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Keeping It Under Wraps

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An irate job seeker recently shot off this query to recruiting firm Talent Zoo's online advisor: "I am pissed. I sent my resumé to a place I'll call DDBO. No one ever called me. Yesterday my phone rings and it was a place I'll call BBD. They had my resumé and wanted to know when I could interview," wrote Pissed off in NYC. "They then told me the nice folks DDBO, their sister agency, sent it to them. ... In case you're wondering why I am so pissed, it's because the person they want me to now interview with is my current boss' wife. .... Have you heard of this, and is this even legal?"

For those of you who have ever surreptitiously made resumé copies at work or placed a phone call to a potential employer while cowering in an empty conference room, the above story may quicken your heart rate. Looking for a new position can be tricky, and may even be perilous to your job. To avoid blowing your cover, experts offer strategies that may keep the search under wraps until you're ready to let the world know you're moving on.

Obvious though it may be, it's worth mentioning that the best way to keep your new-job craving quiet is to not talk about it. "Only tell people who you absolutely have to tell, i.e., the people you list as references," said Ragan Jones, associate vice president at Talent Zoo in Atlanta. "Blabbing to a coworker is a sure-fire way to have your boss find out you have a wandering eye."

Marking your resumé with a "confidential" stamp may deter agencies from forwarding it along to a sister shop without your permission—which, incidentally, is not illegal, according to Talent Zoo. In fact, some shops see it as a matter of staying competitive. "I do it a lot within the Euro network, less within the Havas network," says Aaron Kwittken, CEO of Havas-owned Euro RSCG Magnet, New York. "If you like a candidate but you don't have a position for them, why not keep them within the network rather than let them go to a competitor?"

So, just because you write "confidential" on your resumé, don't assume it won't get into the wrong hands, said Bill Heyman, president and CEO of Heyman Associates, a recruitment firm in New York. "There are various degrees to how important a job is. If it's not something you want to risk, use personal networks, and only talk to people you truly think you can trust."

Job candidates have to be prepared for exposure. "As soon as your resumé is out, expect the whole world to know," said Kwittken.

For years, job seekers have safely posted resumés on Web sites like Monster.com; in fact, for many, search engines have become the primary tool for finding new employment. "However, what people don't think about is that they're tools for us as the hiring managers, and therefore, we're using them all the time, too," says Melissa Rose, director of HR at independent ISM, Boston.

At Rose's old job (a large holding company-owned agency), she got into the habit of looking for her agency on the search engines: "I was intrigued to see the resumés of those who used to work for us." Then one day, she stumbled upon the resumé of a current employee. "She was pretty horrified when I told her I had come across her resumé. It never dawned on her that someone at her current agency would see it," said Rose. One way to avoid a similar scenario is to post your resumé with your current employer hidden.

This kind of exposure occasionally leads to a happy ending. Rather than confront the staffer's supervisor, Rose met with her privately and discovered that she wanted to switch from media to account management. "Her job search was now not a secret, but we turned it around to say, 'Hey, maybe you didn't need to be searching in the first place.'" After a few months, she eventually made the switch within her agency.

When all is said and done, networking is the safest route. Boston-based MMB's managing partner Chad Caufield tells the story of passing his resumé to his wife's sister. "I thought she was going to help me make it look better." Instead, she sent it to an art director friend at Interpublic Group's Mullen in Wenham, Mass. "I gave her my resumé on Thursday, and a guy called me on Friday to set up an interview," he said. "I had a job offer on Monday."