should you let your boss know you’re job searching?

So you’re thinking about moving on from your job, and you’re wondering if you should let your boss know that you’re starting to job search. Maybe it feels like professional courtesy to give your boss a heads-up about your plans. But should you do it? And if so, how do you say it and when?

This is one of the questions I get asked the most frequently from job searchers who hope to be leaving their current jobs soon. Especially if you’ve been in your job for years and/or know that it will take a while to replace you, you might worry that it’s disloyal not to let a boss know that you’re gearing up to leave.

But in most cases, it doesn’t make sense to tip your boss off until you have a job offer in hand and are ready to give official notice (which will usually be two to four weeks, although in some fields it can be longer).

It might feel courteous to give your boss the maximum amount of time to prepare to replace you, but in many instances, people who do this end up getting pushed out earlier than they wanted to leave. Once your manager knows that you’re actively working to move on, she may feel obligated to act on that information – to start looking for your replacement, to stop giving you long-term projects and eventually to set a specific ending date, whether you’re ready for her to do that or not. That might sound tremendously unfair – after all, you did her a favor by sharing your plans when you didn’t have to – but it can be tough to be on the manager’s side of this, when there are implications for work coverage and they want to keep things running as smoothly as possible.

Some managers even take it personally when people want to leave and push them out immediately. That’s a terrible move, of course, since it means that other employees who see it will figure that they should give minimal notice when they’re ready to leave. It’s also bad for the business, since it means that your team has no transition period to prepare for your departure. But that’s not going to be much comfort to you if you’re the one who ends up out of a job months before you planned to leave.

In sorting through this, the most important factor to consider is what you know about your manager and how she operates. How has she handled other employees who left the organization? Have people been made to leave immediately or otherwise pushed out earlier than they wanted to go? If so, assume the same is likely to happen to you, and give two weeks notice (or whatever is standard in your field) when you have a confirmed job offer and are ready to leave. On the other hand, if your employer has a track record of accommodating long notice periods and has generally created an environment where people can be open about their plans to move on, you might be one of the lucky few who can be more candid.

Even then, though, you’ll want to remember that not everyone may be treated the same. Your manager might have accommodated a long notice period from the long-time COO but be unwilling to do it for a more junior staffer or someone with whom she doesn’t have a strong relationship. And even a manager who routinely handles long notice periods well might handle things differently with an employee who’s been struggling to perform well, since there’s less incentive to keep investing in coaching someone who has acknowledged they’re looking to leave.

So typically, the safest course of action is to wait until you’ve accepted a new job and set a start date. Note that that’s different than just getting a job offer. You should wait to give notice at your old job until you’ve ironed out all details of the offer with the new employer and formally accepted it. Otherwise, if you’re not able to come to terms in salary negotiations or the offer otherwise falls through, you’ll be in the awkward position of trying to rescind your resignation, which your employer may or may not let you do.

{ 109 comments… read them below }

    1. Bob*

      Ditto. In my 20’s I decided to let my landlord know I was house hunting. We were sort of buddies and I honestly thought he would be excited for me (naive, I know). Well, I got home from the work the next day and he had two pieces of paper – a new year-long lease agreement (I was month-to-month at the time since my initial lease ended) and an eviction notice. He told me to pick one and sign it. That’s when I learned that looking out for number overrides almost everything. I had a nice apartment and he already had several interested people ready to move in. He was also in the process of buying some additional rental units, his finances were stretched thin and he didn’t feel like he could afford to possibly go months without a tenant.

      For the record, I took the eviction notice because I don’t like being given an ultimatum. I cleaned my apartment from top to bottom and he very reluctantly returned my entire security deposit. I don’t blame him for his decision but I’ll never show my hand again and leave myself vulnerable.

  1. BioPharma*

    What is you’re the boss’ first hire and have no history on the reaction? All signs point to a long, 3-month notice with “please stay as long as you can + thank you for the advance notice” but man, you never know!

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      I would err on the side of caution unless you’ve been working with this person for YEARS and have an uncommonly high level of trust in her.

    2. Naruto*

      You never know how long it’s going to take to find a new job. I just don’t see the benefit in risking it.

      That said, I’d certainly be willing to try to give the employer a longer notice period than two weeks.

      But you’re putting them in an impossible situation, and that’s why people wind up getting forced out early. It’s not a question of whether they are mad and pushing you out. It’s like, okay, they have this information that they’re going to have to replace you. Either they can do nothing (in which case the longer notice period doesn’t help them), or they can start looking for a replacement (in which case, if they find a replacement, you’re going to have to go, even if you’re not ready).

    3. BRR*

      I’d also error on the side of caution. It’s really normal to just give two to four weeks of notice. If you’re in the US, I think a 3-month notice period is difficult to pull off in most instances because you can’t determine how long a job hunt will take and most new jobs don’t want to wait that long.

    4. Sam Carter*

      If you’re a scientist with an advanced degree or are planning to leave for grad school, 3 months isn’t necessarily unusual. I’d say it depends on your specific projects and level of involvement. Does your boss generally have reasonable expectations and reactions to change? If you are in a junior level position, 1 month notice is fine. Personally, I think 2 weeks notice is much too short for this industry, unless you work at a very large company where they may have a constant pool of potential new hires.

  2. TootsNYC*

    Any smart boss/company is aware that any of their employees might leave at any time.

    And any smart boss knows that likelihood rises when:
    *you’ve been in the job for awhile
    *you didn’t get a promotion, or there isn’t a clear path to a promotion
    *you got a crummy raise
    *you’ve moved farther away from the office
    *you’re nearing the end of school/training/etc.
    *the company is not thriving
    *the atmosphere in the office is unpleasant

    None of these things should be a surprise to a manager with eyes to see or ears to hear.

