should you tell your boss you’re job-hunting?

A reader writes:

I have a good relationship with my boss and enjoy my current job and employer, but I’m about to interview for another job that is both a career “step up” and a shorter commute. The organization requires an “assessment” on a Wednesday followed by initial interviews that Friday, which means I would need to schedule time off on both weekdays. Since I haven’t yet had a first interview, it’s not certain whether I’ll be among those chosen to go on to the next round.

My question is: Do I tell my boss the real reason I’ll be requesting time off as a courtesy to her, or do I wait until I find out whether I’m a finalist? If I don’t tell her the full reason for the time off, what do I say? I won’t lie, and I suspect that being vague will tip her off anyhow.

The answer to this is highly dependent on the culture at your workplace and your relationship with your boss.

The standard answer to this — and the answer for you unless you have concrete reason to believe otherwise — is that you don’t tell your employer that you’re job-searching until you have accepted another offer. This is because many employers, once they know you’re looking, will begin treating you differently — for instance, giving you fewer plum assignments or no long-term assignments, curtailing any investments in your training or development, seeing you as disloyal or a short-timer, and in some cases, even letting you go. And after all, you may not get this job, and then you could be stuck in an awkward situation for quite some time.

However, there are some organizations, and some bosses, where this is not the case. (If anyone who works with me is reading this, we’re one of them.) I believe that in most cases, smart employers should cultivate an atmosphere where employees who are ready to move on can freely share their plans. Why? For two reasons:

1. When employers do this, they get employees who give them really long notice periods. I’ve had employees give me as much as eight months notice that they planned to leave! This is fantastic for me as a manager, because it allows me to structure the hiring of their replacement so that the new person starts with a week or two of overlap with the exiting person, which both helps with training and eliminates the vacancy period we’d otherwise have. (And since vacancies cause strain on other employees who have to pick up the extra work, this is good news all around.) When employers penalize employees for giving lots of notice, they guarantee that they will just get the standard two weeks, which leaves the manager scrambling to cover the vacancy and rushing to hire.

2. It’s good for morale for employees to know that when they’re ready to move on, they won’t need to sneak around, and that they can even seek help from the person who may be best equipped to find them their next position — their current manager. If a good employee comes to me ready to start looking at other options, I will likely try to persuade them to stay — but if I can’t, I will go all out for them as far as helping them network into their next job, giving interview advice, etc. I do this partly because I like helping people professionally (hence, uh, this blog), but also because I believe it is good for my organization to have employees who know that this is how we treat people.

So there’s the argument for employers creating an atmosphere where employees know it’s safe to speak up when they’re job-hunting. But how do you, as an employee, know if your office is one of those?

Pay attention to how your employer has handled other employees who resign. Are people shown the door immediately? Pushed out earlier than they would have otherwise planned to leave? If so, assume the same may happen to you, and give two weeks and nothing more. But if your employer has a track record of accommodating long notice periods, has been grateful to employees who provide long notice, and has generally shown that employees can feel safe being candid about their plans to leave, take your cues from that. Some employers “earn” long notice periods and employees who keep kicking butt through their final day … and some don’t.

Oh, and if you decide you shouldn’t risk being candid, the usual options when you have to take time off for an interview are to say you have an “appointment” or “something personal that you need to take care of.” If your office is one where they’ll push back at something like that, then they deserve being lied to.

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I very much agree it depends on your relationship with your manager. In my last job, I could have given four weeks notice but knew I’d be treated so poorly, that I gave them exactly two. I worked 70 hours in my final week, extending offers and handling paperwork. When I asked my coworkers for some help tieing up ends, they pretended they didn’t know what language I was speaking. The end result is that the company gets a really bad referral from me, and they were completely screwed once I left and they realized how much I had been handling.

    In my current position, I have the type of relationship with my boss that she’d know immediately if I started looking because I trust her and the company enough to do right by me.

