’t waste it!

Worst case scenario, they don’t give you any information - no harm done. But if they give you information and don’t ask for an interview, at least you have what you need to make your resume perfect for them. And there’s always the best case scenario - you get to talk to the hiring manager directly and potentially even go through a phone screen... talk about getting on top of the pile!

It might feel strange to call people directly to ask for this type of information - but remember: hiring managers want and need to find great candidates! The better you are at learning their needs and showing them how you can help, the better things go for both you.

An important advantage in taking these routes is that you’re in control of the situation. Because you’re not adding your resume to a job board or sending it to unknown parties, you can rest assured that it won’t land in the wrong hands. There are a multitude of in-house HR departments that scour job boards to see if their own people have their resumes posted, so this is another way to stay off the radar.

The Strategy, Part III: Utilize Your Free Time

Once your job search is well under way, it’s important utilize every bit of free time you have to secure that next role. Before work, after work, lunchtime and even breaks if you get them are all opportunities to hop on a phone interview or meet a company in person. Until the process is complete, just accept that the search is your full-time job — in addition to your current full-time job.

This is where the process of being discreet can get really tricky. Besides worrying that your boss will find out through your networks that you’ve applied for something, you might start demonstrating behavior you don’t normally show at work. Perhaps you never leave for lunch or take a break, but suddenly change your behavior to accommodate for job interviews. This could end up being a red flag.

The only way to mitigate the risk is by taking free time you normally don’t when you begin the job search. Take a lunch break away from the office. Grab a coffee or go on a walk during the afternoon for 15 minutes. Don’t stay glued to your desk all day long, so when you finally start getting interviews, it won’t look weird when you have to step away. That said, when you get back to your desk, continue being the rockstar that you are. Searching for a new job is no excuse to slack off or do the bare minimum of your work - in fact, it’s more important than ever to keep up the great work you’ve always done.

Being a rockstar at work while also spending all of your free time on the job hunt won’t be easy, but if you need to make this change in your life, take comfort that it will be worth it. You don’t want to burn any bridges or raise any red flags, so giving your all until the day you move on is both the respectable and prudent thing to do.

Never Do This!

It may go without saying, but NEVER use your company’s property to engage in personal activity. This means not using your work email address, cell phone, laptop, phone line and more to conduct personal business. Even something as small as checking your gmail on a company computer during your lunch break and replying to a recruiter - don’t do it. Do not engage in job searches, email about job searches, or having job-search-related phone calls on company property.

Maybe they’d never find out, but maybe they would. It’s not worth the risk. Just don’t do it.

Play the Long-Term Game

A career shouldn’t be just a straight line, but is a living, breathing, growing thing. If you think about it as something that will constantly evolve and grow, then you should really always be on the lookout for the next job opportunity. Even if you love your job and have no intention of leaving, keeping an eye out for opportunities, spending time on cultivating your network and learning more skills will help you be on top of your game all the time, not just when you want to find something new.