This article appeared in The Boston Globe. Elaine Varelas is Chairman of the Board for Career Partners International and Managing Partner of Keystone Partners.
Q: Is there anything to protect an employee who is looking for a new job? If I ask someone who works at my current employer to put in a good word for me at another company that I’m interested in working at, is that person bound by any laws or policies from telling my boss or senior leader? Or is he free to tell them, if he wanted to, maybe out of loyalty to our employer?
A: You need to be careful about your job search conversations when you are employed. When unemployed, your goal is to network with as many people as possible. While you are employed, your choice of who to include in your job search activity needs to remain limited to those who can support your activity without jeopardizing your job.
There are no laws or policies I know of that would protect you. Using colleagues who can recommend you and provide positive references to a new employer is an effective way to run a successful job search. But select wisely. If the person is a senior leader or human resources person, they may need to disclose the information.
Sometimes what we expect to be “understood” — keeping information confidential — is anything but, so being very direct is the best course of action. If you want to share sensitive information, you need to first let the person know that it is confidential, and then ask if they are comfortable continuing. “Joe, I’d like to ask your help with a confidential situation, but I don’t want to put you in an awkward position at the company. I’d like to keep our conversation between us. Do you think we can make that happen? If not I understand, but I had to ask since this is really important.”
Your risk in sharing this information is, even if you choose not to leave, you will not be treated as a long-term employee anymore.
You will be passed over for developmental opportunities or stretch assignments as the organization no longer sees you as a short-timer.