  2. Rosezilla*

    I once worked at a job where someone gave two weeks notice and they told them not to come back at all. Another time, they had someone fly back from overseas (dual citizen) to work six more months and then axed them after three weeks (neither case was for performance-related, imo). By the time I left, it was well-known that we didn’t have to legally give notice at all and the company screwed themselves as hard as possible. Dumb!

  3. Anonymous*

    some great advice there!
    I was wondering if being candid was the way out at where I work as a part-timer; they're indirect and use spies to get info /winkle it from me…I'm feeling rather paranoid and decided to "love my enemies" and faced them with my decision: moving on.

    They didn't ask why; I'm a part-timer; another cog in the wheele and I read that if I'm not making headway then it is time to move on.

    Do you think I did the right thing?
    I hate awkward office politics, and do hope you write me a line or two.

    you rock!

  4. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous, I think this is one of those situations where it's all about knowing your particular workplace, how they've handled similar situations, etc. There's what companies SHOULD do and then there's what many DO do, and they're not always the same — so the best you can do is take your cues from how you've seen them handle similar things before.

  5. Lisa*

    I have been accepted to a graduate school program (which is a different career, unlike what I am doing right now). I will be attending school after work hours which will cut into my overtime I have been working for the past 2 years. My dilemma is this: I have been unhappy in this position for the past year and have been actively looking for another job. I am not the only one unhappy–the demands of the job and the boss make everyone's frustration level pretty high. Should I tell my boss that I am looking for another job? He has told his staff that he wants to know if we are unhappy, leaving, etc., so he can try to solve the situation at hand (everyone has been telling him for quite some time!). However, he takes it very personally if you leave his office, so I figure, since I am already a 'short-timer' and he is going to get upset anyway, should I tell him that I'm looking for a better opportunity? Thank you.

  6. s.l.d'c*

    In a "right to work" state, you will often find yourself let go early once you give a two week notice.

  7. sarahrunrabbit*


    I've been in my current job for 2 and a half years and I'm the only one in this job role in the small company. The only other staff member who is always in the office has just gone on maternaty leave but is working from home.

    I want/need to leave this job. I'm not appreciated. The boss and the bosses son are paranoid and always think we're up to no good. I am buying my first flat which is about 50 miles from where I live/work currently. It should be a celebration but…

    You would probably say "don't tell your boss!" But I don't have any holiday left so I would need the time off for interviews and if I lie he will know (if I really have a dentist appointment he looks at you suspiciously!). I thought if I tell him now he will hate it but he'll get more notice than the 4 weeks I have to give and I could train the new person.

    It's going to be bad no matter what but do you have any ideas about how to put this to him especially the time off (unpaid of course) for interviews?

  8. Anonymous*

    I wouldn't tell my boss I have a good gig coming up in Bradenton closer to my house and my bowling league.

  9. Anonymous*

    I've been with the same company for almost five years and I will graduate with my MBA in May. During the performance review cycle I asked to be considered for a promotion. The response was no since there is not an available position. This started conversation between me and the head of the department. She said she understands where I'm at in my career and would support me whether I tried to stay or wanted to look elsewhere. She even offered to give me resume advice and a good referral in my future. I've been given a few days to decide what I want to do and then tell her next week. I do not have another job lined up and want to continue working for them while I do not. However I'm afraid if I'm honest about my plans to move on with my career she will cut me off now while I'm not necessarily in a financial position to do so. At the same time I want to be fair to them and give them time to find my replacement and not leave on bad terms. I would appreciate your advice…or if you could point me in the direction of someone I could talk to that would be helpful too.

  10. Anonymous*

    Thank you for this advice; my wife pointed out the site to me tonight after I made a difficult decision to tell my boss tomorrow about an interview I am having on Wednesday.

    I've been at this company for almost 4 years now; its a small shop, and I really like working there, but due to financial issues the company is having (they owe me almost $4k in backpay, as well as backpay to other employees, due to their clients not paying for projects we have completed – plus we have yet to get health insurance back after it was canceled nearly 6 months ago for other issues!), I decided that I needed to find something else.

