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Monday, September 29, 2008

should you tell your boss you're job-hunting?

A reader writes:

I have a good relationship with my boss and enjoy my current job and employer, but I’m about to interview for another job that is both a career “step up” and a shorter commute. The organization requires an “assessment” on a Wednesday followed by initial interviews that Friday, which means I would need to schedule time off on both weekdays. Since I haven’t yet had a first interview, it’s not certain whether I’ll be among those chosen to go on to the next round.

My question is: Do I tell my boss the real reason I’ll be requesting time off as a courtesy to her, or do I wait until I find out whether I’m a finalist? If I don’t tell her the full reason for the time off, what do I say? I won’t lie, and I suspect that being vague will tip her off anyhow.

The answer to this is highly dependent on the culture at your workplace and your relationship with your boss.

The standard answer to this -- and the answer for you unless you have concrete reason to believe otherwise -- is that you don't tell your employer that you're job-searching until you have accepted another offer. This is because many employers, once they know you're looking, will begin treating you differently -- for instance, giving you fewer plum assignments or no long-term assignments, curtailing any investments in your training or development, seeing you as disloyal or a short-timer, and in some cases, even letting you go. And after all, you may not get this job, and then you could be stuck in an awkward situation for quite some time.

However, there are some organizations, and some bosses, where this is not the case. (If anyone who works with me is reading this, we're one of them.) I believe that in most cases, smart employers should cultivate an atmosphere where employees who are ready to move on can freely share their plans. Why? For two reasons:

1. When employers do this, they get employees who give them really long notice periods. I've had employees give me as much as eight months notice that they planned to leave! This is fantastic for me as a manager, because it allows me to structure the hiring of their replacement so that the new person starts with a week or two of overlap with the exiting person, which both helps with training and eliminates the vacancy period we'd otherwise have. (And since vacancies cause strain on other employees who have to pick up the extra work, this is good news all around.) When employers penalize employees for giving lots of notice, they guarantee that they will just get the standard two weeks, which leaves the manager scrambling to cover the vacancy and rushing to hire.

2. It's good for morale for employees to know that when they're ready to move on, they won't need to sneak around, and that they can even seek help from the person who may be best equipped to find them their next position -- their current manager. If a good employee comes to me ready to start looking at other options, I will likely try to persuade them to stay -- but if I can't, I will go all out for them as far as helping them network into their next job, giving interview advice, etc. I do this partly because I like helping people professionally (hence, uh, this blog), but also because I believe it is good for my organization to have employees who know that this is how we treat people.

So there's the argument for employers creating an atmosphere where employees know it's safe to speak up when they're job-hunting. But how do you, as an employee, know if your office is one of those?

Pay attention to how your employer has handled other employees who resign. Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? If so, assume the same may happen to you, and give two weeks and nothing more. But if your employer has a track record of accommodating long notice periods, has been grateful to employees who provide long notice, and has generally shown that employees can feel safe being candid about their plans to leave, take your cues from that. Some employers "earn" long notice periods and employees who keep kicking butt through their final day ... and some don't.

Oh, and if you decide you shouldn't risk being candid, the usual options when you have to take time off for an interview are to say you have an "appointment" or "something personal that you need to take care of." If your office is one where they'll push back at something like that, then they deserve being lied to.


Anonymous said...

I very much agree it depends on your relationship with your manager. In my last job, I could have given four weeks notice but knew I'd be treated so poorly, that I gave them exactly two. I worked 70 hours in my final week, extending offers and handling paperwork. When I asked my coworkers for some help tieing up ends, they pretended they didn't know what language I was speaking. The end result is that the company gets a really bad referral from me, and they were completely screwed once I left and they realized how much I had been handling.

In my current position, I have the type of relationship with my boss that she'd know immediately if I started looking because I trust her and the company enough to do right by me.

Raymond said...

Unless you know you are needed, Id be careful about telling anyone anything. I see thousands of high paying jobs posted on employment sites - (Professional Networking) (Aggregated Listings) (Matches you to the best jobs)

I see 75K, 100K and 125K jobs posted on these sites. Get an offer then give notice, if they want you they will counter offer.

Rose said...

I once worked at a job where someone gave two weeks notice and they told them not to come back at all. Another time, they had someone fly back from overseas (dual citizen) to work six more months and then axed them after three weeks (neither case was for performance-related, imo). By the time I left, it was well-known that we didn't have to legally give notice at all and the company screwed themselves as hard as possible. Dumb!

Anonymous said...

some great advice there!
I was wondering if being candid was the way out at where I work as a part-timer; they're indirect and use spies to get info /winkle it from me...I'm feeling rather paranoid and decided to "love my enemies" and faced them with my decision: moving on.

They didn't ask why; I'm a part-timer; another cog in the wheele and I read that if I'm not making headway then it is time to move on.

Do you think I did the right thing?
I hate awkward office politics, and do hope you write me a line or two.

you rock!

Ask a Manager said...

Anonymous, I think this is one of those situations where it's all about knowing your particular workplace, how they've handled similar situations, etc. There's what companies SHOULD do and then there's what many DO do, and they're not always the same -- so the best you can do is take your cues from how you've seen them handle similar things before.

Unknown said...

