Maybe it was that last team meeting – the one where your boss seemed to recognize everyone else’s efforts but yours. Maybe it was the realization that the “temporary” staffing shortage was now in its 15th consecutive month and you’re still the one expected to pick up the slack. Or maybe you’ve known for a while now that your career is never going to move forward if you stay where you are.

All you know is, it’s time to look for a new gig. But what if your boss finds out? What if your co-workers find out? Job hunts can take months and they’re especially difficult if you try to confine your efforts to purely non-working hours. Scheduling and attending interviews can be even more problematic. Worries over “getting caught,” can be paralyzing. But just how bad would it be if your boss knew you were planning a move? We spoke to several HR experts and hiring managers to find out what an employee can expect.

Glen Loveland, a recruiter with Central China Television in Beijing, says you need to be very careful when planning a move. “You should never let your current employer know that you are actively job searching while on their clock,” Loveland says. He points out that the sole exception would be when an employee has already discussed a desire to leave and their manager is in agreement. Unless that has happened, “Adjust your LinkedIn privacy settings to ensure that your current company doesn’t know you are actively on the market,” he advises. LinkedIn has specific instructions on how to do that right here.

Loveland’s view plays into the conventional wisdom that being caught looking can have serious negative repercussions, but his opinion might be the exception rather than the rule. In some instances, an employer might be very supportive of your decision to look elsewhere, especially if they’re not in a position to keep you happy. “Very simply, sometimes, it’s time for an employee who can’t be productive in the company to move on,” says John Haynes, an HR executive and executive coach. “Consequently, when these employees are searching, you move out of the way and let that process take its course.”

Truly enlightened employers might even take your imminent departure as a signal that they need to do some soul searching. Haynes suggests that managers ask themselves some tough questions such as, “Is there a work or vendor relationship that is causing the employee to initiate a job search?” or, “Are there any cultural issues that may exist in your working environment?”

So how do you know if you work in an environment where your boss would take kindly (or at least not create repercussions) to the news you want to leave?

There may be no absolute litmus test for this, so it’s a good idea to play it safe. Michael Roberts of Caliessen Consulting says that how your boss finds out can influence their reaction. He suggests a series of meetings with your manager to firmly establish whether or not the company can offer you the opportunities or changes you’re looking for, before you begin your hunt. If these meetings prove fruitless, “The next step is clearly to make it known that you’ll be looking elsewhere for career advancement. This gets everything above board and allows everyone to move forward with a clear conscience,” says Roberts.

The one thing Roberts clearly says you should avoid is any kind of ultimatum of the “promote me or else I’m leaving” variety — “No manager likes that gun put to his or her head,” he points out.

If you’re pretty sure that the decision to leave would be met with hostility, take these precautions:

• Don’t use company resources such as computers, phones or scanners/copiers/printers to conduct your search

• If you need to do a phone pre-screen interview, arrange a time with the recruiter that will let you do it from your mobile phone outside the office

• Make sure that if you’re discussing your job hunt with your Facebook connections, your privacy settings will keep these chats, well, private

• Don’t use your work email account. If necessary, create a new email account with one of the free web-based services and put this on resumes

• If you use LinkedIn, turn off the “Notify your network” option when editing your profile – especially if you and your manager are connected

• Don’t discuss your intentions with your colleagues—some people can’t keep themselves from gossiping

• Whenever possible, schedule interviews around the noon hour so your absences aren’t as conspicuous