    I posted my resume to several proposals a couple of days ago, and tonight got the offer for an interview on one of them. My boss is fair; others have given him long-term notice, and it has always worked out without grievance. I am not planning on quitting immediately, and I will tell him why I decided to look (I need to pay my bills and put food on the table); I can't imagine that he'll have a problem with me coming in late that morning. I do plan to tell him that I will work late that day into the evening to cover the time I missed.

    This feels like such a bittersweet possibility; I really wish this wasn't happening to my current employer – I am not even sure I will get paid what I am owed (I might have to file small claims, who knows). I am not sure how he'll react; in the past I have assured him I wasn't planning on going anywhere, but my hand has been forced now. He has tried to placate us as best as possible (giving us a portion of what is owed as money trickles in), but he is so far in arrears that I don't know if he'll ever get the money to pay us what he owes us, while still keeping the company going. He told us on Tuesday that he has around 10 days to get the money rolling in, or the company is in jeopardy.

    It really stinks all the way around, but I think what is best is honesty; the worst thing he can do is fire me – but I am not really losing much (because whether I stay or go, I still won't have my paycheck, what is owed me, or health insurance coverage).

    Thanks again…


  11. Anonymous*

    It will depend on the company you work for entirely. My last two jobs I quit, I finished the day, tied up all my loose ends, and handed keys, badge, etc to my boss on the way to the car. I worked with them long enough to know that notice would just set me up for some sort of childish behavior and no counter-offer would be made. You can only attend so many "Those people" and "everyone is so stupid" meetings before it sinks in, right?

    Another company, years ago, got two months notice. The manager was shocked, but very appreciative. I felt they would honor their end and they did.

    Mileage may vary, results may diverge from test group, etc.

  12. Anonymous*

    I have a very controlling employer who has lost 3 employees in a 3-week span, so she is very paranoid right now and thinks I may be next to quit. She keeps asking staff to be upfront with her and tell her if we're "unhappy," but I can't trust that she won't use that information to her advantage and fire me. I am new to this (I'm only 24 years old) and I may have a job offer by the end of this week, but I just don't feel comfortable giving her more than 2 weeks. I can't help feeling bad though. What should I do?

  13. Anonymous*

    I am surprised by the amount of loyalty and emotion that everyone is displaying to their workplaces. I agree it is hard not to "bond" with companies, employees, co-workers, ideas, etc. but we must remember that a company wants an employee who will do good work for the least amount of pay and benefits possible. That sort of company loyalty makes it hard for me to feel anything other than disenfranchised. I go to work because I like to eat. I stay at this job because I am satisfied with the work vs. pay ratio. This is a job, not my life.

    1. Pete*

      I think it’s the emotional people that “googled” for this type of article because they are torn by what to do. I totally understand the advice in the article. However, I think there are alot us out there that are not only loyal to a company, but dedicated to our chosen professions and the work that bears our name. Many of us want to wrap up projects and realize that planning goes a long way….even if it means planning around “my departure” in x amount of months. I only wish I worked for one of those companies that valued an employee’s desire for growth and appreciated a lengthy notice. I would be all to happy to oblige! :)

    2. The Grind*

      Hear, hear!

      I can’t help but be reminded of when I was let go recently, and how upset and hurt I was. I hadn’t seen it coming, and couldn’t help but feel a bit used.

      My mom reminded me of an episode of HGTV’s House Hunters International, where an American family was moving to Switzerland, and, once there, had a party to get to know their new neighbors. They told the cameras that they couldn’t help being struck when everyone they met asked their names and about their families, etc., but how no one seemed to ask or care what they did for a living.

      Believe it or not, in other countries, people are not defined by what they do for money. I decided to embrace this idea, and it got me through a really tough time.

  14. Anonymous*

    Wow I really like the comment above. You are right, why do we get so emotional! That simple comment made me feel better about leaving my underpaying current situation!

