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What to Do If Your Boss Finds out You’re Looking for a Job

By 14 February 2019December 2nd, 2021Published Works

How often have you tip-toed out of office for a meeting and whispered into the phone when headhunters come calling or gone to crazy lengths to be discreet when looking for a new job?

You’ve probably heard of advice like, ‘always plan interviews or meetings at lunch time,’ or say you’re going to dentist appointments instead of interviews and be extra careful while printing out your resume with the shared office printer. Despite your best attempts, what if your manager finds out about your job search? How do you react? Through my 20-year career in consulting and coaching, as well as my own experiences of switching several jobs, I’ve learned and given two rules of thumb.

Don’t lie: It’s a bad idea. Be calm and be honest. You can decide how much information to give, but, in any case, admit the fact that you are in the market for a new role.

Explain Why: Set up a time with your manager to explain why you’re looking for a new job. It could be the quality of your current work, that you don’t see enough opportunity for growth, or that you’re simply bored of what you’ve been doing. Depending on your relationship with your boss, be as explicit or candid as you think is appropriate. For instance, if you are looking for a new role simply because you really can’t get along with your boss, you may want to avoid saying that specifically. But, is there a way to approach your boss about your job search before they find out?

Here are some possible scenarios and ways to navigate them.

Scenario: You don’t see any opportunities for growth.

Even though you’ve been a great performer, you recognize that you will probably not get promoted or given more responsibilities as the company has a very flat structure. Your business or function no longer seems to be a priority for the company, so you feel the need to look outside the firm to grow in your career.

What you can do: Have an open discussion with your manager. Lay down the facts and discuss your career aspirations. In order to move forward, upwards and onwards, you need to move out. Who knows, your manager might encourage you to do just that. They may even offer to become your reference or consider letting you transfer to a different core business within the company.

Scenario: You feel you’re being paid less than the market rate.

What you can do: If you’ve done your research, asked outside friends or colleagues what other firms pay people with similar experience for similar roles, checked out LinkedIn and Glassdoor, and feel that you truly deserve more, say so. Have an honest conversation with your boss. Explain candidly that you feel you deserve more. If you really love what you do, use some of your detailed research to try and negotiate a higher salary. A performance review would be ideal time to bring this up. If you already have tried to negotiate prior to a review and your manager ignored your thoughts, it’s okay to revisit this now.

Caution: Use this approach only if you know your facts will not backfire!

Scenario: You need a new challenge.

You like your firm, colleagues, and manager but want to do something different because you’re bored.

What you can do: See if you can convince your manager to help facilitate an internal move: say to a different office, or team. You could also try to broaden your role by assuming more responsibilities.

Scenario: You want to explore new opportunities because you feel you’ve stayed at this company for too long.

What you can do: You can say, “A friend recommended I check out this opportunity at her company and it seems rather interesting. I couldn’t see where I would go from here (my current role) as we have a very flat organization structure. This new role will help me expand my responsibilities and learn more about my skills and abilities.”

Scenario: You simply feel insecure.

Your organization or function is going through turmoil, an acquisition or restructuring. You have little line of sight about what your role could look like in the future, or if you will have a role at all.

What you can do: This is a good time to share the full truth. Hopefully, your manager might tell you more about what’s going on — if he or she is privy to the inside scoop. You’ll either be assured of your position, or they might tell you to go ahead and plan your future. Either way it’s a win-win proposition for you.

Scenario: You are looking for a role for personal reasons, such as spouse or family relocation.

What you can do: Come clean! Talk about how you love your work but explain that you have personal constraints. Your manager might even go out of their way to help you.

When I was getting married and moving to Mumbai from Delhi, my firm went all out to find me a place in the Mumbai office even though our operations there were lean. Honestly, it did not justify another consulting headcount, but they did this because I was a high performer. I was hesitant to ask initially, but I am glad I did!

Reiterate your Commitment

Whichever way the conversation goes, the best thing to do is assure your manager of your commitment until the very end of your work and that you will keep them updated on the developments. Reiterate that you do not have one foot out of the door and you don’t plan to leave until you leave. Do go all out to prove that you mean it.

This article was first published on HBR Ascend,

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