Current Job wants me to tell them if I'm looking. Weird?
March 5, 2014 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Boss has asked me to let her know if I'm looking. I think it's weird. Am I right?

After a series of very stressful personal events, my boss pulled me in to ask me if I was happy at my current job. There are reasons that I'm not, to be truthful, and I was truthful with her about my current concerns. At the end of this meeting, she and I had a couple of points that we were both going to work on.

Part of the reason she pulled me in was that I was wearing nice clothes a few days before (what?) and I ran a long (~30min) errand in the middle of the afternoon (which isn't . .uncommon? I had the time and the place was going to be closed after 530pm). She asked me if that had been an interview, and truthfully it hadn't been. Then, she asked me if I was interviewing, to tell her because she wanted to support me and also she'd be really upset if I quit without letting them know that I was looking.

My instinct here is that it's all very well for her to have hurt feelings if I'm looking (and, well, I am) but it's not really okay to ask me to tell her if I'm looking or interviewing. For one thing, if I interview and don't get the position, then I think that makes my position where I am much more weak.

So my questions are:
1) Is this a weird thing to ask me to do? Because I think it's weird.
2) Would you ever agree to this kind of thing? All I ended up saying was that I would never b e so obvious about disappearing for an interview.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In general, you need to look out for yourself... so no, it's not her business.

However, I've certainly been in a position where I've let my current employers know I was looking -- that is, if they asked. That has generally happened when:
--there have been major changes in the office structure/leadership
--I was on a limited term appointment that may or may not be renewed
--I was obviously working below my potential/training/abilities/pay scale

In this situation, I had a long-term and close relationship with my supervisors, who had created jobs for me twice where none had existed before. And I'm still in that office, because we were able to negotiate the continuation of employment until I got to the point of a permanent, full-time position.
posted by Madamina at 10:09 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it's weird. I'd also be concerned that she leapt straight to that assumption.

I'd never agree to that condition in any circumstances because it gives them license to find your replacement and fire you first. I wouldn't be confrontational about it. Just say you're happy at this time and are not currently looking - even if it's not true.

If they were looking at eliminating your position they'd certainly not give you advance warning, so you don't owe them a courtesy they wouldn't give in return.
posted by winna at 10:11 AM on March 5, 2014 [21 favorites]

It's a little weird, but maybe you're actually important and they don't want you to disappear abruptly? Is it a small company? I worked at a smaller place where three key people left around the same time and it basically sank the whole company.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 10:12 AM on March 5, 2014

It's a weird thing to ask, but it's not inconceivable to be asked for either good or ill. But I wouldn't be confident about which one it is: at the end of the day your employer is your employer, and "shitty thing to do to a person" and "effective business management" often overlap in ways that will not benefit you.

Personally, I work in an at-will state (i.e. I can get canned at any time, without reason) and I would never answer that question truthfully if I had even a vague suspicion that it would mean I'd be out on my ass the following day or week. It's just not worth it and you owe it to yourself to look out for yourself the way your employer looks out for their business.
posted by griphus at 10:13 AM on March 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

I don't think it's weird. I think that, in good circumstances, it's actually a really decent thing for a supervisor to do, and it's common in some fields. It's a lot easier to look with your boss's blessing. That said, if you don't feel like you trust your boss to be a good actor here, then you're under no obligation to tell her about any other jobs you apply for.
posted by lunasol at 10:16 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't think it's weird. If you're a manager and you think your employee is interviewing, you should probably talk to them to see if they're happy. That's good management.

Also, interviewing only makes your position weaker if you give them the impression that companies are turning you down, rather than the other way around. A lot of people regularly interview at other companies to keep a foot in the market.
posted by Jairus at 10:18 AM on March 5, 2014

I don't think it's that weird. I've had employers ask (including my current boss). I've actually had past employers offer to help me find a job at a client, if I were looking, to cement the relationship between our firm and theirs. My wife's boss was disappointed when she put in her notice because she wanted a chance to make things better (too little, too late).

I would never in a million years tell my boss that I was looking (but I'm not, boss, honest). Unless you well and truly care about your boss--they're your great uncle Louie, or they picked you up out of the gutter and paid for your to become a neurosurgeon--it's just a job and the hurt feelings of your ex boss or former colleagues really don't mean anything.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:18 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. Not weird, has happened to me many times. More common in certain paranoiac and overworked fields (like tech).

