taking a new job while still working part-time for my old employer

A reader writes:

I wrote to you previously and you were kind enough to quickly and accurately answer my question about salary negotiation in the event of a merger; I was offered a modest increase and received a smaller raise at my next performance review as well. Thank you for your help!

Today I’m writing about a different situation. A communications position is available with a local nonprofit. This organization means a great deal to me, and the available position would be the perfect combination of “dream job” and “attainable at this point in my career.” Two things are holding me back from applying, however:

First, they require an online application, which asks for my current supervisor’s name and telephone number. I love my job and would only leave it for something essentially exactly like this position. I don’t want to jeopardize it before I even have an offer. Is there any way to avoid providing contact information for my supervisor and ask that they verify my employment and check current job references only if they are ready to make a job offer? What would you do in this position?

Second, I’ve committed to an engagement this fall for my current employer, which involves travel. It’s something that I do or nobody does; a replacement couldn’t take over. I’ve also been working on numerous projects that are designed around my specific skill sets and would be difficult to pass off. I love my current company and really want to stay involved. I’m used to working two jobs (currently I freelance, with my employer’s knowledge, and am working full-time). I thrive on being very busy. My current employer does employ several part-time, work from home contractors. If I were to get this dream job, is there any conceivable way that I could propose, with full disclosure to both employers, that I stay on part-time at my current job (nights and weekends from home) until the projects that only I can complete are finished? Or is this such a deal-breaker for any employer that I shouldn’t even consider applying (even for a dream job) if that’s the caveat?

First, on the reference issue: In the spot where you’re supposed to enter your current manager’s information, enter this instead:  “I request that my current employer not be contacted unless we’re proceeding toward an offer. I’m happy to supply other references in the interim.”

It is very, very common for job-seekers to ask that their current employer not to be contacted for a reference, since in most cases the current employer doesn’t know the employee is looking. Typically, once you’re a finalist for the position, a prospective employer who is determined to speak with your current manager before extending an offer will tell you that you’re a finalist and explicitly seek your permission to do so. So this is a very normal thing to say.

Next, on the question of continuing to work part-time at your current job if you take a new one:  I wouldn’t bring this up at all until you have an actual job offer from the new employer. At that point, they’ve already decided that you’re the one they want, and your chances are at their highest for getting them to agree. If you bring it up earlier in the process, they’re more likely to (a) just say no, and/or (b) start thinking that you wouldn’t be fully committed to the new position.

Once you get an offer, that’s the time to raise it. Even then, they may not be open to it, but it’s possible that they’ll be fine with it, assuming that everyone’s clear that the new employer’s work is what comes first. You won’t really know until you ask. (That travel for the old employer though, after you’re at the new job? Unless it’s one very short trip, I’d give up on that idea.)

However, I’d think this whole thing through very carefully. When you start a new job, it can be hard to still be tethered to the old one; making a clean break is often easier and better for your quality of life. You also want to start your new job at your best — not tired or distracted because you’re working nights and weekends for someone else.  And this new job is in communications, which in particular can have demanding and unpredictable hours — you’re often on call outside of business hours to deal with things as soon as they come up. Will you really be doing that well if your priorities are torn between two employers during those hours?

I’d be somewhat less skeptical of this if you were only proposing the contract work for your old employer around one specific project … but you’re talking about projects, plural, and that makes me nervous about how realistic you’re being, both about the issues above and about the idea that only you can complete this work for them. It reads a bit like you’d like to take this new full-time job without really leaving your old one, and that’s probably not realistic.

You can read an update to this post here.

{ 26 comments… read them below }

  1. Want My Dream Job*

    Quick feedback because I have to hustle out the door to chauffeur a friend around town (can we have a version of Alison Green for houseguests, please?) — I will say more later, and send an update after the situation is resolved.

    But, briefly, THANK YOU! Also, you absolutely have me pegged as wanting to seek new job without leaving the old one. I am a type A personality to the core and will happily work on three hours of sleep, 80+ hour weeks, as long as I feel empowered and that I am accomplishing things. I don’t like “can’t,” as in “can’t do everything and take on more on top of it.” This is great in that it motivates me to succeed, but not so good in that I can’t really do it all sometimes. I also feel a lot of responsibility even though I am in a lower mid level position; thanks to a very supportive manager I have been in charge of multiple products even though my title and salary are not entirely indicative of a project management role. I want the responsibility and growth, of course, and I need to realize that the rewards of those things are preparation for a role like the (hopefully) new job–not an obligation to stay forever with an employer who has given me those entry and mid level opportunities but doesn’t currently have advancement available to me.

