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Busted! True Tales of People Caught Job-Hunting At Work

Let's face it: you've done it. Most of us have poked around the job boards while at work, maybe sent out a resume or two while on the clock. Sometimes you just have to take an interview between 9 and 5.

But once in a while payday comes, and not just in the form of a new job offer. Sometimes, you get busted.

Jake, a tax manager in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., got caught no fewer than three times.

Fancy Meeting You Here

The first was early in his career. He went to an interview with a headhunter during a workday only to find his current boss at the office, visiting a friend.

"This was just six months after I was hired and I felt terrible because I actually didn't want to leave my current job," says Jake, now 45. "That one was easy to explain away - I said I was following up on a contact I'd made before I was hired," even though the headhunter had only recently called him.

The second fiasco ensued at another firm which was tracking his phone calls, and noticed frequent communication with an area code in which the company did not do business. The bad news: these were calls with a headhunter. The good news: the area code was in an area where Jake had once lived. That he was chatting with old friends was the excuse he used for his second infraction. "I explained that away and had a pretty good excuse," he says, adding that the headhunter problem is increasing, as prospective employers can more easily find you through a professional networking website, call you, and jeopardize your professional relationships.

Tailed By an 'Invisible' Rat

The third time he was busted job-hunting at work, Jake says that nearly a decade after the first debacle his firm was still suspicious of him. "They actually set up someone to sit by me and monitor me - one of those underlings who like to kiss ass," he says. "I was taking calls from a headhunter and doing interviews on my cell phone in the hall, and he would tell on me." When his boss confronted him, Jake first countered the accusation by saying he was taking a break in the hall. "Then I was like, 'How do you know I'm in the hallway?'" The manager admitted to planting the spy. "Luckily I got the job and left," Jake says.

What's the takeaway? "You can't trust your boss," Jake says. "If they have an inkling you're going to leave, people you might otherwise have thought were invisible are actually watching you. Also, if you do get busted, you have to have a somewhat legitimate excuse other than that you don't like your boss."

Jake suggests avoiding using your cell phone at work, and should you get busted, turning the tables in your favor, explaining that you hope to progress your career and that you don't see opportunities to do so in your current position. "Try to get them to sell you on why you should stay - otherwise you're toast," he says. "The main pointer is not to get caught."

Your Employer Discovers Your Resume on a Job Board

Allison found herself in a highly confrontational encounter with a new boss even though she wasn't even looking for a job. Fifteen minutes after the Philadelphia investment manager returned from a vacation, her boss pulled her into a conference room and shoved in front of her a recently updated copy of Allison's resume, which she found in a popular job board's candidate database, and accused her of interviewing while out on vacation. "I was dumbfounded," Allison says. "I couldn't believe something like that would happen in a professional environment."

Allison says that she has always kept her resume current on as many as four public job-search sites with the understanding that job security is tenuous, and also to remain open to new opportunities that may seek her out. She remained with the firm another two years.

Should she find herself in a similar situation, Allison says she will be honest with her boss about her career and location goals. "Most managers got where they are by taking advantage of career-advancement opportunities," she says. "The thing is to phrase it in a way that they will understand where you're coming from."

Bosses Have Feelings, Too

Tyler Jorgenson says that the busting boss can have their feelings hurt, too. While running a financial services company in Chino, Calif., Jorgenson rounded the corner of a bank of telemarketers to find a recently hired employee looking at a job search website on his computer. "He just looked up at me and said, [in a meek voice] 'I don't know if this is working,'" he says.

"We agreed that when you're on the clock and being paid hourly, that is not something you can do," Jorgenson says. This was mid-2009 at the peak of unemployment, and Jorgenson said he couldn't help but take it personally. "I felt like we were giving these guys an opportunity, and it was hard to see that it wasn't taken with gratitude," he says. "I'm of the belief that if a job isn't working out it's in everyone's best interest to help the employee move on. It just would have been better if he sat down and talked to us about it."

AUTHOREmma Johnson Insider Comment
  • Ch
    27 May 2010

    "What's the takeaway? you can't trust your boss...the main pointer is not to get caught." ...sounds like Jake is the one who can't be trusted...and the writer calls these "fiascos"?....from whose vantage point?

  • SF
    27 May 2010

    I don't think it reflects Jake's true nature. I think it just reflects the sign of the times. We no longer live in an age where people work at the same place all their lives. We live in an age where the work politics and constant need to outsource forces employees to keep a free agent mentality. Show me an employer that is sincere enough to be loyal to their employees and I'll show you plenty more that are willing to screw them in the name of protecting the company self-interest which normally have temporary effects and screws up the company dynamics in the long-run. I don't know this Jake guy but I can vouch from personal experience that it's usually the company managers that screw up the relationship with the employee for whatever reason they may have at the time which is pretty pathetic.

  • Ro
    Rob T
    27 May 2010

    (As I write this on my iPhone from work)
    I've always told my employers that I do due diligence on the job market every 6 months and they have nothing to worry about if opportunities st the company are competitive. Always worked for managers sophisticated enough to understand and appreciate it.

  • St
    Steve Kramer
    27 May 2010

    Jake's motives and methods may be questionable but criticizing him is missing the point. The point is simply this: THERE'S NOWHERE TO HIDE TODAY.

    The secondary point is that you've got to have your defense prepared. Allison's response was good but, in my opinion, not strong enough. Her vacation time is her own and it's none of her employer's business what she does with it [as long as it isn't doesn't violate the company's drug policy (as in going to Amsterdam to smoke pot) or something similar] and she should have told them so in no uncertain terms, especially if she's in an at-will situation.

    There is no job security today and everyone knows it, though some are loath to admit it. We'd all be wise to keep our information out there and current.

  • SL
    26 May 2010

    Let's be honest, Jake will never be happy no matter who employs him. He is the guy at the watercooler who always has something negative to say about the company, his co-workers and what ever else he can think of besides putting the blame where it squarely lies - with him.

    James - Do you feel head hunters are a bad idea?

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