2. Don't ever agree to it. :)

In past positions, coworkers and I have set up agreements to dress up every once in awhile to keep managers on their toes (and to help throw a wrench in detecting any real interviewers).
posted by jenh at 10:20 AM on March 5, 2014 [18 favorites]

I don't think it's weird, because it's happened to me in the past. I never answered truthfully, just like I didn't expect anyone to tip me off if I was on the layoff list.

I did, however, occasionally "dress up" in order to keep my old job and its myriad managers aware and on their toes. That was fun.

(On preview, what jenh said!)
posted by kimberussell at 10:21 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's weird. The intent may be hostile or benign or, (most likely) the boss is just nervous and unsure what she's doing.

Nevertheless, the only time to tell someone you're looking is when you have the offer from the new job IN WRITING in your hand. At that point, if they're so concerned about keeping you, they can make a counter-offer.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:24 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

As everyone else seems to have said, no, it's not unheard of to ask, but no way should you answer, unless you're willing to walk from the job should things go badly AND you think there might be something to gain.

I am Truth McTrutherson in most areas, but there is no way I would answer that anything other than straight-up "No! I love it here!" And then dig with both hands until you find another job, because she sounds really toxic.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:24 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Personally, I would actually start looking because of this conversation, which is a conversation that would not bode well for my present job.
posted by fartbutt at 10:29 AM on March 5, 2014 [16 favorites]

She might have had good intentions, but you would still be very ill-advised to tell her you were looking.

I agree with fartbutt, this is the kind of conversation that should prompt you to start looking.
posted by tel3path at 10:41 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Asking you whether you're interviewing? May or may not be weird, though I certainly haven't had that happen to me before.

Saying they'd be upset if you quit without letting them know you're looking, however That would weird me out.

As others have mentioned before me, you're not obligated to let them know about your future plans until you have your new job offer and you hand in your notice. Letting them know could, in fact, open you up to gossip and being undermined at your remaining time at work.

Hope this helps and good luck with your job search.
posted by Tsukushi at 10:51 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds like she is coming from a misguided but well-intentioned place. She wants to be given a chance to fix problems before you leave.

However, I do not think you should tell her that you are interviewing! If you stay, this will be remembered and she may act strangely (feel rejected, trust you less, give the best projects to people she trusts more).

Instead, when you give notice, give 1-2 more weeks than you need to. Pre-emptively tell her "We had that conversation and I want to do right by you, so I am giving you an extra week of notice." This will make her feel somewhat comforted. You are of course not obligated, but it is amazing how much goodwill is created by giving an extra week of notice. You will barely notice or remember that week, but your manager will think positively of you and give good references for you. It is a small world and you may cross paths again, so may as well have a small inconvenience in order to reap major goodwill.
posted by cheesecake at 10:59 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

This happened to me too with a previous boss, and I thought it was very inappropriate, but we did not have a good working relationship.

The answer depends so much on your relationship with her, but in general, I would think it was weird that
(1) she's monitoring your movements and your appearance so closely
(2) that the first thing she thinks, when you're out of the office for 30 minutes or dressed up nicely, is that you're looking for a new job.
(3) that she should expect you to let her know you're looking for a new job. Hello... that's what a notice period is for.
(4) that she is asking you to share personal information with her. This is a job - you don't owe her anything outside doing your job.
posted by Ziggy500 at 10:59 AM on March 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

You owe them whatever the agreed upon notice period is, and that's it. You don't stand to gain anything by telling them if you were looking. It's weird, and I wouldn't agree to it.
posted by stenseng at 11:06 AM on March 5, 2014

Personally, I would actually start looking because of this conversation, which is a conversation that would not bode well for my present job.

Yeah, the first thing I thought when I read this was that it reminded me of management advice in a class long ago that said there was a lot of value is asking someone, point blank, if they liked their job and wanted to keep it. Some employees cannot be happy in a position and that may or may not be anyone's fault. But it's not a conversation you probably have with someone when everything is cool.