    They ought to be looking out for themselves.

    And anything you want to do to help your employer after you leave, you can do without saying anything at all. Create documentation, tie up loose ends, crosstrain colleagues.

    1. finderskeepers*

      question to managers with authority to give raises and promotions: why deny them to employees that you want to keep if budget isn’t an issue

        1. AdAgencyChick*


          Because the manager might have, in practice, very little authority on who gets raises. What often happens is that a raise pool is set for an entire department, or even the entire company; then each manager has to plead her case for why her rockstar employee should get more than the average (and then some people are going to get less than the average or nothing at all). So someone way over your boss’s head gets to decide that.

          Which is not to say that employees should just accept that and keep working away, but it’s pretty common that a boss sincerely wants to get a good raise for a good employee and can’t get past the bureaucracy. When I’ve been in that position, I tell my direct reports what’s up (and even offer to serve as a reference should they think that that info is worth job hunting over).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        People can be good at their job but not right for a role with more responsibility. Sometimes you can groom and coach them for that and sometimes they don’t reach the bar you’d need to be competitive with other candidates for a higher level role.

        And it would be rare for budget to never be an issue.

        1. finderskeepers*

          But if that employee can get a better paying job elsewhere and is good at current job, not giving a raise or promotion (even if “undeserved” in the current company) would just result in them leaving.

          related observation: seems like a rule of thumb is not to negotiate with current employer once you get an offer and give notice?

          1. AdAgencyChick*

            I would accept a counteroffer ONLY if money really and truly is the only reason I wanted to leave. That’s pretty much the only problem that a counteroffer can fix.*

            Even then, once you have that counteroffer you can forget about future raises for a good long while, in which case you’ll just be back out on the hunt in a year or two again.

            *I guess they could also move you to a different boss, if yours is the reason you’re quitting. But such promises often fail to materialize once an employee declines an outside offer — and then you’re stuck working for a boss who not only knows you wanted to leave, but knows that she’s the reason why.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Yeah, unless there was something else going on there, I don’t want to have to threaten to leave just to get a raise. I know employees and employers are both looking out for their own bottom line, but I’d like my relationship with my boss to be at least not at the laying-down-ultumatums level of adversarial.

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            Well, yeah. That’s a thing that happens…sometimes people just outgrow a position but there isn’t anywhere for them to move to. I’m kind of casually looking at my current job, because the specialist position I’d really like to have eventually is split up as part of about four people’s jobs at my current workplace, and the logical “step up” from my current role would be to management, which is very much not my strong suit at all.

          3. TootsNYC*

            some companies don’t really care that much if people leave. For one thing, it offers you the chance to hire at a lower experience level (and price point) without having to lay anybody off (which costs severance and the goodwill of your current employees).

            I’ve never had someone so very good that I’d jeopardize my budget to keep them. I’d go to other lengths, but…there is someone who will take their place and do a good job.

      2. NW Mossy*

        In big companies, it’s rare that the direct manager can act alone to approve a raise/promotion – I know I can’t! I generally have to vet that stuff up to the C suite (4 levels up), especially if it’s off-cycle or would take me over my teeny weeny budget for annual merit increases. They weigh my request against all other similar requests from around the company and then decide which managers (if any) get what they asked for.

        The nutshell here is that even if you as the direct manager think that your employee is a irreplaceable rockstar and can get agreement from the next 2-3 levels up, another manager in a part of the company you don’t even see may have someone who’s considered even more critical by senior leadership. It seems super unfair from the perspective of the individual contributor who can’t see any of this wrangling and it’s hard not to feel hurt that the direct boss doesn’t have the power/influence to make it so, but that’s the way it happens in a lot of orgs.

      3. De Minimis*

        Sometimes there can be a pay equity issue–you can’t give a raise to where the person is making too close to their supervisor’s salary. If their supervisor is somewhat underpaid [and if the manager doesn’t plan to give them a raise], that can cause a problem. Or maybe even if you give that supervisor a raise but can’t give one to that person’s manager…it can be super-complicated and honestly it’s probably easier from a structural standpoint if a top performer is promoted to a higher level position.

    2. BioPharma*

      Yeah, but you don’t have control of opening up a new FTE for hire. It takes a few months to find experienced people in my field.

    3. JD the Consultant*

      Bam. I tick 6/7. My managers have been asking my colleagues “if everything is alright with me”. My direct supervisor asked recently if I’m “happy” with my work.

      What’s to be done, either way? If you’re a manager and you’ve noticed these things about a great employee, I suspect that ship has already been provisioned to sail. If you’re an employee that is actively searching, there seems more to be lost by being honest about your intentions (at this point). The time for honesty would have been before deciding to leave.

      1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        I agree. My husband has been searching for a while and is now starting to see some promise with interviews and the like. His boss suspects that he’s on his way out and there has been this frantic flutter of activity to try to get him more money and better working conditions but it won’t make a difference. He’s leaving as soon as he can find a position with another company in another field. It does amuse him though how when he requests a day off the panic he sees on his co-workers faces. He requested today off to do an eclipse themed event at a nearby science learning center with our science/space loving daughter. Apparently right before he put in the request he got a phone call from a friend confirming details for plans tonight. He kept it brief because he was at work. He said that he’d hung up the phone, turned to his boss and asked for the time off and she said “you can tell me. Is it an interview?” LOL!

        1. JD the Consultant*

          Too funny!

