my boss found out I’m job-hunting

A reader writes:

I’m a few years into my current job and decided that I want to move into a different field that is tangentially related to my current field. After a long job search process and many interview rounds, it’s finally down to me and just one other candidate for a position in the field I’m interested in transitioning into. After the final round, HR told me that if they ask to contact my references, it means I’m the top candidate. As long as reference checks go smoothly, I’d be getting an offer. I was required to put down my current manager as a reference so I did so, but I felt confident that all of my references (even my current boss) would give me positive reviews.

It’s been about two weeks since that final interview and I haven’t heard anything, even after a quick follow-up email. But last week, my manager suddenly told me that he knows I’m a finalist for this job. It turns out, one of the people who interviewed me knew my boss from a long time ago and talked about my candidacy to a few people in the field who know both me and my boss – and word eventually got around to my boss.

My boss seemed relatively supportive of me pursuing new goals in a new field. But he’s still going to put up a job posting for my current position and requested that I start creating transition documents. I was stunned. I told him that of course I want to do all that I can to make the transition easier and that I appreciate his support, but those steps feel a little premature, especially because I actually suspect that I didn’t get the job! He still acts like I’m going to move on soon. He’s even asked me close to every other day this past week if I heard back on the results of the interview so that he can post my job online.

Frankly, I’m pretty frustrated that the interviewer talked about my candidacy to people and that it got back to my boss. I now have to manage a boss who thinks I’m getting the offer and will leave soon when I actually have no offer in hand. I’m lost about what to do. Should I just continue as usual? Or should I talk to the other company’s HR or my interviewers to tell them what happened? Is there something I should say to my current employer to make sure I won’t be pushed out before I’m ready to move on? How can I job hunt in the future now when my employer now knows I’m itching to leave?

This is every job seeker’s nightmare!

When you’re interviewing for a job, potential employers are supposed to treat your candidacy with discretion. Typically you haven’t yet told your current employer that you’re thinking about leaving — and generally, it’s understood that if they find out too soon, you risk getting pushed out earlier than you intended.

In really dysfunctional workplaces, sometimes that’s a vindictive act — like “How dare you consider leaving us?! We don’t tolerate disloyalty here!” But in your case, since your boss is acting supportive of your search, it sounds like he just figures that if you’re actively planning to leave, he’d better swing into action so there isn’t a vacancy on the team for long. That leaves you in a terrible position, though, because you haven’t accepted another offer yet (and you might not even get one, or decide to turn it down).

I would do two things. First, contact the employer you interviewed with and explain the situation. You’re assuming you didn’t get the job because you haven’t heard anything from them in two weeks — but I wouldn’t assume that at all. Hiring often takes a lot longer than anyone expects it to, even for the people who are leading the search. So it’s possible that you’re still in the running, and they might get you an answer more quickly after hearing that they put you in an awkward position. When you contact them, say something like: “My current manager has told me that he heard I’m interviewing with you. Apparently he and [the name of your interviewer] have mutual acquaintances, and she spoke about my candidacy to them, and word ended up reaching him earlier than I’d intended. Since he now thinks I’m planning to leave, I’d be grateful for any updates you have on your timeline for making a decision.”

If the interviewer had talked directly to your boss, I’d suggest more pointedly saying, “This has put me in an awkward position.” But it’s possible the interviewer was doing informal reference checks, thinking it would be kept confidential, and the people in the wrong were those mutual acquaintances who spilled the beans to your boss. In your case I’d just keep it very factual – word has reached your boss, and you’d appreciate an updated timeline. The subtext of that is still, “You’ve created a tough situation for me.”

Best case scenario, they get back to you and say they’re preparing an offer (and, of course, that it turns out to be one you want to accept). But you also might hear that things are just taking longer than they expected and they need another week or two or, yes, that you’re out of the running. But any of these options are better than you speculating about what’s going on.

The more important conversation, though, is with your boss. Sit down with him and say: “You’re moving forward as if I’m leaving, but I don’t have any current plans to do that. I did interview with Company X because the job looked interesting enough that I wanted to learn more about it, but I’m not confident I’d take the role even if they offered it to me. As of now, I have no plans to leave, and I’m concerned that you’re operating as if I am.” (And to be clear, what you’re saying is true. The other company could make you a lowball offer, or you could decide not to take it for some other reason. Job searching does not mean you’re absolutely going to leave, and it’s reasonable to ask your employer to operate as if you’re staying until you have actual plans to the contrary.) Then say, “I will absolutely give you plenty of notice if I ever decide to move on, but that’s not where I am right now. I’m extremely concerned that if you post my job, I could be pushed out of my position. I want to be very clear: I am not resigning, and it does not make sense to advertise my position right now, any more than it would make sense to advertise it if this had never happened.”

