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Job shopping while at work

  • Story Highlights
  • It is not wise to hunt for new job while on the clock at current job
  • If caught, repercussions could include being terminated
  • Former worker hated her job so much she spent 90% of time job hunting
  • Prospective employers may wonder if you'll have loyalty to them
Anthony Balderrama writer
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Job hunting while on company time is stealing from your current employer, experts say.

Job hunting while on company time is stealing from your current employer, experts say.

Despite what you might tell your boss, you've shopped online at work.

Whether you say it only happened during your lunch break (yeah, right) or admit that it took an entire morning, everyone's killed some time doing some damage on the bank account.

The Monday after Thanksgiving? Your boss is lucky if you even opened your work e-mail before noon. While that's not acceptable, it's normal behavior.

But have you ever shopped for a job at work? And do you think it's ever OK?

Not the smartest move

You don't need to be a genius to know looking for a job while at your current gig is a bad move. But it happens a lot, and employers aren't oblivious to it.

Charles, who works in a public relations agency, fired an employee for excessive job hunting on the clock. The employee's productivity took a noticeable decline, so he began to monitor her computer habits. Turns out her job search took up more time than her actual job. Not surprisingly, this violated the employment agreement.

"If you want to get fired, by all means job hunt, but your work computer is 100 percent the property of the company for which you work," the employer cautions.

"So even if you are doing the searching at home, best to do so on your personal [home computer]. If your company has monitoring software on your computer, it will record your activity whether you are at work or at home."

You should also consider the repercussions that being terminated for job shopping can have on you, at least in some cases. For one thing, you might not be due unemployment because you violated your contract. Plus, you're setting yourself up for a sullied reputation. Video Watch smart ways to switch careers »

"If your employer sees you are job searching, even if just because of casual curiosity, it sends the message that you wish to leave your current employer, and it could cause them to include you in planned layoffs for which you may have never been considered before," Thomas says.

Susan Solovic , CEO of small business news and advice site, agrees with this assessment. She's willing to concede that employees can spend some time job hunting if they've already received notice that they're being laid off, as long as they don't abuse the situation. But just wanting to get away is not acceptable.

"Spending time looking for another job, while still employed is really stealing from the company," Solovic reminds job seekers. "You are stealing the time you should be working for them, searching for someplace else to go. In this case, wait until you get home and use your home computer and your personal time to do your job shopping."


Some people still job hunt at work. They know it's dangerous, but sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks for them.

One worker, Rita*, knew she wasn't fulfilling her job duties in her previous position, but she was so unhappy she didn't care.

"I was miserable at my last job and it is safe to say I spent 90 percent of my day looking for another job in those last few months I was there. I was sending at least 10 résumés a day," she says.

As much as you might empathize with her position, devoting your workday to a job hunt can put you in an awkward position, says Judi Perkins, also known as "The How-To Job Coach." For one thing, you might leave evidence of your job search lying around the office, either as a discarded fax or a misdirected e-mail. Or you'll be unable to give your attention to your future employer.

"If there's any verbal interaction, such as inquiring about a position, or to whom the résumé should go, you can easily be transferred unknowingly to the hiring authority," Perkins warns. "Under the circumstances, you'd want to make the most of the fortuitous connection, but since you're at work, you'll be anything but comfortable with doing so. And then there's the obvious, someone in your office might overhear you."

Really, just don't do it

Unless you're willing to suffer the many consequences that come with looking for work behind your employer's back (or right under your employer's nose, to be more accurate), you should just wait until you clock out. Put the situation in perspective so you don't make a rash decision, says Elizabeth Freedman, author of "Work 101: Learning the Ropes of the Workplace Without Hanging Yourself."

"When your job is miserable or your company is on the brink of collapse, a decision to conduct a job search on the job may seem like the right one -- but don't let tough times cloud your judgment. Eventually, this recession will pass, and you want your reputation and ethics still intact."

If you're still tempted, Freedman advises you to consider the following before revising your résumé at work:

• Stealing is wrong

"Your days may be numbered at your current company, but until you're fired, decide to quit or are laid off, you're still on the clock and obligated to fulfill the responsibilities you signed on for and are getting paid for," she says.

"Whether you're spending time job searching, shopping or updating your Facebook profile, you're using company time and property on personal stuff -- that's unethical, could get you into hot water, and damage a reputation that you've worked hard to manage."

• You want to be a role model

If you have anyone reporting to you, you're setting a bad example.

"Your job search clearly sends a signal to [your direct reports] that you're not committed to the company, to your current role or even to them -- so why should they continue to work hard for you?" You're not guaranteed to get a new job soon, so your group's productivity benefits you as much during a job search as it has in the past.

• Who will want to hire you?

"Finally, put yourself into the shoes of the company who may consider hiring you," Freedman suggests. "If you're spending so much time at your current job doing non-work stuff, what's to suggest that you wouldn't do the same thing to any future employer?"

*Last names withheld by request


Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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