          Has anyone been asking him what he wants to stay or what his issues are or if he’s unhappy? If so, how has he been responding? Not that it matters how they improve his working conditions, but how did they know what needed improvement? Was the company just ignoring the issues before? Or are they just taking shots in the dark about addressing what they think his issues are?

          I’m concerned I’m going to be asked soon and I don’t know what to say. Nothing can change my mind, but should I be honest about being upset about working conditions or just smile and dodge it?

      2. Paul*

        what I want is the chance to advance without going into management.

        I *suck* at managing people. I can get the theory–a bit–mostly through reading up on it. But actually doing it? God almighty NO.

  3. Corporate Safety Director*

    Yeah, I got bounced out the day after I gave notice. They didn’t pay out vacay pay even though it was in the employee handbook. I was able to move up my start date with the new company, so it worked out.

    The next guy to leave took two weeks vacay, came in on Monday & said “I saw how you handled CS, today’s my last day.”

    1. Pineapple Incident*

      Wow that’s awful. I’m glad it worked out for you with the new company, but your Ex-job squirreling around their own policies about not paying out PTO is crap.

      1. Naruto*

        Yup. That story will get out and now it’s justified for people to say “today is my last day.”

    1. NW Mossy*

      In my experience, retirements are different because they’re more expected given the age bracket of the employee and generally are announced further in advance. At my company, 30 days notice is the minimum because it takes that long to set up your retiree benefits so that they kick in on your retirement date, but your effective last day in the office might be earlier if you’re cashing out time off. Most retirees seem to give 2-3 months’ notice, but I’ve also seen people give notice of intent to retire as early as 18 months out.

    2. K.*

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen short notice periods for retirement. My mother gave an academic year’s notice because it would take that long to replace her, but she worked in education where long notices are common. I’m not sure how much notice my dad gave but I know it was months, not weeks; he was c-level so the search process would be long. There’s also more work to do to get set up for retirement than there is to just change jobs.

    3. BananaPants*

      From what I’ve seen, notice periods for retirement are much longer and usually very cordial. Around here retirement is typically announced anywhere from 2-12 months in advance.

  4. Susan (formerly )*

    I guess I’m lucky, my mgr is also looking for a job bc he’s fed up with our boss and feels it’s time to move on.

  5. kittymommy*

    So for the job I have now all the interviews are open to the public and recorded for record (anyone can listen to them as they’re online). After I started I went back and listened to the discussion that took place afterwards. One of the things that my old supervisor said to the interviewers was that not only was I looking, but I’d leave, likely soon, if I didn’t get promoted.

    While she knew I was applying for this one internal job, I had never talked about leaving the company.

    1. Pineapple Incident*

      Yeah I feel like that’s where telling your supervisor you’re interested in upward mobility can get dicey. People make assumptions- not always out of malice, I feel like it’s often in response to questions someone asks or because they’re trying to plan for the worst case scenario, but situations like what you’re describing aren’t rare.

  6. Ciara M*

    I’m struggling with this question too, but in my case it’s a little more tangled because I am searching internally. Any advice on when to say something in that situation? Part of me thinks if I say something early, my boss may have connections to help me get to the interview stage. The other part of me feels exactly like Alison says, not to tip your hand too early.

    1. NW Mossy*

      You might check to see if your company has a policy on it. Mine says that you have to let your manager know you’re searching internally once you’re selected to interview, but any sooner than that is up to the employee.

      1. chocolate lover*

        My organization specifies that you have to be in your current role a minimum amount of time, but thankfully doesn’t require you to tell your manager.

      2. Stop That Goat*

        Yep. In fact, I’ve worked at companies that actually require you to tell (and get approval) from your current manager before applying. There was a specific internal form that had a section for manager approval.

    2. chocolate lover*

      It can really depend on your boss and your relationship with them. The last time I switched jobs, it was to a different unit in the same organization. Many of the people already knew me, or of me, even if they didn’t know me well, so I wouldn’t have gotten much leverage from my former boss. I would, however, have gotten a whole load of crap, because she takes it personally when anyone leaves and likely would have pitched a fit and made my life miserable for the duration.

    3. Sam*

      I’m stuck on this same issue. I’m passively job searching at the moment, and another department in the university I work for just posted a position that (on paper, at least) I would be a good fit for and that makes a ton of sense in my longer-term career trajectory. Campus is large and there are plenty of departments I could apply to while remaining under the radar, but my boss has a close working relationship with this particular office, and there’s little-to-no chance that I could apply without him finding out, so I’m debating whether I should talk to him about it first. He is a generally reasonable person, but I’m still concerned about potential ramifications.

  7. NW Mossy*

    The last time I left a company, I knew that I’d likely be leaving about 4-5 months before I let my boss know that I was looking. I have a great relationship with her to this day, but I wanted to be sure that my relocation was set in stone before I told her that I was searching just in case. She was very supportive and gave me a great reference, and I strive to do the same for my employees if and when it’s time for them to move on in their careers.

    1. Anon today...and tomorrow*

      At the last company I worked for I gave similar news as we were planning on moving to another part of the country. I don’t know that I would give notice of my job hunt in any other situation.

  8. Thornus67*

    The only time I gave long term notice was when I worked retail. I was in a semi-managerial role. There were only four or five managers in that store, one of whom was me. I was technically the stock supervisor, but it was a small enough store that I was often scheduled to act as the manager on duty on the floor. It was always going to be a temporary job during a year or so gap between undergrad and law school. Once I firmly committed to going to law school, had been accepted, and chose which one I was going to, I gave the store manager notice about a month to a month and a half in advance with a firm end date. She appreciated it, and I stayed on during that time while she looked at candidates to replace me. I even trained the replacement my last couple of weeks.

