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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

When You Should (and Shouldn't) Tell Your Boss You're Job Searching

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If you’re not thrilled with your current work situation, chances are you’ve probably discussed your options with family or friends. You may have even confided in your co-workers. But there’s probably one person you haven’t run it by: your boss.

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Whether you’re unhappy in your present position or simply seeking new challenges, you may be wondering if sharing your feelings with your immediate supervisor would be more helpful or harmful. What should you do? Tell your boss you’re job hunting or keep it on the low-down?

You may never know, but here are a few things to consider.

Evaluate Your Relationship

Before doing something you may regret, David Pinkley, founder and CEO of The Career Sage, suggests taking some time to evaluate the nature of your relationship.

If you have a supportive boss, the professional speaker and career strategist says you can let him or her know you’re looking for more or different responsibilities, and together you can explore every possible opportunity internally.

Most often, it’s in the company’s best interest to try to retain a valuable employee, Pinkley explains, and while your boss may be sorry to lose you on the team, he or she may help you move within the organization. (And for a little inspiration, here’s how one person did just that.)

But if months pass and nothing comes of it, or if you’ve been given a few promises that don’t pan out, it won’t come as a surprise to your superior if you end up leaving. “Engaging in the conversation takes the conflict out of the situation,” Pinkley says. “It shows you don’t want to leave, you’ve tried to stay but it just isn’t happening.”

When Shakira Johnson, president of Johnson PR & Events, learned one of her top employees was interested in switching careers, initially she was upset but ultimately helped her staffer find her way in her new endeavor.

“After working together for six-plus years, my team lead/assistant/angel told me she wanted to change careers and work as a skin care therapist,” Johnson notes. “I was disappointed to know she was shopping her resume around, but was happy to support her growth and shared some of my contacts with her. To this day, we still keep in touch and are very close. She even freelances for my company when she is available for events.”

A supportive manager can also be helpful if you think you could be on the cusp of receiving an offer and need a reference. Believing her supervisor would give her a good recommendation, Nicole B., a writer and editor, let him know she was looking to move on early in her job search.

“I was in the process of applying for other positions and wanted to be upfront about what I was doing,” she explains. “I felt he would be an appropriate reference for some of the openings I was applying for, so I told him in the early stages in case it got to the point where I needed to provide his information.”

Nicole said sharing the news that she was looking to leave her position didn’t impact their relationship.

“He was very understanding of my decision and complimented my progress in my role,” she says. “He did not change how he treated me, and I continued to work at the same pace, so I don't think there were any differences for him to comment on.”

Beware the Pitfalls

Nicole says while it worked out in that instance, she’d probably take it on a case-by-case basis before disclosing a possible departure down the road.

“I’m not sure if I would do it again,” she says. “In that situation, I felt it was the appropriate move, but in the future it would depend on the company and my relationship with my manager.”

Unless you have a good relationship with your boss, Pinkley doesn’t advocate sharing the news.

When thinking about leaving his job in marketing, Paul M. says he chose not to tell anyone until he’d returned the signed offer letter for his new gig.

“I didn’t want people thinking that just because I was looking for something new that meant I wasn’t going to do the best job possible while I was still working there,” Paul explains. “I had no idea how long it might be before I’d be offered something that made leaving worthwhile. In the meantime, I didn’t want to be passed over for interesting projects or looked at as the guy who couldn’t wait to jump ship.”

Also, consider that you could end up in a “devil you know is better than the one you don’t” scenario, and the job you have may seem pretty good when compared with others once you start looking. If that turns out to be the case, you’ll be glad you haven’t spilled the beans.

Don’t Tell By Showing

If you opt not to tell your boss you’re thinking about making a move, be sure not to do anything that could easily tip your hand. In short: Don’t use your company’s internet to look for a new job (many employers track usage), and if you need to make or take a call, do it on your cell phone from outside the building. Conduct the bulk of your job hunt off hours.

Further, don’t advertise that you’re looking on social media, which could quickly alert higher-ups to the fact that you’re hoping to leave. Potential employers may also scan your profile and consider your lack of discretion a trait they’d prefer to avoid in a new hire.

Deciding to tell your boss you’re job hunting is an incredibly personal and definitely case-by-case decision. Weigh your options carefully, talk to a trusted friend or colleague first, and, no matter what you decide, keep bringing your A-game to the office until the day you leave.

Whether you disclose that you’re leaving or not, how you handle your last few weeks or months can do a lot (good or bad) for your professional reputation.

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