Well, this is awkward. You’ve been job searching, and now your boss knows it. Whether she overheard you chatting up a co-worker about your recent interview, called you on all of those “dentist appointments” you’ve been going to, or found a copy of your resume in the office printer, there’s no longer any way to hide the fact that you’ve been looking. What next? While there’s no way to predict how your manager will react, chances are you’ll run into one of these five scenarios.
1. You’ll Have a Real, Honest Conversation With Your Boss
Depending on your relationship with your boss, she might want to have an honest conversation about why you’re looking. Are you unhappy? Is there something that she can do to change your mind?
This could be a great opportunity to provide genuine feedback to your manager about your role. If you’re exploring new jobs because you don’t see any opportunities for growth at your current company, say so. If you’re hoping to find a better paying job elsewhere, let her know. If you’re just itching for a new challenge, that’s OK to say, too.
While having an open conversation may be cathartic, you’ll also want to make sure you’re tactful. Don’t turn this into a vent session—be constructive. Instead of saying, “I’ve been here for more than three years and still haven’t gotten a promotion,” try something like, “I’m starting to look toward taking the next step in my career and am really interested in taking on additional responsibilities to grow my skill set. Unfortunately, I don’t see an opportunity to grow in my current role, given the size of our department.”
2. You Might Get a Raise or a Promotion
If you’re a top performer, your boss won’t want to lose you. Finding out that you’re considering a move might motivate him to get things in motion.
Great, right? Well, it depends on why you decided to start exploring new opportunities in the first place. If you’re in a toxic work environment or don’t have faith in your company’s leadership, a higher salary won’t make those problems go away. (And why did it take the threat of you leaving to motivate your manager to finally reward all of your hard work, anyway?)
Whether you were just looking to find a better paying job or plotting your escape from a terrible company, accept your raise or promotion gracefully. If you were more or less happy at your current company but were hoping to find a new job with a higher salary or more responsibility, this would be a pretty ideal outcome.
But, if you’re still ready to move on in search of a bigger change, a more collaborative work environment, or a boss you really click with, it’s OK to keep looking. If you know that your current employer just isn’t where you belong anymore, a few extra dollars in the bank or a shiny new job title won’t fix that.
3. Your Every Move Will Be Scrutinized
Don’t be surprised if your manager starts questioning that longer-than-usual lunch break or your upcoming doctor appointment. It’s part of her job to keep you on task. Employees who are happy tend to be more productive and engaged at work, so if your manager thinks your departure is imminent, she’s probably going to worry that you’re spending all of your time browsing job postings and sneaking off to interviews.
If you feel like you’re suddenly working under a microscope, it’s probably not all in your head. Do your best to stay on top of your work, speak up in meetings, and deliver on your deadlines. This should help show that even though you’re on your way out, you’re still fully committed to your current role.
Keep this in mind: While most employers probably don’t regularly monitor their employees’ internet activity or email exchanges, they’re at liberty to do so. Use of a company computer, which isn’t your property, means the sites you’re visiting and who you’re emailing aren’t private.
4. You Might Get Let Go
This, admittedly, would be pretty extreme, but it happens. Most states have at-will employment clauses that allow you or your employer to terminate your working relationship at any time—with or without cause. Letting an employee go simply because he’s been exploring new opportunities certainly isn’t a best practice, and your company could be opening itself up to some serious legal issues, but that might not stop human resources from showing you the door.
You may be at an even higher risk of termination if you haven’t been doing your best work lately. If your performance has been poor, your boss may be motivated to let you go. Think about it from her perspective: If you had an employee who wasn’t great at her job and you found out she was interviewing elsewhere, would you want to invest time and resources in helping her improve, or would you rather just cut ties and find someone else?
If you feel that you’ve been wrongly terminated, you can always reach out to an employment-rights attorney for advice. Remember not to sign any documents on the spot; ask for time to review everything as termination documents may contain language that essentially waives your right to take legal action against your former employer.
5. Nothing at All
If your boss isn’t the confrontational type, he might decide to look the other way. Avoiding an awkward conversation may sound great, but that doesn’t mean that things won’t be a little uncomfortable. He may decide to be overly nice and attentive to you, take an extra close look at every project you submit, or give you the cold shoulder.
However your boss decides to deal with the situation, try to be the bigger, more professional person. If things get unbearably uncomfortable, you can always proactively initiate a conversation to smooth things over. Try saying, “I know you’re aware that I’ve been exploring other opportunities, so I wanted to clear the air and reassure you that I’m fully committed to this job. I just like to keep an open mind about the future and am generally open to learning about new opportunities. I hope you can understand my curiosity and trust that I’ll continue to do a great job here.”
No matter how your boss handles the news of your job search, you can probably salvage the situation by explaining that in the interest of your career growth, you owe it to yourself to understand what else is out there. That said, keeping an open mind about potential opportunities has no impact on your level of commitment to your current role, and you’ll continue to do your very best each and every day.
If this leads to an honest conversation (or better yet, a raise!), that’s great. But, if you end up feeling like your every move is being watched or you get the cold shoulder from your boss, you’ll probably end up feeling even more confident in your decision to move on.
Photo of woman at desk courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.