  15. Jenn26*

    I have worked for the same staffing agency for 6 years. I’ve just learned second hand that many of my duties are being phased out to the corporate level and that basically I will become no more than a receptionist. A terrific job has come to us for us to staff for…my dilema is that I want that job!!! I would be a tremendous step up for me….How do I go about applying for this job? My boss has been known to get upset and pouty when people say they are looking elsewhere for work. Also, business has been slowing down for us and it would be easy for him to let me go for that reason.
    Any advice in my ethical predicament? I don’t want to do this behind anyone’s back and I have no intention of stealing this from my company.

  16. Jazmin*

    I have been working with my emploter for 4 years. Business has gone down the drain. My boss has been paying me late these past couple of months the first time it happened I didn’t mind because well it was the first time. However, now everytime its time for me to get paid he seems to “forget” he tells me that I should remind him when it’s payday but in my opinion..I shouldn’t have to tell “remind” him to pay me. It makes me feel uncomfortable when I “remind” him. A couple of weeks ago he sent me a TEXT MESSAGE on a SATURDAY saying that business was slow and that he might have to make me part-time. I wrote back and told him that I completely understood HOWEVER, if he does make me part time I will have no choice but to start looking for another job. He said that we would discuss this on Monday. Monday came and he said that he did not want to lose me and that we will get through this. But we haven’t gotten through this he’s still paying me late all the time. I started applying at other jobs and have had a couple call backs now my dilemma is should I tell him that I’m looking for another job or should I just tell him I have “appointments” I have 2 interviews coming up on different dates and both interviews are set to last at least 4 hours. So I would definitely have to call off. I just don’t know what to do. Any suggestions?

  17. NextBestOpportunity*

    So here goes, I’ve been with the same firm for almost 6 years now. I’ve grown so much while with this firm and am very grateful for what I have learned. Recently we downsized, my job was saved and my current boss relocated me back to my hometown to assist with operations here. Now that things have calmed down I have found myself bored and the role I had before is more of what my current boss does. The whole, was a big-wig and now am the right hand man again syndrome kinda thing.
    I’m very close with my boss, and we have worked together on many things and I feel like we are very close. I think he knows something might be up. We even had a conversation a few weeks ago about my future with the company. I expressed to him that I’m not sure if my current career path is what I still want (as a lot has changed since our last down-sizing). He supported what I said and appeared to be very compassionate about the fact that this firm isn’t the only job out there and that I was very smart and he would always support my future decisions, no matter where they might take me. Very fatherly to some regard.
    Okay, so now that I have made him the Saint of all bosses, let me also say that if you are not always on his side, he is one of those to slowly work you out, less projects, less 1×1 time, ect.
    I have been approached by another firm and already done 2 rounds of interviews. I got a call this week to come in again next week to meet with the president of the company. Only thing is that it falls during a time at my current job that is hard to just ask for time off. Any other week would work. The firm doing the interview is limited on when I can come in next due to the presidents schedule.
    My current boss is one of those that when you ask for time off, you don’t normally just say it’s for personal reasons, as the relationships are closer than that.
    Ughhh, I’ve made this longer than it should be I’m sure, I just need some solid advice… Am I reading into this too much? I really want this new job, and if the last interview goes well, I’m very sure it is mine, but I don’t want to risk my current employment either. Help!?! ;-) thanks!

  18. Sydney*

    Here is my situation i currently work for a Data Entry company i started this job back in February. i was offered another position which they want me to start this upcoming Monday. i don’t know how to go about telling them about leaving but i feel the pay and benefits presented in this new position is well worth the quick job change and feel they should understand as i feel where i currently work at you aren’t appreciated and its a dead end job where you have no place to grow what so ever. i have told them i have a doctor’s appointment Monday to see if i like the job before i break them the bad new’s. to myself i shouldn’t let my feelings get in the way of me progressing towards a new job and there for if i like the job i will break them the new’s that Monday or Tuesday letting them know i will not be working for their company anymore. i feel that is the way they do business if they need better performance people and i rather make this job leap.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Um, what? If you took a new job that you’re starting Monday, you need to give notice NOW. Not after you’ve already started the new one.