    I will think on this today and check comments tonight–advice from commenters is most welcome, and thank you again, Alison! Here’s hoping you can be my lucky charm a second time.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Okay, with that new information, let me add this: Your work ethic, energy, and drive could be used at the new employer to help you impress them and advance there. But if you’re putting that toward your old employer instead, after you’re supposed to be gone, aren’t you cheating yourself out of using that energy to help you at your new job? I’d put that drive toward the new work instead.

      1. Want My Dream Job*

        You make great points, but can I unpack that a little more?

        Let’s say the choices are–and this is castles in the air of course, not having even applied yet:

        1) Keep current job which is mid-level but rewarding, unique, fun, and features a wonderful direct supervisor and fantastic mentors who are genuinely devoted to giving me opportunities to grow, AND continue to develop my freelance work which is fairly profitable and gives me business administration experience.


        2) Get new job (deity-of-your-choice willing) and after following up on the one commitment that really is a deal breaker if I can’t do it (this would take literally one missed day of work at the new job) focus only on the new job, which is at the lower end of senior level or upper end of mid level but perfectly tailored to my skill sets and personal passions, with an organization I love, and in the industry (nonprofit communications management) where I want to spend the rest of my professional life.

        I’d make a few thousand dollars less this year with option 2 due to losing my freelance income but that would all be in self employment income, so there’s a tax question there as well. And, of course, freelance income isn’t as steady. The more concerning thing to me is that I have a pathological fear of stagnating in a position, because my most important goal in life is to reach a senior leadership position with a national nonprofit, in the specific area that interests me. On the other hand, I read my own post here and I know I’m being silly to start fearing stagnation at the thought of moving UP in title and responsibility–it’s just that my current organization is so much larger, so even though there isn’t a promotion available to me now, there are more total senior positions.

        Actually, just writing this out has talked me into seeing things your way. I have a hard time imagining a single job below the directorship level consuming all of my energies (just because I am so used to doing two if not three jobs and loving it) but considering your points leads me to recognize that I’m working myself into a tizzy over the very minor downsides of an incredible opportunity in exactly the niche of exactly the field that I want to be in. I’m just SO very type A that I feel inadequate if I’m not doing 17 things at once! But, of course, if I feel like I don’t have enough to do, I’m sure since this is a nonprofit I could volunteer to take some work home from other departments–I’d love to get some more volunteer management and grant writing experience, for example.

        Thanks, Alison, once again your way of framing things has been an immense help to me. I’ll let you know how it goes. Of course, after devoting this much thought and anxiety to it, I might not even get a call from them! But in any case I’ve learned something about the way I look at career opportunities, so it’s worth the time regardless.

    2. Jamie*

      I would like to second the motion of Alison branching out into non-work related advice…that would be so much more cheaper than a therapist and way more helpful. Seriously, if you’re going to do this please get the “Ask a Manager about your Crazy Family Issues” before the next major holiday. Thanks!

      Back on topic, I do totally understand the OP’s sentiment about living on 3 hours sleep, working 80 hours, etc. as long as you’re engaged and accomplishing things. I viscerally feel the same way – and I have to work hard to override that feeling with logic when I’m embarking on something new.

      But you really do need to temper that enthusiasm with a healthy dose of reality. 80 hour weeks are doable, short term, working on 3 hours of sleep…possible, but not while maintaining quality of work. It’s just not sustainable without sub-par performance issues.

      I feel for you, because I do understand the impulse; but as someone who’s seen this before I am cringing…because with all the best intentions you are setting yourself up for failure with the new position. No one can be all things to all people.

      1. Jamie*

        “it would be so much more cheaper…”

        Note to self: when you decide to change the wording mid-sentence make sure you proof it before hitting submit.

        What I wouldn’t give for an edit button right about now – yikes!

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ha! Re: me branching out into family issues, all I can say there is that that expression “those who can’t do, teach” would strongly apply.

  2. Anthony*

    IME, people always think they are the only ones who can do their job, or portions of their job, but I have rarely found it to be the case. I’ve seen many colleagues come and go, and while there is certainly a learning curve things work out just fine.

    Let it go… The reality of life is there are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands of people who can capably fill our shoes, unless you are in a very stratified and rare position like astronaut or Fortune 100 CEO.

    It all seems so important now, but a few weeks into the excitement, challenges and learning at your new position and you’ll wonder whatever seemed so important about your old job. I’ve done it enough times to feel confident saying this.

    Plus, think of how your successor will feel: At my current job my predecessor made the case to stay involved on a contract basis on several key accounts, and it’s been nothing but frustration and duplication from my end. (Doubly frustrating because I’m more experienced, so am picking up her mistakes… but it would be frustrating either way.)

    1. Jamie*

      This is an excellent point, which needed to be made.

      I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking myself indispensable at times, however despite my self-delusion, even I know I’m only non-fungible with our current staff and short notice.