    I have never given that kind of notice to any other boss, and that’s due to a combination of personalities and the unique circumstance of why I was leaving.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      I also think leaving to go to school is a special case, since it has a definite time point attached to it. Then the manager can plan for things to need to wrap up by X date, with plenty of plan-ahead time.

      The problem is when someone is ready to move on to another job, you can’t put a time frame on that. The employee could have a new job tomorrow — or it could be months later. I can see even a pretty employee-friendly manager wanting at that point to put a concrete end date on things.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Giving a firm end date is a very different thing, to me, than saying, “I’m looking for a new job, and I’ll give notice when I get one, whatever that is.”

      That’s hard to deal with, as a manager. I can’t really go into full-on recruiting.
      (and I’m always background recruiting anyway, so I can’t step that up)

    3. synchrojo*

      I also gave a long period of notice before heading to grad school. My position was entry-level at a nonprofit, where people pretty much expected everyone at my level to go to grad school at some point in the future. In fact, I accidentally let slip to her that I was applying at the bar after our annual December holiday party about 9 months before I left…which in retrospect was pretty unprofessional. (In fairness, this was because she was pestering me to stay out later and keep the party going, and I had to go home and meet an application deadline…). I think my director really appreciated it, since there ended up being a lot of turnover on our team around the same time. Everyone gave her plenty of heads’ up, and it helped her plan the timelines of all the overlapping hiring processes and make realistic plans for the next year. But, to Alison’s point, she had frequently demonstrated respect for her employees and that she could be trusted to handle notice periods well.

  9. A Nonny Mouse*

    So believe this story or not, I’m going to give it anonymously. I applied for the bar exam. This involves giving a full accounting of everywhere you’ve worked for the last ten years. I had a falling out with a prior boss when I quit (without much notice) because she was causing me so much emotional and physical stress that I was having panic attacks every day, gaining weight, and not sleeping more than two hours a night. I started interviewing for new jobs, found one, and gave her three weeks notice, but had to cut it short. When I gave notice, I told her it was because I wanted to work at a bigger firm. But when I cut that period short, I told her it was for health reasons.

    Four and a half years later, when she got the request for employment verification from the background check, she reported to the state board that I “am a liar” because I didn’t tell her I was employment searching when she specifically asked me about it, that I cut my notice period short, and that I lied to her about why I was leaving the job.

    They took her seriously, and now I’m having a hearing about whether I can take the exam.

    Now, this isn’t to say anyone should tell their boss why they’re leaving, that they’re looking, or anything like that. It’s more an anecdote to say that if you think your boss is going to lose their minds, be prepared for it, and document as much of their crazy as you possibly can before you leave, so that you can back it up if you need to. I thankfully saved a lot of her handwritten notes and such, and still have contact with some other people who were run out of her practice in similar ways, but this is a giant headache nonetheless (and fully validates my leaving).

    1. MissDisplaced*

      That’s awful. As far as I know, unless you had a contract, work in the US is “at will” which means you are in no way required to tell your employer you are searching for other employment (even if they ask you). Frankly, it’s none of their damn business! And it’s not like they would ever tell employees if there was firing or layoffs coming. Nope.

    2. Turanga Leela*

      In all seriousness, you should consider getting a practicing lawyer friend to send your former boss a letter telling her to stop defaming you. Former boss is deliberately making stuff up to ruin your future job prospects. This is not good and one of the few situations where it can be worth threatening to sue. (Disclaimer: I’m an attorney but I don’t practice in this area, and I don’t know your state’s defamation laws; this is just something to consider.)

      FWIW, I know someone else who had something similar happen to him. He was admitted to the bar anyway, and one of the bar examiners called up the former boss to yell at her for using a background check as a place to vent. Happy ending.

  10. Akcipitrokulo*

    Generally… not until you have to … but…

    I’ve told CIO and my boss that I’m probably going to be moving in about 12 months (about 500 miles away); I said that my preferwnce would be to work out some kind of wfh arrangement with being in the office on a regular basis (maybe 1/4 weeks) but we all know if that isn’t possible I will be looking. But this is a VERY exceptional place where I trust them implicitly. On other hand, it’s a 2 month notice period as well.

  11. AdAgencyChick*

    I have done it exactly once — but that’s because I had already figured out on my own that my boss was just as unhappy about her new boss as I was, and that she had found a way to get out from under her. In that case it was more of a “hey, I know you have an exit strategy, and I need one too,” and she was glad to help.

    1. JD the Consultant*

      I wonder if my direct supervisor also has an exit strategy. But he’s not really in a position to help me (other than maybe providing a reference, and for what I’m looking at doing, I don’t know that his reference would really be necessary). But the whole point when you did it wast to get help getting out, right? Not to help her out by giving her a heads up?

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        Yes. We had been working together for less than a year at that point, so the only reason that was enough time for me to feel that I could trust her not to use the info to push me out was that I had figured out how much she disliked my grandboss and what grandboss was doing to the organization.

    2. AliceBD*

      I did it at the job I just left because I knew my boss was/is also looking for a way out (my last day was a month ago; she’s getting out hopefully by the end of the year). She was able to cover for me when I needed a bunch of time off unexpectedly and she gave me an excellent reference. But we’d been talking for months about how we were unhappy with some things that were coming from the C-suite and she was encouraging me to go ahead and get out and not risk stagnating in a role with no growth potential.

