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Five Ways to Job Hunt Without Being Caught

By John J. Marcus

“I can’t contact these companies for interviews. If I do, word may get back to my manager that I’m looking for another job, and then I’ll be in a real jam.”

“This job posting is for my dream job, but from the e-mail address I can’t tell which company has the opening. Suppose it’s my own? No matter how much I want the position, I can’t risk submitting my resume.”

These fears are common among employed candidates who seek new positions. To prevent detection, they use strategies such as only contacting a limited number of organizations. This may keep them from applying to companies in their field that are likely to value their experience most and provide the best opportunities for greater responsibility and compensation.

Don’t let fear of jeopardizing your current position stop you from pursuing good prospects, earning interviews and landing the job you want. Instead, apply the following search methods that allow you to generate meetings with prospective employers while protecting your identity.

By using any of these strategies, your name doesn’t even have to be mentioned until after an interview has been arranged. In several instances, you can schedule interviews with any company you choose before giving out your name.

1. Use personal contacts.


Employment professionals believe that 65% to 70% of all job hunters find positions through personal referrals. But this approach has another benefit: It allows you to contact companies while maintaining confidentiality. There are two ways to proceed.

The first is to initiate a telephone campaign. Compile a list of organizations where you’d like to interview, then the names of managers you know or know of who might be able to arrange introductions for you at those employers.

Decide who’ll approach which organizations by showing your list of target companies to each contact. Ask your sponsors to arrange interviews with line managers rather than members of the personnel department. The latter can’t create a position for you and usually aren’t aware of managers’ future hiring plans. This approach typically works to your advantage because your sponsor has a relationship and considerable credibility with each manager he or she calls, which provides you with credibility. Additionally, your sponsor doesn’t need to reveal your name unless an interview is arranged.

The more contacts you can elicit to make calls for you, the larger the “sales force” you create to help with your search. You may be amazed by how effectively your network functions. This was the experience of Ezra Marcus, a television news reporter for WLIG-TV in Riverhead, NY, who wanted to work in a larger market in Florida.

Mr. Marcus discussed his goal with several trusted friends. One confidant responded by saying he knew Gary Wordlaw, news director for WMAR-TV in Baltimore, who had extensive contacts in the Florida market. A meeting was arranged, and Mr. Wordlaw offered to call television news directors in Florida on Mr. Marcus’s behalf.

A few weeks later, Mr. Marcus received a call from Bob Morford, news director at WTVX-TV in Ft. Pierce, Fla. By the end of the conversation, Mr. Morford felt confident enough of Mr. Marcus’s capabilities and qualifications to offer him a job, which Mr. Marcus promptly accepted.

“I put great stock in Gary Wordlaw’s evaluation of you,” he told Mr.Marcus, “and I feel I don’t even need to meet you in person.”

The second way personal contacts can assist is by writing letters to managers who might have a need for and want to hire someone with your qualifications. Your sponsors don’t have to know these hiring managers.
They only need to hold respected positions in the same field. The name of their employer, along with their title in the signature block, will give them-and you-the necessary credibility. If you’re fortunate enough to have
a sponsor who’s well-known in your industry, his or her endorsement will have even more impact.

This letter should say that the writer represents an eminently qualified person who wishes anonymity because of a current employment situation. After describing your qualifications, your sponsors should state their
willingness to arrange an interview with any hiring manager who wants to meet you.

Roger Cross, an advertising manager at Compumart Corp., a distributor of computers in Cambridge, Mass, wanted to change jobs within the computer industry but didn’t want his employer to know he was looking. He enlisted the aid of a well-known advertising executive in the Route 128-technology corridor on the outskirts of Boston. After composing a letter to hiring managers with his sponsor, Mr. Cross produced 50 personalized copies on his home computer for the executive’s signature.

The mailing drew an impressive response, and a month later, Mr. Cross was hired as director of advertising at another Boston-area computer company.

2. Develop relationships with contingency recruiters in your field or industry.

There are two types of firms, retained, which are paid regular fees even if candidates they suggest aren’t hired, and contingency, which are paid only if candidates they propose accept jobs. Many specialize in certain
functions or industries, and it’s best to contact those in your field.

Retained firms usually work on assignments paying more than $85,000 annually. If you only work with retained recruiters, you don’t have to worry about jeopardizing your employment since they never “broadcast” names
of candidates. Remember, though, that these firms are employed by companies, not candidates, and seek individuals who backgrounds match a current search assignment. If you lack the credentials they’re seeking, they won’t market you to employers.

Contingency recruiters typically fill positions paying between $30,000 and $85,000 and are constantly proposing names of marketable candidates to employers. Since contingency recruiters are more likely to suggest you for more openings than retained consultants, your privacy may be threatened. Make sure these recruiters understand certain ground rules, such as never mass-mailing your resume to employers and always contacting you before proposing you for an opening. It might help to propose a list of companies where you’d like to interview.

Karen Young was a project coordinator servicing five pharmaceutical accounts at the William Douglas McAdams advertising agency in New York. When she felt ready to become an account executive, she contacted Bill
Arsenault, a contingency recruiter who specializes in the advertising industry.

Mr. Arsenault knew that Young & Rubicam’s Sudler & Hennessey subsidiary in Manhattan had an opening for an account executive on the Zeneca Pharmaceuticals account. He arranged an interview for Ms. Young, and it went so well that within a week she was offered and accepted the position.

3. Answer newspaper ads

Companies that solicit responses from job hunters through classified ads should be willing to protect them. However, mistakes can happen. So in the case when its name doesn’t appear, to ensure anonymity, use either of the following tactics.

Respond to the ad by having someone else write a letter in your behalf. Ask someone who’s known or holds a high-level position in the company’s field to sign the letter and serve as an intermediary.

*The second way to ensure confidentiality is to provide a post-office box number as your return address, instead of your actual name and address. This method isn’t as effective as the previous one since many employers
eliminate applicants who don’t identify themselves.

4. Answer “blind” ads, which don’t identify employers

These ads ask you to respond only to a box number, and your immediate reaction may be to shun them since you don’t know the company’s name and fear inadvertently responding to your own employer. But since you can often learn the identity of companies using blind ads, you shouldn’t automatically eliminate this approach.

For ads that list a U.S. post-office box number, call the post-office branch listed in the address and ask for the name of the advertiser. The postal service may provide the name of the organization and contact information as long as the box was rented by a company and not an individual.

If the advertiser uses a newspaper box number, learning the name is more difficult. Some states require newspapers to comply with requests to identify advertisers, so start by contacting the paper’s classified advertising department and asking for the name.

If these approaches fail, try a trickier method. Respond to the ad with a perfect, one-page resume (not your own) that includes a bogus name and a friend’s address and phone number. If the employer calls, your friend should say that you’re not available and ask for the name of the organization. You can then decide whether to apply for the opening. This method is devious and may not appeal to you, but it does work.

Another approach is to answer the ad, but use a post-office box number for your return address. Blind-box advertisers are more likely than identified advertisers to contact applicants who use post-office addresses.

5. Place a “Position Wanted” ad.

This strategy won’t produce many interviews, but it may be worth placing an announcement of your availability in a national employment publication or trade magazine in your field. The ad should state the title of the position you’re seeking and briefly list your key qualifications. For a typical one-column ad, you don’t need more than five to 10 lines of type.

Employed job-seekers don’t always realize how many options they have for contacting companies without their employer getting wind of it. Choose the methods that seem best for your situation, then apply them with as much determination as you would if you weren’t worried about confidentiality. You’ll feel doubly rewarded when you land a new position without having jeopardized your current situation.

Copyright © 1997 Dow Jones and Company

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