  19. Sydney*

    The reason i have not givn my notice because its not a gurantee i will LIKE the job offered to me, i am testing it out to see if i will like the job its in a outbound call center with better pay but researching on how call center’s work and people’s opinion’s im not sure if it will be suitable for me as at the same time they base keeping you off your attendance and also your performance. I rather test this new job out while still having this one just in case i dont like the new job. my current job now it seem’s there is no room for advancement even the supervisor’s request time off. people normally slack off and dont work in the office they conversate alot.its a laid back enviroment almost as if your in highschool.

  20. m*

    What about when you are applying for other internal jobs?
    I do not have a great relationship with my new (as in they are new) managers. They are frankly the reason I want to move on. Our internal recruiter has suggested I inform them, but I do need this job until I secure another one. Can my current managers impede my chances for internal hiring? Can they also push me out if I do not get the current open position?

  21. Anonymous*

    I think telling your boss or not really depending on the situations. But, I would say, in 95% of time, NO!
    1. No position is irreplaceable. Who do you think your are? The CEO? Even a nation can run without a president for a short period of time until a new president was elected, or appointed. Do you think you are bigger than a president? Think again!
    2. Do they give you a notice before they layoff you? Most likely not.
    You can leave little hints to avoid a nasty exodus if your boss has a very unhealthy mentality. However, if he/she is sick enough, then your time before officially leaving the company will not be very good, neither. But I would say officially announcing your intention not only insults your employers’ intelligence, but also puts yourself in unecessary trouble. I have seen people been fired for minor reasons simply because they were looking for jobs outside. You don’t want to be marked disgracefully simply because you are doing what most other people are doing leagally and ethically!
    Protect yourself, especially if you are NOT sure who you are dealing with…

  22. kirstie*

    I am thinking of moving in with my long-term boyfriend’s family as he has recently got a job in that local area. I have applied for one over there too but I am unsure of when and how to let my former work know that Im looking/have applied for a new job. Im really confused as to what our leaving police is as we have had a few members of staff leave to go traveling or work overseas. They have all been told that they could keep their jobs and its left me a little stumpt.
    Any help that anyone could give would be a god-send!

  23. Mandy*

    If I tell my employer that I am “looking” at career advancements and have asked for their recomendation, can they legally tell friends or others in the work place that “I am leaving” if I have not put in my two weeks or even commited to leaving?

  24. Anonymous*

    I would not even let them know. Once they know, like someone said above their behaviour change towards you. I hate my job, its boring, dead end . There no scope for development, the managers go on courses and we get their hand me down training. Can not wait to leave. Even if you have a good relationship, people change, if your manager is not like family then no. Always look after number 1. Good Luck

  25. Anonymous*

    Its funny, I was honest with my boss about two months ago that I was going to start looking as I was unhappy at work and we had a really good relationship. He seemed supportive and looked for internal opportunities for me.
    Then today after knowing I was waiting on hearing on a role elsewhere he forced me into a corner where I have been given no option except resignation. The other option he has given me, is awful.
    Proving that inspite of how good a relationship you have with your boss, how well you think they will take it, you can always end up being very suprised.

  26. J*

    I work for one of Forbes top 100 companies to work for. I don’t dislike my job but it is far away from my friends and family. The position I am in is fairly good, but my department is a complete disaster. We actually got called in for a meeting with management because people in our department had a more negative view on the company than any other department. When I took this job I had been excepted to two different positions here, the other one has a set career path where my current one they keep promising to add something since everyone transfers out or leaves. My boss is pretty good and the people above him are actually pretty awesome as well, in fact the VP for my division regularly checks up with how things are going with the employees, our CEO walks our manufacturing floor almost weekly and talks to random people. The company really does put people first for the most part, I just don’t like my particular area (I like the job) and I want a defined career path to something better. I have only been here for about 9 months but I already get assignments that are normally reserved for the top people in my department ( I actually have the highest level degree in my department {in fact I have a higher degree than my boss} and am qualified for a bunch of positions in other areas and I wouldn’t mind staying if I transfered. Other people have been known to transfer to other departments in as little as six months but applying for any position internally requires your supervisors approval. I would like to try something else but I don’t really know how to bring it up as I am pretty sure that leaving would really hurt the department that just got back up to pace. I am also looking elsewhere and I am getting fairly good responses and I want to give ample notice but I wont be able to wait the 6 months it usually takes to fill my position. Do you have any advice?