  12. Dee-Nice*

    I work in academia, where a lot of times they interview for positions but already know which internal candidate they’re going to promote. I have a good relationship with my supervisor and was upfront with him when I interviewed for my current position that if everything went well, I’d want to start looking around in 2-3 years (a normal amount of time for a person in my position). So when I’m ready, I’m considering letting him know that I’m looking for opportunities, within the department, if possible, to take advantage of the way hiring works around here. Has this worked for anyone in a similar situation?

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      I work at a university and this is very much how it goes in many departments. Definitely talk to your supervisor about your career goals and express that you’d like to stay in the department if at all possible.

    2. Sam*

      I think there are definite advantages to having that conversation, especially if you’ve already set that expectation and they haven’t given you any reason to think that they wouldn’t support you in those efforts. I told a boss in a previous student affairs position that I would be looking to move on at the end of the academic year, and for the most part it was a good thing. She was super supportive and we were able to talk candidly and strategically about plans moving forward. There was a lot of mutual respect in that relationship, and she remains a mentor for me. However, there were ramifications from the higher-ups in the department when word got out that I was looking, and it definitely did not work out in my favor. So be mindful about how you approach it.

  13. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    At my company, if you’re looking for a new internal job you’re required to tell your manager every time you get an interview. Kind of makes being sneaky impossible.

    1. Managing to get by*

      It’s not required at my company, but if you apply for another internal position and you haven’t told your manager, it looks bad for you. I’ve had multiple people apply for other positions, as about a third of my staff are in a position that is basically one step up from entry level, so after a year or two most move on to a promotion. I’ve 100% supported each one of them and will usually talk to the other hiring manager and put in a good word for them if they are good.

      I’ve also had a couple of people let me know they are applying outside the organization. Again, it’s people in the “just above entry level” position who are ready to move on, but there are not always suitable openings in our organization. I’m always supportive of them too.

      My theory is, if you hold someone back because you don’t want to see them go, what you get is a resentful, unhappy and unfulfilled employee. If I help people move on when it’s their time, then I end up attracting motivated, intelligent, high-performing new employees to the team. They all make a great contribution for a couple of years then move on, and give great word-of-mouth recommendations for our team to other prospective employees. When we have an opening, we also get to retain them on the team. Too bad the way things work out there are usually more higher-level openings in other departments, but that’s okay.

  14. Tyler*

    For me, it depends on the relationship with your boss and how rational and calm they have demonstrated they can be. I’m looking right now and my current boss knows and supports it. We underwent some restructuring and it left me enough work for about a year but I’m now at the point where there’s maybe 20 hours of work in a week. My boss wanted to transition me to another area of the company, a sister company, which I’ve declined (four different positions – three were reporting to people I would never work for given their reputation and rampant turnover in their departments and another was a position where I had no interest in the work itself). He’s given me a ton of runway and has told me to stay as long as it takes to find something that’s going to be a good fit for me and not to jump at the first offer and make a bad move. On top of working part time and not have my pay reduced, he agreed that my role and work were much more than my job title reflected and promoted me retroactively on paper so I can use it on my resume (it’s similar to going from director to VP so it makes applying for something more senior a bit easier). He’s also told me that he would give a glowing reference and would reach out to his contacts to see if they were in the market for someone with my background.

    For bosses like that, I’d absolutely give advanced notice because I’d be reasonably assured that I’d be treated well and not pushed out the door. On the flip side, I’ve had a boss who has blown up the department (think 80% turnover within 6 months) and who bad-mouthed employees who have given notice and told the departing employees that the companies they were leaving for had poor reputations and they’d be job searching again in under a year. I gave that manager the notice required under the employee handbook (we’re not at-will in Canada) and during my notice period she turned hostile. Part way through my notice period I told her that if she wasn’t able to treat me professionally and with courtesy that she would leave me with no alternative but to leave sooner. She blew up and questioned me on “how dare I challenge her”. The employee handbook had a notice period that was longer than what was required by labor code and because I had served it out the labor code period, I left at the end of the day. No regrets on that one.

  15. Cordelia Chase*

    Oh man. I am in the midst of doing this. They’ve been really nice and supportive, and I have to find and train my replacement. I haven’t set an end date, and they’ve said I can change my mind, but I’m nervous about ending up unemployed at the end.

    This is how the office works normally, and this is how others in my position have handled it. They made it clear this was the expectation and that I would burn bridges if I didn’t go about it this way. But I’m really nervous and in the middle of job hunting. I hope this leap of faith doesn’t leave me with a broken leg.

  16. Anonymous Educator*

    I almost always let my boss know when I’m looking, and it hasn’t come back to bite me. Of course, I do, as Alison suggests, trust my instincts based on how I’ve seen others treated who’ve left. I think there’s been only one job that I did a sneaky job search out of. Even that one I gave two weeks’ notice on. Most of the time, I’ll give several months’ notice.

  17. Tau*

    I did it and it worked out well for me. However, it was a very unusual set of circumstances and I wouldn’t recommend it in general:

    – My old company provides professional services to clients, i.e. they send people out to work at client sites for client projects. At the time I mentioned I was looking, I was at a client and knew for a fact that client loved me and would want to extend me for as long as they could. I couldn’t imagine my bosses shoving me out the door under those circumstances.
    – They also have a lot of turnover, with very many people leaving at around 2-3 years. It’s basically an expected part of their business model, and people leave mid-client-project a lot. As a result, I figured it was unlikely leaving would be seen as a big betrayal.
    – Most importantly! I knew several people who’d left, had told the company they were looking, and hadn’t experienced negative consequences. In fact, a lot used them as a reference – as I ended up doing myself.

