Leadership Lab: 3 Strategies for an Executive’s Discreet Job Search

It’s important to maintain anonymity when seeking your next executive role, as your departure could impact other employees and the organization.

Pictured: Sneaky woman on computer/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

Welcome to Leadership Lab, a column dedicated to biotech executives aiming to enhance their leadership skills and advance their careers. Every other month, Michael Pietrack, the practice lead for Kaye/Bassman’s pharma and biotech recruiting team and host of “The Pharmaverse Podcast,” shares a valuable leadership insight.

In this column, we’ll discuss strategies you can use to maintain confidentiality when exploring new opportunities outside your current organization.

Like any other employee, biopharma executives may reach a point where they’ve achieved their professional goals and are ready for new challenges. However, well-intentioned leaders proceed with extra caution. Why?

Executives understand that their departure, or even the rumor of it, can significantly impact other employees and the organization as a whole. For instance, your employees may feel that if you’re looking, so should they. Also, how would important external stakeholders, investors or key opinion leaders react if they caught wind you were potentially leaving?

Because your departure would have a greater impact than other employees leaving the company, I would urge you to use extreme discretion when evaluating opportunities.

If you’re one of the employed biopharma executives looking for a new position, here are three strategies you can use when conducting your job search.

1. Stay in Stealth Mode

Be intentional to minimize discoverable online activity related to your job search. You have to stay in stealth mode. Looking at posted positions with your private computer is safe, but how you respond to these postings is where you want to be careful. Here are three things to avoid:

  1. Do not directly apply to an open position. Once you hit that “apply” button, you’ve lost a measure of control about who may find out. I’ve seen situations where word somehow got back to the executive’s company, all based off applying to a job. That’s a big risk to take for a role you’re not certain you want.
  1. Do not set push notifications that pop up on your phone. One executive I worked with made this mistake. During a meeting where phones were on the table, a push popped up about a new position. That alert caught the eye of the person sitting next to the executive. Even though she was in a very passive job search, the alert cost her major political capital.
  1. Do not update your LinkedIn profile with an open-to-work status. What kind of signal would that send to your employees and colleagues? Even if you select that only recruiters can see this status, remember your company has recruiters too.

Since word can spread like wildfire, stay in stealth mode to protect yourself and your current organization.

2. Use Trusted Channels

Use a network of trusted people to learn about opportunities without jeopardizing your confidentiality. So, instead of applying to a posted position, I see biopharma executives networking with trusted people who can help set up confidential introductions. These confidants tend to be specialty recruiters or other executives.

The goal with this networking is to organize an exploratory call without sending a CV. These confidential calls happen all the time, and you can secure one by having someone share your LinkedIn profile. You may also get one simply based on your reputation.

After you have this exploratory call, you’ll have enough information to gauge your interest for moving forward. From there, you can decide if you want to send along your CV and bear the risk of word getting out.

3. Measure the Risks

You can never completely eliminate the risk of your privacy being breached, so measure the risks wisely. Even if you learn enough in that initial call, you should still be flying in stealth mode, trying to maintain confidentiality.

When you interview with each new person on an interview panel, mention your need for discretion. Though you want to mention it, you do not want to make it too much of an issue. You don’t want to come across as paranoid. When they ask you, “Why are you exploring new opportunities?” try saying something like this: “First, I should say that my job search is confidential, and I don’t want to sound off alarm bells at my company prematurely, so if we could keep the details of this conversation limited to the interview team, I’d appreciate it.”

By being measured, you won’t take unnecessary chances as you have additional conversations with a prospective employer.

Maintaining Your Anonymity: Final Thoughts

Remember, you’re not using these three strategies to harm your current organization; rather, you’re doing so to protect it. Rumors taken out of context can create turmoil and even lead to other employees leaving.

If you end up accepting another position and you maintained confidentiality throughout the process, you allow your soon-to-be former company to control the narrative when you exit. This will ensure the smoothest transition for you with the least negative impact on others. 

Interested in seeing more of Michael’s executive leadership insights? Follow him on LinkedIn and check out “The Pharmaverse Podcast.”