my boss wants me to tell her when I’m looking for a new job

A reader writes:

How should I handle my boss’s request that I keep her in the loop when I’m thinking of moving on to a new job? I work on a small team (three people: me, another colleague, and our supervisor) for a medium-sized nonprofit. Since our team is so small and because we work under very tight deadlines, when I first started the job two years ago, she said it would put the team in a difficult position if I just put in my two or three weeks’ notice and leave. The people who held the position before me let her know when they were looking for jobs elsewhere several months in advance of leaving, and apparently it worked out well for everybody. She didn’t start trying to oust them from their position before they were ready, or anything like that.

But I feel that this puts me in a difficult position. The three people who held the position before me all moved on to freelancing or temporary unemployment after they left. None of them had to navigate the weirdness of telling our supervisor that they were actually interviewing elsewhere – they just decided on a rough departure date, left, and started picking up gigs where they could.

Last year I’d thought about moving on to a new job, and I decided to comply with my supervisor’s request and told her I was looking elsewhere. She was very understanding and supportive, but when I told her the next week that I had landed an interview (as she’d requested), she said that it seemed really early for that, and told me that I’m a very strong candidate but that I need to think hard about whether the position would constitute a step forward in my career. I didn’t end up moving forward with the interview or with my job hunt, but the whole thing felt too intrusive.

Based on my conversations with people outside of the organization, it’s not common practice to request this of your employees. But I do need to stay on her good side – she really likes my work and since this was my first full-time, non-seasonal job out of college, I absolutely will need her for a reference in the future. On the other hand, I don’t want to go through the rigmarole of telling her every time I’m thinking of applying to something new and have her start questioning how long I plan on staying, updating her every time I have an interview, etc., and I certainly don’t want to plan an end date if I don’t already have something else lined up. The other complicating factor is that I started working remotely three months ago when my partner and I moved across the country for his work. It took some convincing for the other higher-ups at the organization to agree to this arrangement, and I suspect she’ll be peeved if I take off so soon after she went to bat for me in making the remote arrangement work.

I’m the type of person who always keeps my eye out for new opportunities, and I saw a position a few weeks ago that I was really excited about and ended up applying. Now I’ve been invited to interview, and I’m not sure if I should tell my supervisor or not.

Don’t tell her about the interview.

It is 100{986d44274747a5c76dc1672921bbe0dd933450491f05a8d42739aa242512160b} not common practice to tell your boss when you’re looking for a new job.

There are some cases where it happens, but those are very much the exception, not the norm. In large part, that’s because it’s really common for people who do that to end up getting pushed out earlier than they’d wanted to leave. And when that happens, it’s not always some awful manager saying “now that we know you’re planning to leave, you’re too disloyal to stay, so your last day is next week.” It’s often more like, “Well, now that we know you’re leaving, we need to start looking for a replacement” … followed by, “We’ve found someone who can start in three weeks, so let’s plan your last day for then.” Or even just, “We need to nail down a timeline so we can plan the hiring process.”

And the other reason it’s not the norm to let your employer know you’re job searching is that it’s simply not their business.

But there are some organizations that really do handle this kind of announcement well, and don’t push people out earlier. Even then, though, it’s not typical to loop in your manager every time you have an interview. That’s way too much information — and in your case, it’s opening the door for your boss to offer commentary that you don’t want. You really, really don’t need to tell her about interviews you have, or rejections you get, or second interviews, or so forth.

Frankly, you should be fine giving her no additional information whatsoever. At whatever point you accept an offer and need to resign, if she questions why she didn’t have more notice, you can say, “This fell in my lap and it was too good to pass up” or “I didn’t realize how quickly they’d move” or “I didn’t want to talk with you until I felt reasonably confident it was going somewhere,” or whatever feels comfortable to you. You do not owe her a justification for why you didn’t keep in the loop on every step of your search; that’s not a reasonable thing for her to expect.

And yes, it’s a small team with tight deadlines, and it’ll be a strain to have your position vacant while they look for a replacement. That’s how this works! That’s just what happens when people leave, and employers survive. It’s part of the deal.

And really, would her way be that much better? If you told her about every interview, she still wouldn’t know when to pull the trigger on hiring until you actually accepted an offer — and if she started too soon and your search took longer than anticipated, she’d either lose her top candidates to other offers, or be pressuring/checking in with you an annoying amount, or be tempted to push you out. There’s very little there that’s to your advantage. The reason she thinks this has worked well in the past is because the people leaving were moving on to temp jobs or freelancing, where these timeline constraints weren’t in play. That’s not your situation.

Apply, interview, and keep it to yourself.

The part about leaving soon after she went to bat for you to work remotely is a different issue. Honestly, it’s not great to do that if there was clearly an assumption you’d be staying for a while. It sounds like she used up capital getting the remote arrangement approved for you, and it would be understandable if she was frustrated that you were job searching so quickly afterwards, absent some clear reason like that the remote arrangement wasn’t working well. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it anyway, but be aware that that may indeed be legitimately frustrating to her and could sour her on you a bit. That’s not life-long grudge material, but I wouldn’t fault her for feeling a little burned by that.

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