Searching for a job is tough in the best of circumstances. When you’re working full-time, that adds another layer of complication.

If you’re hunting for a job on the down low like many job seekers, keeping job interviews under wraps is common.

Though some forward thinking employers are making it easier for employees to be open about when they’re looking for a job, operating in stealth remains the norm.

That means finding time to attend job interviews without setting off alarm bells with your boss or colleagues. Below are some of our top tips to work job interviews into your full-time work schedule.

Woman sitting at a table with phone in hand. Tablet and notebook on table. Woman looking out of the window.
Woman sitting at a table with phone in hand. Tablet and notebook on table. Woman looking out of the window.

advocate for yourself

Job seekers have an tendency to say yes to anything a potential employer suggests, hoping to make a good impression.

However, hiring managers (at least the good, experienced ones!) know that your life doesn’t revolve around them or a possible job opportunity.

They’re well aware you have work commitments and other opportunities in your sights. They want to do what they can to keep you in their hiring funnel – it’s not easy to find hire-worthy candidates.

If attending a job interview would make your life more complicated, it’s okay to stand up for yourself and figure out an alternative solution.

If the employer is extremely inflexible and unwilling to work with you, ask yourself: “Is this someone I want to work for?” If they’re being this difficult when they should be enticing you to work for them, how will they treat you when you’re on their payroll?

request phone or video interviews

Ask if your interview can be conducted remotely, especially if it’s an early stage interview. Most employers tend to do this anyway – it’s typical to conduct the first round or two of interviews over the phone, before narrowing down a few top contenders for in-depth interviews.

However, late stage interviews can take place over the phone or video, too. When a hiring manager suggests an in-person interview, it can be intimidating to say no.

Remember it’s okay to stand up for yourself. If taking time out of your busy week for an in-person interview isn’t possible, say so, but always suggest an alternative solution.

For example, “I’d love to come in for an interview, but my schedule is packed this week. I’m not sure I can get away from work. Would it be possible to do a video interview instead?”

ask for an interview time outside of work hours

If you don’t want to skip the in-person interview phase, consider requesting a time slot before or after your work hours.

Sometimes this means that the hiring manager will meet you outside their typical office hours, so be respectful when making the request.

If they really like you as a candidate there’s a good chance they’ll be willing to make accommodations. Employers often prefer to hire people who are actively employed –they know that means they must work around candidates’ full-time work schedules.

Evening or early morning interviews aren’t uncommon, so don’t be afraid to ask.

give yourself plenty of time

Be wary of commuting and how long it’ll take to get to or from the interview.

Make sure the interviewer is aware beforehand if you’re on a time crunch and need to leave for work at a specific time. Also, give yourself adequate time to prepare and get to the location.

Don’t schedule an interview at 5:15pm if you get off work at 5pm, even if the commute is supposed to be 15 minutes. Always account for unexpected factors. You don’t want the first impression you make to involve being late.

consider casual interview options

Not every interview has to be a formal sit-down in a conference room.

If you’ve already gone through a phone interview or two and answered all the hard-hitting job-related questions, consider suggesting a coffee or lunch meeting as an alternative to an in-person interview.

Often the hiring manager wants to meet you face-to-face to verify that everything’s above board and you seem like someone they’d like to work with.

One benefit of an informal interview is that it can take place at a coffee shop or somewhere accessible to both you and the interviewer.

If the employer you’re interviewing with has an office that’s far from your current workplace, this allows them to meet you halfway, so you’re not doing all the legwork travelling to meet them.

Since meeting you is part of their job, they may even offer to come meet you in your neck of the woods.

be selective about in-person interviews

You don’t need to say yes to every interview that comes your way. Taking a phone interview requires little commitment or effort.

However, in-person interviews typically require more planning and schedule shifting. Try save in-person interviews for employers you’re considering more seriously.

Make it a point to have at least one phone interview before agreeing to an in-person interview. A phone interview will give you a better grasp of the job and whether it’s right for you.

If you’ve gone through a phone interview and aren’t sold on the job, ask yourself whether it’s worth investing more of your time.

If you’re not excited about the job now, will an in-person interview change anything? It’s okay to walk away if the fit isn’t right. You’re saving both yourself and the employer time by cutting your losses.       

schedule interviews on mondays and fridays

When there’s absolutely no getting around it and you need to use time off to attend an interview, it’s wise to plan so your time off so it falls next to a weekend.

Using a Monday or Friday seems less suspect than taking days off in the middle of the week, especially if you’re trying to keep your job search quiet at your current workplace.

It’s not unusual for workers to use vacation days to plan an extra long weekend. However taking a day off in the middle of the week can invite questions from coworkers that you might want to avoid.

plan ahead and group interviews on the same day

Calling in sick the morning of your interview because you didn’t have time to take a day off can be suspicious when you return to work the day after and are completely fine.

It’s even worse if you make a pattern of using single sick days this way. If you need time to plan ahead, most interviewers will make an effort to accommodate you.

If they’re adamant that you need to come in on extremely short notice (in the next day or two) be wary. It’s common to plan an interview a week or two in advance.

If the employer can’t or isn’t willing to accommodate a reasonable timeframe consider it a red flag. Planning in advance also allows you more flexibility to group multiple interviews on the same day, so you can use your time more efficiently.

don’t abuse excuses like family emergencies or appointments

The ‘I have a dentist appointment’ excuse is an old standby to attend an interview without raising your employer’s suspicions.

It’s a convenient excuse that allows you to avoid wasting vacation days which could be spent in more enjoyable ways.

There’s also a low chance of there being follow-up questions from your coworkers. Who wants to talk about the dentist?

The real problem with this excuse (beyond having to lie) crops up when it’s overused. Everyone knows you’re probably not going to the dentist 3 times in the span of two months.

Save these excuses for emergency situations where you absolutely can’t find another solution.

tell your employer you’re job hunting

This remains a pretty radical idea in many workplaces, but it’s gaining popularity (including at tech companies like Netflix). The rationale is simple: it’s better for employers to know an employee is leaving so they can plan ahead. It’s a win-win.

The employee doesn’t have to hide their job search activities and the employer can work on finding a replacement and use any overlap for training and transitioning.

Of course, this option isn’t available to everyone. You need to feel comfortable that your employer will be onboard, and be absolutely sure you want to leave.

Changing your mind won’t be an option if your replacement is already in the works. It’s also not very professional to back out when your employer has made accommodations based on a choice you made.

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