Looking for a new job is stressful and, frequently, frustrating, so it’s not surprising that you’re looking for people to commiserate with. And your current co-workers, the ones who know the good, the bad, and the ugly about your workplace, can seem like the ideal choice: They already understand why you might want to leave your job and they’re in the same industry—maybe they have leads!
But should you really tell your colleagues you’re job searching?
There are a few things you need to consider before spilling about your job search—including what kind of relationship you have with your co-workers, what your boss is like, and whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Sometimes it’s fine to share, but more often it’s dangerous. What’s certain is that it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.
Here are five questions you should ask yourself to help you decide if and when to tell which co-workers that you’re applying for other gigs.
1. How Much Do You Trust Them?
For the answer to this question, look to your history with your colleagues. Are they people with whom you’ve traded complaints in the past about everything from your managers to the healthcare plan to the quality of the toilet paper? And they haven’t shared that info with anyone?
If you truly know they can keep a secret, go ahead and dish (although don’t forget to tell them that the info isn’t public). It can sometimes be helpful to talk about job searching with someone who knows you well.
But if you’re not 110% sure that they can keep their mouths shut—if you have any doubts at all—it’s wiser not to share that you’re on the hunt for a new job. You don’t want them to spill the beans before you’re ready to leave.
2. Can They Help?
Your co-workers can be a gold mine of useful job search information: They have contacts at other companies, insider industry knowledge, recommendations for networking events, and other insights. As a bonus, they’re familiar with your work and know from firsthand experience that you’re a great co-worker (right?), so if they pass on your resume, you’re way ahead of the competition.
If there’s a tangible benefit to gain—and you’re absolutely sure you can trust them not to tell anyone else in the company—then go ahead.
But first, prepare your ask. Don’t drop a vague mention about how you’re looking for something new. Instead, set up a conversation where you tell them you’re interested in a new job, and ask specifically for what you want from them, whether that’s an email introduction to that friend they have at your dream company or insider info on what kind of qualifications a hiring manager they know loves to see. (Here's more info on effective ways to network at work.)
If they can’t help in any way, though, you’re better off staying quiet at work. Find someone else to talk to—a friend, your partner, your mom, or a former co-worker (who could be as helpful as a current teammate but without the same level of risk).
3. Are You Definitely Ready to Leave?
The worst-case scenario here is that a co-worker confides in the boss that you’re looking for something else, either by accident or as a way to curry favor for themselves—and your boss reacts badly, either making your life miserable until you actually land a new job, or even pushing you out the door immediately.
So if you’ve got a concrete exit strategy with an end date in mind, and you’re out of there no matter what, the risk of sharing is much lower. But if you need to keep this job until you’ve applied and interviewed for new roles, found one that’s a fit on both sides, accepted an offer, and set a start date, it’s best to keep it under your hat. The enjoyment of sharing isn’t worth the possibility of getting the boot before you’re ready.
4. What’s Your Boss Like?
Some bosses expect their direct reports to deliver every bit of gossip from the office floor or at the very least share any information with them first. Employees who don’t fall in line could face repercussions.
This can mean your boss finding out about your search and preemptively firing you, or—if you don’t end up leaving—refusing to promote or invest in you because they still think you’re on your way out.
And what about your co-workers? Is your boss the type to hold it against them once you leave? Can you imagine your manager finding out your best work buddies knew all along and saying to them, “Why didn’t you tell me so-and-so was looking for a job?” If your boss would hold a grudge, keep them safe by staying silent.
5. Can the Information Really Help Someone Out?
Maybe your departure will mean a promotion for someone, or it will give them a chance to finally take on new responsibilities. If they had advance notice that you were leaving, could they position themselves to take over?
If you’re closing in on a new job and know that an extra week or two would really help a co-worker you like and trust—giving them time to redo their resume or prepare to make their case for a promotion—then it’s a kindness to give them a heads-up.
Still, if something goes wrong and you end up staying put, you could end up with a disappointed colleague who might be tempted to help you on your way out the door (with a hint to the boss that you’re trying to leave, for example). You’ll want to be almost 100% sure that the new job is really happening before you let them know.
It’s tempting to tell your co-workers about your job search—not only because they might be able to help, but because it’s a big change and it can feel like a relief to share something you’ve kept to yourself for a long time. There can definitely be some upsides, but in many cases the risk will outweigh any potential benefits. So think carefully and make sure you’re protected before you share.