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Job-hunting at work? You're not alone

Friday, 2 Aug 2013 | 6:00 AM ET
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Here's a potential sign the job market is slowly improving: Some people are feeling comfortable looking for a new job even while they're (supposed to be) doing their current one.

A new survey from staffing firm Accountemps finds that about three in 10 workers would be likely to do things like search for a position online or take a call from a recruiter while they are at work.

The findings, which Accountemps said were based on phone interviews with a nationally representative group of 427 workers, come amid signs that the employment market is slowly starting to get better after five extremely difficult years.

(Read more: The most and least in-demand jobs)

"[There's] more action in the marketplace," said Dawn Fay, district president for staffing firm Robert Half International, whose divisions include Accountemps.

The economy added 195,000 jobs in June, and the unemployment rate stayed steady at 7.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The July employment data is scheduled to be released Friday.

At least some of those people appear to be perusing jobs websites while on the clock. CareerBuilder said about two-thirds of all visits to its site are made during standard working hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Recruitment experts say they aren't that surprised to find a good chunk of people comfortable looking for work while they are at work. After all, if you are job-hunting in today's environment, it's hard to avoid the occasional workday call from a recruiter or email from a hiring manager.

While it's probably OK to quickly respond to an email or set aside a lunch break for an interview, experts say you shouldn't spend most of your time in the office job-hunting.

(Read more: Sometimes, the boss really is a psycho)

For one thing, your potential employer may be wary if you appear overly willing to slack off at your current job. And you don't want to start performing poorly and end up burning your bridges with your current employer.

"You will have to be a little bit accessible, but there's a line that you draw," said Patti Johnson, CEO of the human resources consulting firm PeopleResults.

Job hunting on the job
CNBC.com's Allison Linn reports that employees are hard at work looking for a new job—even while they're employed. In this interview with CNBC's Cindy Perman, she says it's a strong sign the job market is making comeback.

Another big no-no: Using your work computer, e-mail account or cellphone to conduct searches. Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide," recommends that job-hunting workers take their personal smartphone to a private place (not the bathroom) for any communication with potential employers.

He recently had a client who committed the major faux pas of conducting an interview in his cubicle.

"Lo and behold, what happened? His boss discovered him," Cohen said, adding that the incident added to the employer's sense that the worker had a tendency to exercise poor judgment.

Fay, of Robert Half, said she's heard of employees' being fired when companies got wind that they were job-hunting, as the businesses thought it showed a lack of commitment.

Other overt clues to avoid giving include printing a résumé on a shared office printer, posting a résumé on a site your employer might frequent or publicly changing your LinkedIn status to make clear you're looking for new opportunities.

(Read more: There's the beach, and here you are on your laptop)

Johnson, of PeopleResults, said a friend who had been having breakfast and lunch meetings with potential employers realized she might be spilling the beans when her boss noticed that she was dressing up more for work.

In that situation, Johnson said it's best to deflect any tension with a quip about wanting to look nicer or having recently gone shopping.

"Don't get ahead of yourself," she said. "Don't let someone else's comment take you someplace you're not ready to go."

(Read more: For part-time workers, here's a financial toolkit)

If your boss does ask you specifically if you are looking, experts say it's important to stay professional, especially if you don't yet have a new offer.

"You can say, 'I've gotten some calls but certainly haven't made a decision to leave,' " Johnson said.

Fay said that another big mistake is to tell too many people, especially at the office, that you are unhappy and looking for something else. That can make you the target of office gossip, and hurt your standing if you don't leave.

"If you're not happy in your job, tell your manager," Fay said. "Tell someone who can do something about it."

Sharlyn Lauby, author of the blog HR Bartender, said some bosses may not judge you for looking, especially if there are plans to cut staff or they know there's not much advancement opportunity where you are.

In those cases, it may be fine to share with your employer that you occasionally need to leave early or take some personal time for interviews.

In any event, you should strive to do stellar work at the current job, as you always want your employer to think well of you, Lauby said.

Years ago, she said, she was in a position where her boss knew she was looking for a new opportunity and let her job-hunt while at work, within reason. But being attentive to her duties paid off, and years later that same company called and asked her if she would like to come back.

"The world is very small, and how you exit can close some doors for you," Lauby said.

—By CNBC's Allison Linn. Follow her on Twitter @allisondlinn and Google or send her an email.

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