  18. Julianne*

    I was open with my last boss about looking for a new job, which she reacted to about as well as I could have hoped. I was looking to move up and there were no step-up jobs available, so while she wasn’t thrilled about it, the fact that the situation was pretty cut and dry made it easier for her to take. (Also, I was pretty junior and fairly replaceable.) Two coworkers have left since then, and the boss went ballistic about it both times, once even calling the new employer to tell them to rescind the job offer!

    I think I’m probably two years from looking for a new job. I think there’s a chance my current boss might be open to trying to make the type of role I envision happen at my current workplace, if it fits our needs and budget, but if I get the sense that’s not possible (like if our budget gets cut before that), I doubt I’ll give a longer-than-necessary notice period.

  19. EclipseAnon*

    Higher ed (specifically, student affairs) has so many of those field-specific, often unwritten rules about job searching and giving notice. I worked in housing before my current job, and people there would advertise their job searches far and wide–once, we were on the interviewer side of the table and my colleague introduced herself and added “I’m also job searching, so if you get this position there’s a good chance we won’t actually be working together.” It struck me as being weird, but our supervisor didn’t say anything.

    People would routinely give anywhere from a semester’s worth of notice to an entire academic year (as in, “I’m planning to job search this year and stay until May”). It’s also not uncommon for departments to ask their staff to fill out “intent to return” forms, up to a year in advance! My first year in the position, the form I was given asked if I would “definitely be staying,” “soft searching,” “hard searching,” or “definitely leaving.” It didn’t faze me at the time, but now that I’m an AAM reader it seems truly insane. I get the need to plan ahead, but now I’m thinking back to that crazy “what is normal in your industry that would never fly in others” thread that we had a while back!

  20. only acting normal*

    Once, at a rolling temp job where there was only one day notice required, I let my manager know I would be moving on in a few weeks. Big mistake. She immediately moved another temp onto the team and reassigned my desk. I ended up roaming the office looking for spare desks, carrying my piles of work. This was not an office with hot-desking. It was a miserable couple of weeks.

    Another time I was promised an internal transfer as soon as one came up by my central line manager (I was miserable in a particular section of a massive company, but the manager had hired me and wanted to keep me). Unfortunately my team leader tried every delaying tactic he could think of to keep me, including lying to our central manager that I’d changed my mind. He delayed me for a YEAR. I had the threaten to quit, and my office mates had to “corner him and give him a talking to” (loved those guys), before I got my transfer.

  21. Teapot Librarian*

    I told my boss I was interviewing for my current position. I applied for the job basically the same week she started, and I didn’t want her to think that my job search was personal. (It was also the only job I was applying for; if I hadn’t gotten it, I would probably still be at that job, 2 years later.) When I left to go to the job before my current job, I didn’t apply for the job but was recommended and essentially “poached.” I had a great relationship with my boss, and I told him that it was looking like I was going to get an offer before I actually got the offer. It was a small office and I really didn’t want to spring it on him at the last moment. I did a LOT of thinking about it before telling him, though.

  22. Workfromhome*

    The circumstances would need to be exceptional and more importantly there would need to be something in it for me to let my boss knop I was looking (even my current job where we get along famously and they want to keep me around).

    There are just too many unknowns and risks. The risks are not all even on the employee. I have seen mangers taken to task when employees leave. Did they suspect they might leave, did they know if they did why didn’t they report it or do something. I know I kept my last search secret even from someone I trusted implicitly and that said after I left “Why didn’t you use me for a reference I want what’s best for you and that’s a great move”. I didn’t want to put him at risk of knowing.

    Mostly in my last job (over 10years) I saw that no matter what they were not going to change important things for the better. I knew there was no benefit for me to let my boss know. It wouldn’t change things so there was nothing in it for me.

  23. MissDisplaced*

    Very timely article!
    I’m looking now, due to a my company relocating into the city (which sucks) and rule changes that rescind our previously loos work at home and flexible hours. I haven’t explicitly stated or given notice, but I’ve told my boss that the commute and loss of flexibility meant I would probably leave (more like being driven away). We agreed not to do anything rash, but I’m sure they know I (and others) are looking because of the move. At some point though, I will have to give notice or be pushed out.

  24. Lemon Zinger*

    I work in higher ed and my university’s policy is that you have to give a month’s notice. You also have to inform your supervisor before applying to internal positions (since they’ll find out anyway).

    I was recently asked my a supervisor (not my own) if I was job-searching. My response was “No, but I wouldn’t talk about it even if I was.”

  25. Therese*

    Something similar happened to my mom and I wrote about it in the open thread. She was working a full time and part time job. The part time job offered her a full time job and she then went to her full time job asking to go part time and how she wasn’t as fulfilled in it and was fulfilled in her part time job.

    Her boss didn’t want a part timer but wanted a full timer. So she worked part time until he found someone. When my mom told her boss all this he said he was commended that she was able to tell she was burned out and so many people don’t realize that and he didn’t want that for her.

    Fast forward a few weeks he starts going around telling people how she left her boss in the dust by up and leaving and caught him off guard blah blah blah. Well my response is when do you tell your boss you are unhappy and are going to leave? IMO Never/rarely. So who knows.

    I feel like if you tell your boss you are looking for a new job and are going to leave the following will happen:
    A) They will fire you on the spot.
    B) They will look to replace you before you are ready. Or
    C) they need to really sit down and ask you why you are unhappy. Is it money? The commute? The work Schedule? But the last one rarely happens. I feel so many times people care all about them and not about their employees.

