How to Keep Your Job Search Under the Radar

Published on: Jul 27, 2021

Well, this is awkward. You’ve decided to look for a new job, but you don’t want your current employer to know you’re searching. What can you do?

First of all, let go of any guilt. No matter how well you’ve been treated by your boss (or how poorly, for that matter), sometimes you just need to move on. You might be burned out in your job, or you could be hoping to practice more in your specialty, or perhaps you’re seeking a greater challenge than your employer can offer you. Whatever your reason(s) for leaving, it’s a normal part of being an employee. As for your patients, students, or colleagues—of course you’re torn about leaving them. But if you’ve made your decision, then the success of your transition might depend on putting your feelings aside.

Why such a secret?

Consideration for others is one reason physicians choose to keep a job search confidential, at least in the early stages. It can be very disruptive to a department or practice to know someone is leaving but not know when. Likewise, although patients appreciate ample notice for switching doctors, a months-long goodbye can prove unsettling.

Speaking of patients, there’s also a business reason for not broadcasting your departure too far in advance. People seeking a new physician might be less likely to choose you if they know you will be leaving soon. While it might seem only fair for prospective patients to have that information, what if you don’t follow through with your plan or can’t find a suitable new job? If you end up staying, you don’t want to be needlessly scrambling to refill your patient schedule.

One more reason to keep a low profile while you’re job searching: If your boss knew you had been looking but couldn’t find what you wanted, you could be eating a major piece of humble pie. You could also lose leverage when negotiating changes to your current job. It’s hard for employers to invest resources in employees they consider a flight risk.

Preparing to conduct a low-profile search

If your plan is to stay below the radar with your search, you’re living in the right time. Today’s technology makes it more possible than ever to have private conversations and conduct research without being obvious about it. To take advantage of these opportunities, you’ll need to make some initial decisions about the geographic location of your new work and about the work itself. Basically, what kind of job do you want, and where? Being able to answer these questions lets you focus your outreach and conversations, which shortens your search and reduces the amount of “side chatter” that could lead back to your current employer.

Once you know what and where your next work will be, it’s time to dig out your employment contract, complete with its non-compete clause. If you have no non-compete, then no worries. But assuming that you do, you’ll need to know the parameters: How long are you restricted after leaving your job and what territory is covered by the restriction? If you discover that your contract conflicts with your goals, don’t panic. Depending on the situation, there may be a way to negotiate a favorable compromise with your employer. This would be a good time to talk with an attorney who specializes in medical practices to learn your options.

Finally, you’ll need an updated CV before you’re ready to launch your job search. If it’s been awhile since you last looked for a position, it’s smart to go the extra mile in preparing your CV. Rather than simply adding your current role to the top of the employment section, consider having your document remade professionally. Or, as middle step, submit it to the low-cost AAN CV review service at for recommendations on ways to refresh and modernize your document for today’s readers.

Ready, set, shhhh

Job goal, geographic goal, non-compete strategy, refreshed CV—check, check, check, check. It’s all systems go to launch your job search, but quietly. Here are three excellent resources to help you conduct an efficient but confidential search process.

1. The AAN’s Neurology Career Center. This is your go-to place for hundreds of current job postings in neurology, as well as helpful articles and tools to guide your job search process. Start by completing your confidential candidate profile and upload your CV to complete your file. Now when you see an interesting posting, you’ll be able to respond and apply in minutes.

2. Online job fairs. The Neurology Career Center hosts a virtual job fair online every three months, making it easy for you to connect directly with a dozen or more employers in a single session. If you haven’t tried this before, you’ll love the efficiency of using just a few hours to accomplish what would otherwise take days or weeks in terms of one-on-one meetings with currently-hiring employers. Best yet, these discussions are completely private, unlike in-person events where others can see you visiting employer booths.

3. Recruiters. When you feel pressed for time or need help making headway, recruiters can bring a welcome burst of activity to your job search. Once you tell a recruiter your work and geographic goals, he or she can search databases for opportunities that fit, then make the connection between you and the employer. You may also benefit from the recruiter’s counsel in terms of your goals and expectations.

Two things you should know, though—first, it’s common for recruiters to push the envelope a bit by bringing you opportunities on the edge of what you requested. You can always say no, so this isn’t really a problem; indeed, many doctors have found themselves delighted by taking jobs they wouldn’t have thought of pursuing. The second thing to know is that a recruiter’s candidate database can have a surprising half-life. That is, unless you explicitly request otherwise, recruiters have been known to shop their candidate CVs to employers even after a new position has been secured. Forewarned is forearmed: Ask the recruiter about their practices and make your wishes clear.

Tricky situations

For the most part, it’s very doable to conduct a job search under the radar. But there are some situations that take a bit of finesse or strategy. For example, if the position you want is internal—with the same employer, but in a different department—you’ll need to be quite strategic to keep things under wraps while you explore your options. In this case, it makes sense to shorten the “secret” stage of your job search as much as possible, to lessen the chance your boss will hear about it from someone other than you.

Likewise, using your normal network and references can also make it harder to keep your search confidential. And yet, you don’t want to forgo the important boost these colleagues and mentors could provide. One strategy to consider is to bring just a few people into your confidence, at least at the beginning. Once you’re ready to go public with your new job, first make individual calls or send personal emails to others in your network so they are nearly “first to know.” This will help preserve these important relationships without compromising your initial need for privacy.

Speaking of the initial need for privacy—don’t forget to state somewhere in your cover letters when you respond to postings, “Thank you for keeping this confidential, as I am in the early stages of my exploration.” This can be done effectively as a P.S. after your signature line, or as part of the final paragraph of your letter.

One other tricky situation you’ll have to navigate is the interview question, “Why are you leaving your current job?” If you can’t say something simple, such as “We’re relocating to be near my spouse’s family,” you’ll need to strategize an answer in advance. For example, it probably wouldn’t land well to say, “I’m burned out” or even, “My work isn’t challenging me.” Honest as those answers may be, they throw up red flags for a new boss. A better strategy is to build your answer around excitement for the new job, not dissatisfaction in the old one. Perhaps, “I’ve been wanting to practice more in my specialty area and that’s something I feel like I can do this position. I’m really excited about…”

Now you know the secret

Now that you know the secret for “under the radar” job searches, that’s one less barrier to hold you back. If you decide you’re ready for new work, there’s no time like the present to start.