How to search for a job when you work in an open office

You’ll need to take extra care to keep your search a secret.

How to search for a job when you work in an open office

Sometimes there’s just no way around it: Part of your job search will happen during the standard work day. In fact, Monster data shows that Americans’ peak job searching times are Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m, squarely in the middle of business hours for someone who’s already working full time.

Fitting your hunt around your current work obligations is tough enough. But it’s even more challenging if you work in an open office where everyone can see and hear everything you do. And as many as 70% of Americans fall into this camp, according to the International Facility Management Association.

These tips will help you conduct a job search while working in an open office without your employer finding out.

Keep it personal

If you’re using your work email or phone number on your resume, you’re taking a huge risk.  You chance everyone in your office seeing your messages if you communicate on office equipment. “Many companies monitor their employees’ computer use,” notes Cheryl Palmer, a Washington, D.C.-based career coach and owner of Call to Career. Plus, who knows when someone will be looking over your shoulder or you’ll accidentally forward the wrong email to your boss.  

Thus, your resume should list your personal phone number and email address. And if you can’t wait to get home to use your personal computer, use your personal smartphone to do your job searches or send emails to hiring managers.

Know where you can take a call

Taking a call from a prospective employer while sitting at your desk is a bad idea in most workplaces, but it’s especially problematic when your colleagues—and possibly your manager—are all in the same room.

“If an employer calls you on your cell phone to talk to you about an interview, tell them that this isn’t a good time for you to talk, and then call them back when you are outside of the office,” Palmer says. Letting the call go to voicemail and returning it later is another option.

It’s good to have a place in mind where you know you’ll be able to make the call—whether a private conference room that you know is never booked (still, have a backup just in case) or a quiet cafe down the road.

Choose your confidants carefully

Sometimes you might need to confide in a colleague that you’re job searching, but you should do so judiciously. Anna Schumann, a nonprofit communications manager in Washington, D.C. who has worked in two open offices, had to keep one of her colleagues in the loop during her most recent search since that person was her professional reference. So they would go out to lunch together to talk privately.

“Open offices are great for a lot of things, and they’re good for fostering friendships,” Schumann says. You might know several people who become close enough friends you can confide in, but, “it’s a sensitive issue and you need to know who to confide in, when to talk and who will keep it quiet,” she says.

Consider your company culture

Not all companies react badly to employees considering other job opportunities. For example, in the startup world people move quickly, and many employers know that, says Aron Susman, co-founder and CFO of TheSquareFoot, a New York City-based, tech-fueled commercial real estate brokerage and listings aggregator.

“We’ve been about the open office environment since day one,” Susman says. “If someone has plans to leave, we usually know about it from the start because we try to maintain the open environment in our work relations.”

Rather than force employees to sneak around, Susman says they encourage them to be open about considering other positions so the company can accommodate them. If you’re unsure what kind of reaction your job search will elicit from the bosses at your company, ask more senior employees about others who have left. Their responses will tell you whether it’s safe to be less secretive about your search.