    1. BioPharma*

      What I’d like to do is let C occur (creatively, doesn’t have to be an explicit “I’ll leave unless”) BEFORE you say you’re looking/leaving. I want to make sure I gave the company every chance to keep me – so it’s on them, not on me for not speaking up.

  26. Underpaid Bookkeeper*

    I haven’t done this but I did just ask for a raise and depending on what they come up with for my raise will depend on what I will do. And I’m sure my boss knows if they don’t give me what I’d like that she has the risk of losing me.

  27. Melly*

    I’ve never let a boss know that I was looking. Right now I’m testing the market with my resume and applying to things that would be a logical step-up. One of the two things I’ve been in the running for has been a rejection. If the second one is a rejection, I will probably have a conversation with my boss just to confirm what I think is true, that there is no path upwards for me here. If I get the confirmation, I’ll probably get a little more serious about the job search. My boss is a pretty transparent guy, so I think that will be a valuable conversation, should it occur.

  28. Kat*

    One exception would be if you want/need your current boss to be a reference! As a boss, I generally don’t mind if employees look for work elsewhere – maybe we aren’t the right fit for them, maybe we can’t provide the opportunities they want, etc.

    The flip side is that I’m expecting a phone call today from a company where my employee has applied for a job. She didn’t tell me she was doing that (which is okayish), but she also didn’t ask whether I was happy to provide a reference (not okay). We don’t have at-will employment here (and I’m not a grumpy boss), so there was nothing to lose by letting me know first. As it stands, I’m now grumpy because she’s asked me to give something that I am not prepared for!

    1. ThatGirl*

      My husband’s current boss knows he is job searching, partly because he needs her as a reference, and partly because they have ALL looked for new jobs at various points in the last two years and they would all be happy for one another if they found something new (his department is great, the administration is less so).

  29. phedre*

    It really depends on the specific boss. Most of the time I’d say absolutely don’t tell your boss, but at a previous job I did tell my boss I was looking. But the context was really different – we have an amazing relationship, and despite his advocacy for me and constantly talking my work up the ED didn’t understand/value my work (this ED didn’t really understand fundraising). My boss knew he’d never be able to get me more money and that it was best for me to move on, and encouraged me to do so. He gave me feedback on my resume, forwarded me job postings, and gave me an amazing reference! But I do think my story is the exception rather than the rule and most of the time I’d err on the side of not telling my boss.

  30. MissDisplaced*

    For those of you actively looking… How do you manage all the interviews?
    I typically say I have doctor/dentist etc., or I take a day vacation, but over the last 2 months I’ve had a LOT of interviews! I work at a site where it’s very hard to slip out and come back to the office (too far away from where I’m looking) and it’s now getting hard to keep making up reasons. How many is too many before they call you on it?

    1. MommaCat*

      Develop a bunch of cavities; dentists will only work on a few at a time, and crowns take two appointments by themselves.

    2. Turanga Leela*

      I try to schedule interviews first thing in the morning or (preferably) late in the afternoon, like 3 or 4—I think coming in late or leaving early is less conspicuous than leaving for a chunk of the day and coming back. I also try to be vague about what I’m doing, so I say things like, “I have to leave early next Tuesday for an appointment.” I figure I could be meeting with a lawyer, or going to a therapist, or getting a biopsy, or any number of things that I would want to keep private.

      One time, I had an interview for a job I was very excited about during the busiest season for my existing job, when no one was allowed to schedule time off. Instead, I called in sick that day and told my boss I had a stomach flu. I felt terrible about doing that, and terrified that I’d get caught, but I couldn’t think of a better alternative.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I do try to do those things. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, I’ve had such a high rate of interviews lately (like 3-4 per job) it actually IS becoming a problem! LOL! I guess that’s a good problem to have in a way, but until you actually get an offer it can be trouble. The multiple “appointments” that crop up on short notice, coupled with me trying to use up my vacation time this summer are raising suspicions. Plus, they know I’m unhappy do the recent move.
        Unfortunately I also work in a office where I can’t really pop in or out easily and come back to the office.

        This was making me consider whether or not I should just tell them I’m job hunting and give notice. I hate lying about all the “appointments,” but as a worker, you’re kind of stuck doing so.
        But who can afford to be pushed out before they’re ready?

    3. SomeoneLikeAnon*

      If I have a lot of interviews, I try to schedule them on a single day and just take the whole day off. Also, I have a flex schedule, which usually consist of a workday from 6 – 2 (ish) so I’ve schedule interviews after my schedule but still at a good time for others like 3, 4, or 5pm.

  31. Volunteer Enforcer*

    I’m one of the lucky few who can be candid. I’m job searching because my employer no longer has the money to pay me full time (just for adhoc zero hours work). I was upfront with my boss who understood completely and even said he is happy to be used as a reference. My employer is sad at me potentially leaving but is full of common sense and understanding.

  32. PNW Jenn*

    My former boss and I were a 2-person office. My departure meant a huge disruption to his work load and productivity. He knew for a long time that I was looking (and why), and we were always honest with each other about it. It never caused hard feelings and he felt prepared when I did leave.

    That said, I do suspect that my openness probably led to a greater level of mutual candor about our shared low regard for our workplace than was healthy. We were both dragging toward the end of my time there and rather than prop each other up, we bitched a lot about work. He still complains to me about it while I whisper, Amityville-Horror-style, “GET OUT!”

  33. Jennifer Thneed*

    Very early in my working life, when I was rather naive about the world, I gave about 6 weeks’ notice once. I was going to be moving to go back to school, I had a solid end date, I thought it would be a decent thing to do.