  27. Danielle*

    What do you when your boss treats you like you told her that you are panning to leave?

    My boss hasn’t given me any long term projects and lack of opportunities for professional development. I feel that I have received the short end of the stick in comparison to my colleagues.

    I never told her that I was leaving nor hinting at it. I haven’t told anyone else in the department as well. However, now I want to leave because I feel like I am being pushed out. I want to work for someone that feels like I am a valuable employee. I don’t feel valued or respected at work. Also, I receive more criticism and rarely any positive feedback. I never experienced this attitude before with my prior supervisors. I know that she constantly speaks of prior employees that she mentored her previous place of employment. Therefore, I think that she is truly looking to replace me with a “friend”.

    Sorry for the long reply. I am disappointed in my current position because I had high hopes for her as my new boss, but I am sadden at her lack of trust in me. I feel that I work hard and don’t deserve it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Talk to her! Tell her that you’ve noticed you’re not getting any long term projects and that you receive more criticism than praise. Ask her what’s going on.

  28. Lauren*

    Question on this post!! I have a very close friend at work who knows I am job hunting, and I think in a way my boss HAS to know! I recently got my Bachelor Degree in IT and a year ago my current boss promised me there would be opportunities there for me. The company recently made a lot of organizational changes. A couple promotions, and they even hired someone off the street for a job I would have been perfect for! That really pushed my decision to really seriously start looking, because obviously my boss didn’t mean it when he said there would be opportunities for me! My friend says that I should sit down with him again, and just ask him if they had any plans in the works for me or if not I was going to have to seek out other employment since I am going to have to start paying student loans and my current pay is not going to cover everything. They gave me a little bit of a raise last year when my boss told me there would be “opportunities” for me, and really for what my job is there I really shouldn’t be making anymore money so I know another raise isn’t going to happen. I think I should just keep my job search to myself because really in all honesty, they pushed me out the door by making empty promises and then hiring off the street for a job I should have at least been considered for.

  29. Too Honest*

    I just had a conditional job offer that I accepted fall through. I told my boss I had accepted the job but it was contingent on one bureaucratic factor that did not work out.

    I felt I had to tell her about that offer because I was going overseas and the job was supposed to start 2 weeks after I returned. Well, now, she knows I am looking anyway. I am scrambling to find another job because I definitely do not want to stay where I am.

    Also, now, everyone know I am job searching and believe me is it awkward.

    I am in a term job with no status and can be let go at any time.

    I think even though I felt I was doing the right thing by giving advance notice, I would probably not do it this way again.

  30. Robin*

    I have an opportunity for a higher-paying job with benefits and better accommodations for me as a college student, and I really want to take it. However, I’ve lived up to the claims in my résumé that I’m dependable, and now my job has depended on me—by making me the only opener at the store. It’s a lot of responsibility for little pay, but I’ve built a camaraderie with my coworkers and my manager is cool, an understanding ex-military guy who thinks very logically and has a “Do what you gotta do” perspective. I’d like to believe that if I tell him I have a prospective job, he would be supportive, but I’m not too sure. I don’t want to reveal my job-hunt until I have guaranteed employment, but my current job may need time to find someone to replace me, let alone training the new person to handle my shift. I’m having trouble dealing with my sense of loyalty, but also my need to make more money. I have tuition to pay and a family to take care of, but my parents taught me to never burn my bridges. I’m only 19. What should I do?

  31. Lawrence*

    This is really great information. I have a similar concern, because my office is really understaffed and I have a really small window where this interview will be held. I have to schedule it in the next 8 days and the job starts a week from then, so my two weeks would start essentially today. But I dont know that I have the job yet. So do I tell him now, or wait and only give one week? We are so understaffed that we have to shift alot of people around to fill my spot even for just a few hours…

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