I have been accepted to a graduate school program (which is a different career, unlike what I am doing right now). I will be attending school after work hours which will cut into my overtime I have been working for the past 2 years. My dilemma is this: I have been unhappy in this position for the past year and have been actively looking for another job. I am not the only one unhappy--the demands of the job and the boss make everyone's frustration level pretty high. Should I tell my boss that I am looking for another job? He has told his staff that he wants to know if we are unhappy, leaving, etc., so he can try to solve the situation at hand (everyone has been telling him for quite some time!). However, he takes it very personally if you leave his office, so I figure, since I am already a 'short-timer' and he is going to get upset anyway, should I tell him that I'm looking for a better opportunity? Thank you.

Ask a Manager said...

Lisa, I'd say the answer is exactly what I wrote in the post above.

s.l.d. cowen said...

In a "right to work" state, you will often find yourself let go early once you give a two week notice.

Scare Sarah said...


I've been in my current job for 2 and a half years and I'm the only one in this job role in the small company. The only other staff member who is always in the office has just gone on maternaty leave but is working from home.

I want/need to leave this job. I'm not appreciated. The boss and the bosses son are paranoid and always think we're up to no good. I am buying my first flat which is about 50 miles from where I live/work currently. It should be a celebration but...

You would probably say "don't tell your boss!" But I don't have any holiday left so I would need the time off for interviews and if I lie he will know (if I really have a dentist appointment he looks at you suspiciously!). I thought if I tell him now he will hate it but he'll get more notice than the 4 weeks I have to give and I could train the new person.

It's going to be bad no matter what but do you have any ideas about how to put this to him especially the time off (unpaid of course) for interviews?

Ask a Manager said...

Sarahrunrabbit, see the post above for your answer!

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't tell my boss I have a good gig coming up in Bradenton closer to my house and my bowling league.

Anonymous said...

I've been with the same company for almost five years and I will graduate with my MBA in May. During the performance review cycle I asked to be considered for a promotion. The response was no since there is not an available position. This started conversation between me and the head of the department. She said she understands where I'm at in my career and would support me whether I tried to stay or wanted to look elsewhere. She even offered to give me resume advice and a good referral in my future. I've been given a few days to decide what I want to do and then tell her next week. I do not have another job lined up and want to continue working for them while I do not. However I'm afraid if I'm honest about my plans to move on with my career she will cut me off now while I'm not necessarily in a financial position to do so. At the same time I want to be fair to them and give them time to find my replacement and not leave on bad terms. I would appreciate your advice...or if you could point me in the direction of someone I could talk to that would be helpful too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this advice; my wife pointed out the site to me tonight after I made a difficult decision to tell my boss tomorrow about an interview I am having on Wednesday.

I've been at this company for almost 4 years now; its a small shop, and I really like working there, but due to financial issues the company is having (they owe me almost $4k in backpay, as well as backpay to other employees, due to their clients not paying for projects we have completed - plus we have yet to get health insurance back after it was canceled nearly 6 months ago for other issues!), I decided that I needed to find something else.

I posted my resume to several proposals a couple of days ago, and tonight got the offer for an interview on one of them. My boss is fair; others have given him long-term notice, and it has always worked out without grievance. I am not planning on quitting immediately, and I will tell him why I decided to look (I need to pay my bills and put food on the table); I can't imagine that he'll have a problem with me coming in late that morning. I do plan to tell him that I will work late that day into the evening to cover the time I missed.

This feels like such a bittersweet possibility; I really wish this wasn't happening to my current employer - I am not even sure I will get paid what I am owed (I might have to file small claims, who knows). I am not sure how he'll react; in the past I have assured him I wasn't planning on going anywhere, but my hand has been forced now. He has tried to placate us as best as possible (giving us a portion of what is owed as money trickles in), but he is so far in arrears that I don't know if he'll ever get the money to pay us what he owes us, while still keeping the company going. He told us on Tuesday that he has around 10 days to get the money rolling in, or the company is in jeopardy.

It really stinks all the way around, but I think what is best is honesty; the worst thing he can do is fire me - but I am not really losing much (because whether I stay or go, I still won't have my paycheck, what is owed me, or health insurance coverage).

Thanks again...


Anonymous said...

It will depend on the company you work for entirely. My last two jobs I quit, I finished the day, tied up all my loose ends, and handed keys, badge, etc to my boss on the way to the car. I worked with them long enough to know that notice would just set me up for some sort of childish behavior and no counter-offer would be made. You can only attend so many "Those people" and "everyone is so stupid" meetings before it sinks in, right?

Another company, years ago, got two months notice. The manager was shocked, but very appreciative. I felt they would honor their end and they did.

Mileage may vary, results may diverge from test group, etc.

Anonymous said...

I have a very controlling employer who has lost 3 employees in a 3-week span, so she is very paranoid right now and thinks I may be next to quit. She keeps asking staff to be upfront with her and tell her if we're "unhappy," but I can't trust that she won't use that information to her advantage and fire me. I am new to this (I'm only 24 years old) and I may have a job offer by the end of this week, but I just don't feel comfortable giving her more than 2 weeks. I can't help feeling bad though. What should I do?

Anonymous said...

I am surprised by the amount of loyalty and emotion that everyone is displaying to their workplaces. I agree it is hard not to "bond" with companies, employees, co-workers, ideas, etc. but we must remember that a company wants an employee who will do good work for the least amount of pay and benefits possible. That sort of company loyalty makes it hard for me to feel anything other than disenfranchised. I go to work because I like to eat. I stay at this job because I am satisfied with the work vs. pay ratio. This is a job, not my life.