That said, maybe she's coming from a reasonable point - she values you in this role and wants you to stay & be happy - but screwed up her delivery. Personally I would never ask someone if they were interviewing because in basically every case it's a request to be lied to. But I might have a sit-down with someone if I thought they were unhappy and it was something that could be dealt with. I might say they seemed unhappy, tell them I value their contributions and want to find a way for them to be happy with their position, talk about their goals and directions. And if I thought it was all pointless and they were going to bail anyway I might be a lot less likely to agree to any sort of expensive/difficult/sweeping changes in the environment.

But in your shoes, would I have done anything other than denied I was interviewing/looking? Absolutely not. Absolutely not plus 1000 if I thought there was a possibility I might have to stay or could become happy with the position again, because you're right - if they think you're one foot out the door why would they go any distance for you, or miss a shot to replace you with someone more committed?
posted by phearlez at 11:12 AM on March 5, 2014

I think it is unusual but I've had it happen to me before and, depending on your situation and your level of trust in your boss (and not just your trust that she's an OK person - also trust that she knows how to keep her mouth shut to higher-ups, if applicable), I think you can either tell her or not tell her.

It's definitely nice to have your boss in on your job search - you can take time off for interviews without having to come up with weird cover stories, and you can use her as a reference. But not all organizations and not all bosses are "safe."

So, if you don't feel comfortable, don't tell her. If you do and you feel like the benefits outweigh the risks, go ahead and tell her. Don't feel obligated to tell her though.
posted by mskyle at 11:20 AM on March 5, 2014

She can ask all day if she likes. But you have to protect yourself. Here's what I'd say if confronted that way again, "While I respect you as my manager, I'm going to continue to act in my own best interest." Smile enegmatically.

What I think is weird is that she wants you to let her know...and what? She'll give you a raise? Promote you? I mean, does she have something tasty in her back pocket that she's saving for a rainy day?

I would slowly de-personalize my office, take home one thing every other night. If anyone asks, "I'm de-cluttering."

Dress up once in a blue moon.

It does not hurt to keep them guessing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:23 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

She can ask all day if she likes. But you have to protect yourself. Here's what I'd say if confronted that way again, "While I respect you as my manager, I'm going to continue to act in my own best interest." Smile enegmatically.

What I think is weird is that she wants you to let her know...and what? She'll give you a raise? Promote you? I mean, does she have something tasty in her back pocket that she's saving for a rainy day?

I would slowly de-personalize my office, take home one thing every other night. If anyone asks, "I'm de-cluttering."

Dress up once in a blue moon.

It does not hurt to keep them guessing.

This is bad advice. Don't antagonize, just don't telegraph what you're up to.
posted by stenseng at 11:27 AM on March 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

This is bad advice. Don't antagonize,

Agreed, but it doesn't hurt to wear a suit (or whatever) to the office periodically as cover against someday needing to wear a suit to an interview.

I've done this to good effect. Plus, take off the suit jacket and tie or leave them in your car, or wear a jacket over your suit jacket and take them both off together, etc.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 11:41 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think this is weird. I've told supervisors in the past that I was going to start looking. People move on, new development or growth needs arise that can't always be met in the current workplace, someone is looking for a salary bump they can't get in the current company, etc. That's life. Some managers have bent over backwards to help me in the process, including making recommendations on places to work, calling folks in their network to make introductions, etc. I owe them a ton for the help.

As a manager, I'd do the same for anyone on my team who is looking. If someone is good, I'd want to try and keep them first, and if they couldn't be convinced, I'd want to be as helpful as I could be. It's in my best interest for them to end up in a better job than the one they have now - that means we grew them, developed them, and it improves our reputation in the marketplace.

Folks above are saying you should start looking because your boss asked you this, but I think that's foolish. Clearly, based on your conversation, your boss knew some things weren't sitting right with you, and it sounds like you both came up with things that you'll do differently to make the workplace better. That's awesome. He was perceptive, saw something that didn't sit right, and had an open conversation with you to make sure you were happy, and to fix things you were unhappy about. Who could ask for more than that?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:46 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

"I've been thinking about what you said, that you assumed I was looking. It got me thinking: is there anything about my performance, or about something going on at the company, that makes you think I should be looking? I value your opinion and advice, so if there's anything you think it would be appropriate to tell me, please know that I am always open to hearing it. If there is something in my performance, I'd like every option to improve it, and if there's something out of our control that jeopardizes my position here, I'd like to know about it as soon as possible."

