Should I tell my boss I'm looking for a new job?
June 6, 2012 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Should I tell my boss I am looking for a new job?

I have been working the same job for four years. I do not care for the job and do not really have much opportunity to advance in the office. I am graduating with my masters this weekend (which my boss knows) but I have not made any suggestions that I am currently job-hunting.

Reason for not telling: while I do know that my boss will take the news of my jobs search graciously, I am worried that any redundancies that may go into effect (though the chances are slim) would go to me if I tell him that I am on my way out the door. I am a good performer, and I am not afraid of being laid off for any other reason (that is, I would be the last person to get the cut if it came down to it unless they thought I was on my way out already). It's very important that the transition between jobs is as seamless as possible. In other words, I will continue to work at this job until I find something better that pays the same - so the job search might take a while.

Reason for telling: I really like my boss, and I want to 1) use him as a reference as possible and 2) not burn any bridges. He's been tremendously supportive of my graduate school schedule, and a genuine pleasure to work for over the last four years. I want to do right by him, but I don't want to shoot myself (and by extension, my family) in the foot at the same time.

Other information: so far as training goes, there's an admin who has been sharing duties with other folks in my position and filling in while we our out sick. This employee would almost certainly take my position, so I am not worried about my boss spending too much time training someone to fill my shoes.

If you absolutely need more info, contact me at
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
People often worry way too much about their current place of employment. You are not the first person to leave, and (unfortunately) after a month or so you probably won't be missed, because capitalism moves on. Business is, well, a business.

If you take a new job, as long as you follow the HR policies surrounding your resignation you will maintain the good relationship with your boss and your place of employment.
posted by lstanley at 2:59 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Most jobs don't require references as part of the application process -- usually it's on request. You don't have to put anything about references on your resume.

If you need a reference, wait until you have serious interest from another a job. At that point, you could ask your boss to be a reference.

If you don't need a reference, don't tell him until you actually give notice. You won't be burning bridges, just thank him for the opportunity and tell him you're moving on.
posted by chickenmagazine at 3:00 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nope. There's almost never any upside to telling your boss you're looking for a job. (It's not even "doing the nice thing"—telling him now is just, at best, causing your boss anxiety. And at worst, making him hate you.)

You tell your boss, if you wish to negotiate, when you have an actual job offer. Other than that, you tell your boss when you're going to be leaving.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 3:01 PM on June 6, 2012 [14 favorites]

Reason for telling: I really like my boss, and I want to 1) use him as a reference as possible and 2) not burn any bridges.

"Not burning bridges" with an old boss is when you go into his office, close the door, sit down, and say, "boss, I have had a great experience here, but I have accepted another opportunity, and I will be leaving in 2 weeks." He'll reply that he's sorry to see you go and wish you well.

A reference from your current boss will likely not be necessary except to confirm that you do, in fact, work there, and that will be only at the very, very end of your job search process. The last thing you want to do is announce the fact that you're looking for another job now, when you've barely even started looking.
posted by deanc at 3:03 PM on June 6, 2012 [27 favorites]

Is there any relationship between your current job and what your future job might be? Because if it's in the same field, or he might know people in the field where you are hoping to work, the best possible reason to tell your current boss is so you can leverage the networking possibilities. There are few more powerful ways to get a job than to have a well-networked boss on the lookout for you and willing to put in a word and tell you about opportunties when they come up.

If there is just no possible way he could help you other than being a good reference, you can tell him when you ask him to be your reference.

Good luck!
posted by MoonOrb at 3:05 PM on June 6, 2012

No! Get the new job first. Tell the old boss second. Ask for the reference third. Then everyone goes their separate ways.
posted by mleigh at 3:13 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am worried that any redundancies that may go into effect (though the chances are slim) would go to me if I tell him that I am on my way out the door

Why does this worry you? Would you rather someone else in your office -- someone who wants to stay employed there and isn't actively seeking another job -- get laid off?

Still, no reason to tell. The companies you'll be interviewing with are used to dealing with keeping things on the d/l with current employers.
posted by supercres at 3:16 PM on June 6, 2012

In some ways the workplace is like a game with rules.

The game is:
You look for the new job as discreetly as possible.
When you find a new job, you inform old job boss that you will be leaving in two weeks (or whatever the local customary length of time).
Old job boss may or may not offer you more money and/or better job duties.
You can consider this counteroffer, and accept, or graciously refuse.

No one at new job expects to ask your old job boss for a reference.

1. No matter what, you are gracious to old job boss and colleagues. Even if they are terrible.
2. No matter what, once you get to new job, you don't talk down your old job boss and colleagues. It is a small world.
3. Right up until the time you hand in your resignation, you act like you plan to work at old job forever.
4. Right up until the time they fire you. old job boss and colleagues act like you are all part of one big family.