      There is no employee so good that a company will fold if they stopped showing up – good thing, too…talk about pressure.

      Also, Anthony is absolutely right about the change in attitude a few weeks in…in fact I would even go so far as to say that if your obligation to your former employer hadn’t faded quickly I would consider that a potentially huge problem, if I were your new employer.

      And if I were your new manager I would probably ascribe any issues you had in acclimating to the new place to split focus and having a foot in both camps. That would possibly be unfair, but I would be thinking it anyway.

  3. SSpiffy*

    >>It’s something that I do or nobody does; a replacement couldn’t take over.<<

    Yeah, I'm running up the BS flag on this one. There isn't a job on Earth that only one person can do short of getting paid to be you.

    Were I the hiring hiring manager and you brought up "I'm happy to take the job, but I'm going to keep working for my old company too. But only on nights and weekend, I promise!" my response would be, "Next!"

    1. Want My Dream Job*

      I don’t want to go into details because it’s specific enough to be identifying, but this particular commitment is based on a business opportunity offered only to me; if I pulled out of it there would not be an invitation extended for my company to send someone else in my place. I’m not trying to say I’m a special super snowflake and nobody else could possibly do my job at all; just that my very supportive manager has built projects around my specific skill sets and areas of expertise, and those have led to a particular opportunity that I was honored to receive.

      Just based on my own principles, not being able to follow up on that commitment would be an (agonizingly difficult) deal breaker for me even for the dream job–I am not okay with leaving people in the lurch when I’ve said I’ll do something. I would hope that based on the nature of this commitment the new employer would understand that and allow me to at least honor that responsibility while drawing down my active involvement with the old employer.

      1. fposte*

        Sure, but remember your dream job will likely see it as your being unable/unwilling to commit fully to them–which is fair, because it does mean that. And it really will mean more than just “one missed day,” because you can’t just ignore the ex-job until October or whenever that day is–you’ll need to keep in touch with the client and the relevant personnel in the meantime, and you won’t be able to do conferences or projects for your actual job that stretch over that time. Then there’s also the complicated issue of you representing one institution while working for another. I think as an employer I’d rather you just asked me if the start date could pushed back to so that you begin after you finish a key project you initiated rather than asking me to try to negotiate a system wherein you were paid by us but prioritizing them.

      2. Jamie*

        While as I’ve noted in my other couple of comments that I don’t think your approach is workable I did want to say that I am struck by how much I respect your professional ethics.

        You want to move your career in a different direction while still honoring your current commitments. It’s tricky to work out with timing, but your impulses are really admirable.

        If I were the hiring manager for the new job and the position could wait to be filled until you had tied things up with your current employer, I would be inclined to do that based on the integrity of the request.

        Your motivations speak volumes about your character. I have a sneaky suspicion that however this particular situation works out for you, that your career will end up just fine…and where you want it.

        1. Want My Dream Job*

          Thank you very much! That’s one of the nicest things I think anyone has said to me. I hope that if I get to the offer stage, the hiring manager will see things as you do. As far as I can tell this position was not left in disarray and things are functioning well, so it’s not as if they need someone to immediately put out fires–maybe a delayed start date can solve most of the problem if I am fortunate enough to receive an offer.

          (And thanks also to Alison for agreeing–I’m really touched by both of your words. It means a lot to me that I come across that way even just as anonymous words on a screen.)

  4. Anon y. mouse*

    It does sound a little like you want to have your cake and eat it too. If you give your current employer two week’s notice, how effectively can you wrap up those projects? If they’re truly critical to the business, they’ll hire someone else who can take them over, you just have to leave them well-documented. I’d only consider finishing projects for your current employer after changing jobs if they’re very nearly done, not particularly difficult, and have a very flexible deadline (in case your new position needs more attention than you’re expecting).

    Good luck. Go apply for that job! You’re in an enviable position to have a job you really like and possibly have an even better one on the horizon.

  5. Anonymous*

    Honestly, my suggestion is that the OP stick with the current job. Director of communications or whatever? That’s not a track to the C-suite.

    The current job is building a lot around the OP’s skills and strengths, he/she should hold onto that and take on more and more responsibility. At that point, others are more likely to promote/hire him/her into a role that really aligns with the OP’s long term objectives. I just don’t see how corporate communications does that. (It seems to be a dead end job to me.)