    That Friday afternoon they fired me. I went to the unemployment office and the company tried to say it was for cause, they’d warned me about stuff, etc. It was all a lie and they, of course, couldn’t produce any written warnings. I got unemployment checks out of that, which definitely made the move easier.

  34. Probably Not*

    It’s so dependent on the personality of the boss and those above her. I worked for a woman who was very supportive for a long time. Then one day she let me know that if I ever tried to leave, she’d make sure I never got another job. She is very competent and persuasive, people listen to her. She had a strangle hold on my moving into another job in the organization, and is very well connected outside it. She let me know that she had things to say about me that would get an accepted offer withdrawn at any organization. Then she started a series of annual reviews that went from stellar to terrible to stellar to terrible… and her boss signed off on all of them. (See above about being very persuasive.) It was great when her position was eliminated in a restructuring and she lost access to each of us and our information. Hard to forget that when thinking about resigning from other jobs.

  35. pawn*

    I just had one of my employees tell me that he was starting a job search. My team feels comfortable telling me this because I have always supported job development and if it means leaving the team I am prepared to give references or whatever is needed. We are a small team with very little room for growth so they have to move to a different department or company to move ahead. However, while I’m willing to be understanding and helpful, I will not be sending this person to an upcoming conference that would probably cost the company over $1000 in airfare and hotel room plus food. I know he was hoping to go to this conference but it doesn’t make sense for me to spend this money from my budget when he may be gone in a few months. I know it seems unfair since he was just trying to give me a heads up but I just can’t justify the expense.

    1. AMPG*

      That decision can go both ways, IMHO. If this person is one of several that would be good candidates for the conference, then of course invest the money in someone who has more likelihood of sticking around. But if that employee was really the best choice to represent your company in that capacity, then you’re doing everyone a disservice by not sending him.

  36. Turanga Leela*

    Oh man, do I relate to this column. My ex-boss had a track record of pushing people out and badmouthing people after they left. I had always gotten along well with him, and I knew he relied on me, so I felt like I should give him more notice… but I took Alison’s advice and gave two weeks’ notice, since I wasn’t sure how he would react.

    It was the best decision I could have made. My boss felt betrayed that I was leaving and insisted that I should have given several months’ notice. (Two weeks is standard in my industry.) Meanwhile, he spent my notice period avoiding me and periodically sending emails that ranged from passive-aggressive to openly hostile. It was insane, and I was so glad that it was only for two weeks. If he couldn’t behave himself for that short amount of time, I can’t imagine he would have acted for the months of notice that he claimed to want.

  37. SomeoneLikeAnon*

    I did not let my supervisor know I was leaving my last job. Which ended up being a good thing as my “exit interview” was about 20 minutes of ranting at me why I was bad at my job and a worthless person. There was more tucked in that meeting that I’ve just filed away under “petty bully” and tried to move on.

  38. AMPG*

    My last boss knew I was looking semi-seriously, BUT:
    – She knew I had applied for her job and lost out to her, and then was very supportive of her once she moved into the role, so we had a lot of trust established;
    – She knew I would have happily stayed in the organization if I could have moved up, but there wasn’t really anywhere else for me to go;
    – I had a lot of institutional knowledge that was hard to replace, so it was to her advantage to stay informed about my timeline.

    It worked out really well for me (I ended up moving out of state without a job lined up, for personal reasons, but I gave an unofficial notice of about 3 months), but I would only recommend it in very specific circumstances.

  39. Anonforlotsofreasons*

    Depending on the position, I am a advocate for giving at least 2-4 weeks notice if it is feasible with the new job to do so. Two weeks notice hardly gives the current employer time to figure out what they want to do, advertise and even start getting resumes in to review.

    That being said, with my current, very toxic very happy to be leaving, job I gave 8 months notice knowing that I would be getting married and leaving the area. If I had it to do all over again I would have given them about 6 weeks notice and just kept to myself the selling of my house, planning of the wedding, etc (and I would have left my engagement ring at home everyday). Anyone leaving for any reason is taken very personally, it is a huge “burden” on them, and basically they start treating you like s&%$ from the time you tell them you are leaving. Has been the worst 8 months workwise for me but I am super excited about my pending wedding and my new adventure in another part of the country with my new husband!

  40. LT*

    I’m in a unique situation related to this post because a) I work in the public sector and b) I’m lucky enough to have a boss who’s supportive of her subordinates’ growth and development.
    Regarding a), there’s explicit ethical standards we have to abide by regarding seeking employment by companies through which we have particular involvement with (ours is a regulator/regulated entity relationship). If we’re solicited for potential employment, we need to notify our bosses and our agency’s ethics officer so that we can be recused from matters involving that entity.
    Regarding b), I recognize that it’s definitely not the norm but I do appreciate how supportive my boss has been about the prospect of me moving on. She actually suggested something similar to the situation I now find myself in as an option to move on (as in, she’d make recommendations and be a reference for me if I ever needed it). I actually am satisfied with the workplace now, but I was unhappy with her predecessor, which prompted me looking in the first place. Seeing as I am an open book most of the time, I’m fortunate that the circumstances in this instance allowed me to be as open as I have been, but I’m aware that any potential future job changes would require more discretion.
    Thanks for the timely post!

  41. nonprofit fun*

    I’m curious how this advice might apply to leaving for graduate school….especially if you’re thinking of asking your boss for a letter of recommendation. I’m currently applying for out-of-state programs and and bouncing back and forth between asking my manager – she’s a reasonable person but I wouldn’t be leaving until almost a year from now. I’d worry about being pushed out early.

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