Your Career Q&A: How to Plan and Execute a Stealth Job Search

By Martin Yate Jan 17, 2017
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​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.  

I have been working as an office manager at a clinic for the past year and a half, and I am about to complete my master's degree in HR. I have never worked in a direct HR position before, and my plan is to move on to an HR job with my new degree. I don't think I should stay at my current position any longer, as I have learned all that I can and feel the deep need for new challenges. But at the same time I don't want my resume to appear as if I am moving from job to job. What's your advice? 

Anonymous 


Your situation needs to be navigated very carefully to avoid unexpected potholes along your intended path. Even though you've earned it, resist the temptation to seek recognition at work for earning an advanced degree. It will make your supervisors wonder if you are getting ready to jump ship. If I was your boss at the clinic, I would think you may feel overqualified for your current title even if you did hold HR responsibilities, and as there is not much vertical growth opportunity in most clinics, I'd worry about you leaving. Being a sensible manager, I'd keep my eye out for someone else who could do the job and replace you on my timetable. That may sound harsh, but as they say, "It's nothing personal; it's just business." 

You say you are not sure if you should stay at your current position. I would advise you never to leave a job until you have a new one, even if your current job is awful—and yours does not seem to be. Over the years I have noticed that almost everyone vastly underestimates the time and work involved in executing a successful job change. You're not changing one fast-food paper hat and name tag for another; you are making a strategic career move. It is much easier to find a job when you are employed because you carry a stamp of employability and are therefore more desirable, and plus, then you have income to pay your bills. 

It seems like a strategic career move makes sense, given your situation and professional commitment. Fifty percent of the success of any project is in the preparation, and that certainly applies to managing the complexities of a job change. You can accomplish this with the least disruption to your life by planning and implementing strategies on these fronts: 

  • Think through which industry or industries to target and what job title to pursue. As a rule of thumb, you should have at least 70 percent of the skills required for your target job. Then build a resume that speaks not to what you have done and feel is important but one that is focused on the skills you bring to the table that are relevant to the demands of your target job.  
  • Become visible to recruiters and headhunters; upgrading your LinkedIn social media profile is critical to your discoverability. You'll need to increase your:
    • Connections with the right people who hold the right job titles.
    • Membership in groups relevant to your profession.
    • Credibility and visibility within these groups.
    • Skills endorsements and professional recommendations to make your online profile more discoverable. 
  • Go to the monthly meetings of your local Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter. You will get to know and be known by the most committed and best connected people in your local professional community; what a way to get referred! You may also have access to contact information for all members. Whether you know them or not, you will probably find them to be very approachable. One of the reasons for belonging to a SHRM chapter is to have a relevant and helpful network, so others will usually help a fellow member, just as you would. 
  • Educate yourself on job search strategies and tactics or you'll get lost in the mass of job applicants who just follow what everyone else is doing, and that won't ensure the best opportunities for your future. 
  • Learn how to turn job interviews into job offers. Having the required skills and credentials is far different from knowing how to sell them; the above link will help with this, too. 

Each one of these critical building blocks for a successful job transition requires time and implementation of the right tactics. Be strategic and make these moves at the best times for you, while you continue working in your current position. Keep the job you have today by using simple common sense: Talk to no one at work about your job search, increase your efforts at work, and make it clear to all that you enjoy your job and work environment. This keeps everyone off the scent that you might be moving, helps secure your job and empowers a smooth transition made on your schedule. 

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!
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