    Finally, there’s that issue about the current “awesome” job. I have one of those, too. And I think about the fact that I haven’t gotten a raise in two years, and what it would take for me to leave this job. What it comes down to is this: Even if I could make a few more bucks, there’s the whole “corporate culture” thing. I really, really don’t mind going to work every day (I kind of like it, but won’t go that far ;) what happens if I switched for some extra cash (perhaps even a lot), but then dreaded going to work everyday, or ended up in a position that made me stay late at the last minute? Not worth it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, I don’t know about that. She’s in nonprofits so she’s not looking for the C-suite, and communications can be a very big deal in nonprofits. And she says it’s her dream job, and that she’s in a “lower mid level” position right now, with an employer that doesn’t have advancement for her.

      1. Want My Dream Job*

        Thanks, Alison–those were the points I made to myself as well, and the nonprofit world calls to me in no small part because of the value it does place on communications. My skills are definitely weighted toward that area; I’ve been called a strong public speaker, and executives frequently ask me personally to write and/or edit communications for them even though that’s not my primary responsibility. I get the message from those around me that I can learn most tasks but communication is the area where I really stand out, and it’s what I love, so I’m heading that way.

        As a small update, I did apply and I listed among my references my prior manager and a well-known CEO with a larger than life online persona who has been a mentor to me for years, so I’m hoping that will outweigh not wanting them to contact my current supervisor yet. I tried to make my cover letter professional, but with a hint of quirkiness and a lot of passion, conveying how much this job and organization mean to me. I know humor is a risky choice in a cover letter, but it’s a field where laughter really helps to prevent burnout, and I also have a job I love now, so I wouldn’t want to risk leaving it for a culture where I don’t fit in personally.

        We’ll see how things go! I’m feeling good about the place I’m in–happy where I am and I may have the opportunity to advance to a role that makes me even happier. Not sure what I did to deserve this good fortune, but whatever it is I’m going to try to keep doing it! Thanks again for giving me the push I needed to apply, and I’ll definitely keep in touch.

    2. Want My Dream Job*

      I definitely see that side of it too, and you do read me correctly as having C-suite ambitions, but that’s if I do stay in the business world–if I could make the leap, executive director of a national nonprofit organization in my preferred niche would be my ultimate goal. If I stay in for-profit business, I’d like to wind up as a Chief Communications Officer with a company that has such a thing, or as CEO or COO. (I know, executive creep isn’t the greatest thing, but as a passionate communications professional I do feel communicators deserve a seat in the suite, so to speak.)

      I appreciate your comments–they really illustrate what I’m struggling with. My current company is larger and definitely has many more total positions, but they are filled, turnover is low, and my manager has been frank with me that it’s unlikely we can hire people for me to supervise this year (though he agrees I desperately need a team of at least one or two employees for these projects) because funding is needed in other areas right now. On the other hand, it’s a big name and it’s an international organization, and longtime employees have told me that it’s possible to transfer around and take on a lot of different roles if you want to grow fast; however, even in other departments not much is open right now and I just bought a home, so I don’t want to move out of state or internationally at this time.

      It really is complex!

      1. Lisa*

        I think it’s great to see a questioner so active in the comments giving more information – and I really hope you let Alison know how things turn out for you! I just wanted to add that even if you leave your current company, it doesn’t mean you have to stay away forever! It sounds like you have a lot of fans at that company so if you kept in touch with them and with how the company is doing, you could always look for opportunities to go back to them at a higher level in a few years.

  6. Anonymous*

    If you feel you are indespensible at your current position you aren’t doing your job completely is my gut reaction. Or someone else isn’t. What happens if you are in an accident and you can’t come into work for a month or more?

    Good documentation should be a top priority for a self proclaimed Type A person so that someone else who is smart and has a good set of basic skills can step in and fill your shoes. This might feel scary like you are documenting yourself out of a job but it will make it much easier for you to jump at new opportunities without leaving your previous employers in the lurch.

    Having systems and procedures in place so that I could walk in and sit down and follow those and accomplish all that needs to be accomplished is critical. Even if you don’t choose to take this opportunity, you may run across another in the future and you should be ready.

  7. Anonymous*

    I started a new job about 3 weeks ago. The predecessor is a contractor and will leave in few weeks. I found it after I started to work there. The issue is that the predecessor isn’t interested in training me at all. The person tells me things very fast and ambiguously without any explanation. When I tried to ask some questions, the person made facial expression. Today, the person asked me not to ask any questions! The person will leave shortly and I have to do all month end work. I feel frustrated with this person. What should I do?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Talk to your manager and say: “I’m not sure if Joe is just really busy as he’s transitioning out, but he’s asked me not to ask him any questions, so I’m wondering if there’s someone else I can go to for training on things like x, y, and z.” Your boss will either straighten out Joe or will find someone else to help you. (Or, if she’s a terrible boss, might not help at all, but hopefully that’s not the case.)

  8. Anonymous*

    i work in a company which is going to offer me a job in another country. i do not want to accept it. how should i say no without jeopardizing my future growth in the company

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