You're not getting fired, but my point is that, in most places, they could fire you today, and not even have to give a reason. (At least it's true in the United States, unless you have a contract, or are in a union, or have some other special circumstance. But for most of us, it's true.) Loyalty is not part of the rules.
posted by tuesdayschild at 3:16 PM on June 6, 2012 [14 favorites]

Don't tell, unless you need him to serve as a reference. I had an employee do this recently, and my reaction was to just mentally totally write them off as of that moment. In my head they were already gone, since I now knew with total certainty that they were planning to leave. If I hadn't needed them during that week (and they found a new position within another week or so) I'd have been pretty tempted to just say "good luck" and have them pack up their desk and hit the road. It's a lot easier to hire a new person than it is to deal with will they/won't they uncertainty and know that you can't give that person any large tasks or long-term projects.
posted by Forktine at 3:18 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

No. Some workplaces actually have firm rules about terminating employees who are known to be looking, for the reasons described by Forktine. I know it always feels sneaky, but it is not unethical to NOT tell your boss. They may be friendly, but they're not your friend, at least not in this context.
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:23 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh god no. No matter how much you "like" your boss, he might drop you like a hot potato if you tell him.
posted by notsnot at 3:23 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

The only time you HAVE to tell your boss you're applying elsewhere is if you are applying for a job at the same workplace you are at now. And that's because the gossip mill will tell them if you don't, not to mention whoever you're applying to. Otherwise, never, ever, ever mention it until you've got the job offer in hand.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:25 PM on June 6, 2012

Your boss wants someone to do the job you do now. If you tell him, you start the clock ticking. The race is on: Can you find a job before he finds your replacement, or will he find your replacement before you find a job?
posted by Houstonian at 3:43 PM on June 6, 2012

I know a number of people who thought their workplace was like a family and they loved it and they owed it to their boss to tell them and were genuinely surprised when they got let go that very day.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:48 PM on June 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

What if it takes you 8 months to find a new job? Awkward!

Don't tell your boss. It keeps your options open.
posted by amanda at 4:08 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

There is absolutely no upside to doing this. Do not tell anyone you are job hunting until you've accepted your new offer and giving your two weeks notice, which you should do in person, with thanks for the opportunities you've gotten, etc.

Don't even tell your colleagues. People gossip.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:12 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

The answer to this question is always no. The first appropriate time to mention your job search is in your official resignation letter.
posted by anonnymoose at 4:20 PM on June 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Or official resignation conversation.)
posted by anonnymoose at 4:21 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you really feel it is necessary to give more warning and you don't think it will backfire, you can give three or four weeks notice instead of the standard two. I gave four weeks notice at my previous job and I am glad I did. However, I did so because it still fit into my timeline to do so and there was no backup ready so they needed to interview and hire someone for a fairly specific position with uncommon requirements. I think two weeks for your situation is perfectly reasonable.

Regardless, you should definitely wait until you have another job, don't give more than a month notice because there's no way they need more than that amount of time to prepare (especially given there's already a backup) and you don't want to be the walking dead, and only do so if it doesn't interfere with your second job offer's start date.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:22 PM on June 6, 2012

Don't tell them until you've signed a contract with the new job.

In the worst case, you will be handed some non-disclosure agreements to sign and escorted out immediately. Lame duck employees are security hazards. It may be months before you find a new job.

The upsides are none.

Tell absolutely nobody at the company or connected to the company. Be prepared for the possibility that you are found out before you are ready, make sure you have any documents or work saved offsite now. Do this now, don't get blindsided by getting locked out of your company e-mail!

Good luck. Oh, and burn all those vacation days you have left if they don't get converted into anything.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 4:59 PM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to be nice, give your boss an extra week or two notice once you have secured a job, or if you are really sure you can get the job and they really need a reference, and your boss is really the only source for a good reference.

In regards to vacation time: use it if you can, but do so in a respectful way if you're concerned about burning bridges. This is actually an ideal time for using vacation time, being summer and all, but you don't want to look replaceable too soon.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:34 PM on June 6, 2012

No - do not tell anyone until you turn in your resignation, then believe me the two week notice (or however long it is for you) will be long enough to get out the door gracefully.
posted by sandyp at 5:58 PM on June 6, 2012

"Not burning bridges" with an old boss is when you go into his office, close the door, sit down, and say, "boss, I have had a great experience here, but I have accepted another opportunity, and I will be leaving in 2 weeks." He'll reply that he's sorry to see you go and wish you well.

This is exactly what will happen.

If you tell your boss that you're looking for another job before you find one, though, it can get very awkward if you don't find one.

I told my boss that I was leaving well in advance because he basically told us we were probably all getting laid off in a year anyway, including him. That's kind of an unusual situation, though.
posted by empath at 5:58 PM on June 6, 2012

There is no reason to tell your current boss that you're looking. It will only be more awkward if it takes you awhile to find something new, and as soon as you indicate that you're looking to leave, you're working on borrowed time. If the company knows you're planning to leave, there's no reason for them not to start looking for your replacement immediately. As long as you respectfully turn in your 2 weeks' notice once you find a new job, you won't be burning any bridges.
posted by shooze at 8:50 PM on June 6, 2012

I think it's okay to say something like "no one is gonna be here forever" and just be up-front that at the end of the day it's all about matching your desired career path to a business trajectory, and letting your employer know when that is and is not the case.

Anything outside that obvious, most helpful when it is abstract and ongoing, dialog you gain nothing.

The only times I'll openly discuss the job market possibilities are when the workplace has gotten downright obviously crazy (like no manager for 9 out of the past 12 months or something) and dysfunctional to the point that upper management needs to understand large attrition rates are about to occur.
posted by roboton666 at 9:16 PM on June 6, 2012

I did, but my situation was snowflake-city; your situation is very typical and no, you don't tell your boss you are looking. Don't tell anyone in your current office.
posted by sm1tten at 7:23 AM on June 7, 2012

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