Make that the crux of the conversation. But then, throw in: "Oh, and just to understand your expectations: if I do decide to look in the future, would you want to know when I was casually exploring opportunities, or once I had gone in for a second interview with one place, or when I had an offer letter, or what?"
posted by davejay at 11:50 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't tell your boss (or anyone else at work!) if you're looking; it sounds like she wants a heads-up so she can hire a replacement now, probably have you train them, then fire you at her convienence not yours. The only warning your employer is due is the standard two-week notice: no more, no less.

Slowly remove all personal property, both physical stuff in your desk plus any personal files on company computers or phones --- Ruthless Bunny's "I'm decluttering" is a good answer to nosy questions. But try to leave some larger/more obvious items, simply so your space doesn't look totally impersonal: if you always have a sweater or something in the office, leave it; remove any personal papers or anything else inside your desk, but try to leave the desk top (coffee mug, nameplate, framed photos) as usual.

Dress up a bit more now and then, especially on days when you'll be 100% in the office; if anybody asks, laugh and say you "simply felt like it". This will both throw them off the interview track and enable you to slowly build up a more professional wardrobe.
posted by easily confused at 11:56 AM on March 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

I agree with the cards-close-to-vest responses, but think about this: depending on what your field of work is, a potential new employer is likely to phone your current boss to ask her about you, whether or not you have listed her as a reference, and whether or not it is technically illegal. Any job-hunting should strategize around this worst-case possibility: if she is surprised by such a call, she would probably slam you regardless of your job performance.
posted by mmiddle at 1:20 PM on March 5, 2014

That's always a possibility - it can be mitigated, but not 100% prevented. At some point you do have to put all your cards on the table. I was in that exact situation transitioning from my previous to current job.

I didn't find any problems with letting your potential new employer know that you're concerned with your current employer's response should they find out you're looking, and would the potential new employer mind contacting references as late in the interview process as is convenient for them, should they reach a point where they might be interested in making you an offer.

You can also be selective about your references if possible, and let potential references know ahead of time that you'd prefer they keep it on the down low for the time being, should they be contacted.
posted by stenseng at 1:53 PM on March 5, 2014

Yes, this is weird. Though I see where suspicion might have crept in, it's none of her business.

I've been jokingly asked that on days I've worn a suit and tie to work (at the time I was in a community band, and had a job where t-shirts and jeans were acceptable, and often had concerts I wouldn't have made it to on time had I changed).

The only time I've honestly told a boss I was looking was when I KNEW FOR A FACT I was about to be laid off in a few months; in that case my boss helped with resume prep and was very lenient about time we took off for interviews. It was a weird work environment for that time frame.
posted by tckma at 3:16 PM on March 5, 2014

I have been asked and directly told an employer that I was looking, previously. I don't make a practice of it, and I'm not saying that you should. I'm merely saying that this is not unheard of, you don't have to disclose this information if you don't want to, and that there is really no need for you to act any differently at work regardless.
posted by sm1tten at 4:28 PM on March 5, 2014

It is not weird so much as it is unreasonable for her to ask. You don't have to tell them and it could jeopardize your position with them if they knew. They might start looking for a replacement, find someone they want to hire while you're still there and then push you out. If she asks and you are looking, just say you're not actively looking and don't expect to be leaving anytime soon but you are thinking about your long-term future or something. Maybe they will try to treat you better around the office. I dunno. I'd just feel free to just lie and then when you get a new job, claim it happened really quickly/unexpectedly -- that's probably what I'd do.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:29 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've had it happen at a toxic place where I would have been fired (and, indeed, it would have been used by some of my managers against other managers, because of a fucked up hierarchy that had them plotting against each other) and I've had it happen in a place where they basically found me a pretty solid freelance gig that allowed me to keep working with them, just not for them. So, could be OK, could be shitty, depends on your relationship. In general, I'd trust your gut.
posted by klangklangston at 11:49 PM on March 5, 2014

It isn't weird as long as it is a two way street. The employer doesn't get the courtesy of months advanced notice to replace employees while exercising at-will clauses and having security escort people out of the building on Friday afternoon.
posted by dgran at 10:35 AM on March 6, 2014

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