Dodging Land Mines During a Job Search

Job changes are almost as inevitable these days as death and taxes, but lawsuits over them don’t have to be.

There are all kinds of considerations an executive needs to keep in mind when looking for a job, depending on where she works now and where she’s looking to get hired. If those companies do business together or if they’re competitors, the executive must be conscious at all times of behaving ethically, first and foremost, even if that behavior may work against the executive when it comes to landing the new job.

But beyond the individual circumstances, there are some common sense (and common law) steps to take when shopping for a new position:

  • Don’t use company computers or company property of any kind in the job search. Not only is it almost undoubtedly against company policy, but it’s also bad form. In addition, companies can easily go back and see what the executive did on his computer (or iPad or phone), so it’s just not worth it to fudge on this one.
  • If social media of any kind is involved (LinkedIn, Facebook, or anything else), remember that what’s said and done on social media isn’t truly private. So executives using social media to job hunt need to conduct themselves as if their boss is watching, because she probably is.
  • Watch what’s put in writing. Letters to clients, colleagues, potential job contacts, or anybody else who was contacted about the job search may be discoverable should there ever be a dispute regarding the executive’s conduct. That doesn’t mean that nothing should be put in writing, since obviously at some point there will be plenty put in writing. But take care that what’s in writing is above reproach.
  • Gather an inventory of employment agreements. Most executives probably will have signed a number of agreements upon being hired, including confidentiality agreements, non-compete agreements, and possibly others. It’s a good idea to keep these on hand and understand what they mean (consult an executive employment attorney if there’s any doubt). It’s worth noting, though, that even if there’s no signed confidentiality agreement, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to disclose company secrets. Confidential information is protected by common law, so by all means keep it confidential during any job search.
  • Once a new job has been accepted, leave the old job immediately. Too often, an executive who has taken a new job is treated like a criminal (complete with security guard escort off the premises) once his employer has learned he has a new job. Avoid the “perp walk” and leave as soon as the new job has been accepted. Many new employers can’t help announcing the good news, either publicly or to a “few trusted friends,” and news like that inevitably travels at light speed. 

For executives who have already found a new position, be sure to check out our previous posts on what execs should take with them when they leave, what they absolutely shouldn’t take with them, and the best way to take other employees along with them.

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