Of course, in response to that, your boss might ask if you’re actively job searching. A safe and reasonable answer is, “I’m always open to talking about other opportunities, but I don’t have plans to leave right now.” Again, this is true. It also matters that the stakes here are much higher for you than for your boss — you risk getting pushed out of your job before you’re ready to leave, thus jeopardizing your ability to pay your bills. He risks some inconvenience (the same type of inconvenience he’ll have with most resigning employees). The stakes are just not comparable.

Now, will it be awkward if you do accept the job offer and resign a few weeks from now? Yes, probably. But you’ll have been honest about the fact that you’re open to considering other offers, and sometimes the timing just isn’t great. If you do ultimately get this job, you can even say that explicitly to your boss: “I realize the timing here is bad. When we talked about it recently, I didn’t have an offer. I hope you can understand I was in an awkward position, in being asked about this before I had anything solid to convey.”

Good luck.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 130 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I’m confused about the timing on this. It sounds like OP gave the current boss as a reference before the interviewer spoke with anyone. If that’s the case, then I don’t see how the interviewer did anything wrong. Boss likely would have found out that OP was job searching even without the informal conversations and would presumably have the same reaction to learning this information.

    That being said, it concerns me that an employer would make an offer contingent on a reference from a current boss for this exact reason.

    1. AnonyMouse*

      I wonder if the OP meant that they listed their supervisors contact information on the application (they said they were “required” to, which is where I inferred that from)? I feel like sometimes people refer to the application and the reference list they provide interchangeably. Maybe they thought they’d be notified before references were contacted and they didn’t have the chance to give them a heads up?

      1. A B*

        I read it as the interviewer had an informal conversation with a mutual acquaintance of the boss, but there was no formal reference check, which means OP is not the top candidate, which means they are not actually leaving their job. So now they have to deal with an anxious boss on top of the regular job search hassles.

        1. AnonyMouse*

          This would also make sense! I agree that it was confusing exactly what happened, but regardless what happened isn’t right.

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I think it’s best to leave the “current supervisor” information blank, honestly.

        1. Tigger*

          A lot of online applications won’t let you leave it blank, and if you put n/a or do not contact my employer they will automatically reject you.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Yup, which is crappy. Isn’t there a way for these companies to delete that field from their ATS system? It just puts people in a very uncomfortable position, sometimes for no reason.

            1. Talia*

              I suspect most companies that have one of those systems have absolutely no idea what goes into it or how it works.

              1. Tigger*

                In my personal experience no. I have a friend who was recruited by the department head of a large company for a position because they worked together in the past, but they still had to do the online application because of protocol. She put the current manager’s name as N/A and checked the “please don’t contact my current company” box. She got the auto-rejection email and the department head had to jump through hoops to get her unrejected so he could formally interview her that it was a real mess. HR had no idea they weren’t getting half the resumes that were submitted for openings!

                1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  I wonder if we’ve just found part of the disconnect between “we can’t find qualified employees” and “we’re qualified and experienced and not getting called for interviews. “

          2. wittyrepartee*

            Well, then it seems that your current supervisor’s name is “available upon request”

    2. Tigger*

      I think what the OP is annoying by is the fact that the hiring manager discussed their candidacy to people outside the organization and that is how the boos found out. If the boss found out during the reference check stage, it means that OP would already have an offer , or that they would have been the top candidate and they would have more control over the timing of telling the boss.

      I hate reference contingent offers. If you are worried about something, don’t offer the job and ask questions later.

    3. Cass*

      I think it makes all the difference because it took control away from the OP. Decent hiring managers shouldn’t contact a candidate’s current employer without checking in with the candidate first.

      1. uranus wars*

        I don’t think they did, though. Unless I am reading it wrong (which I might be). It sounds like they had an informal “Hey, Bob – Joanie applied at my company, don’t you know you know her from when she worked at Al’s – what did you think of her work” and then Bob knew current boss and Bob is the one who said something to current employer.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yes, and this can happen at any stage, honestly. It sucks. Someone can see your resume in an application, realize they know somebody who works at your org, and call them up to discuss, not realizing it can get back to your boss. (Or the front desk secretary accepting the applications could be married to your CEO or whatever). It’s not like not listing your manager’s contact info actually protects you.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            This happened at my old job. A director knew someone at the applicant’s company and gave them a call…turns out it was the candidate’s direct supervisor. There is always a risk that word will get out when you job search.

        2. Overeducated*

          Yup. My last supervisor said after he hired me, “I love that you’ve worked around here for a while because I could just call up people I know who aren’t on your reference list.” Uh…yikes.

          1. JM in England*

            I’ve seen statements on a few application systems (both paper & electronic) that say the employer reserves the “right” to contact people at your current and previous jobs other than those you put in the references section……Yipe!!!

          2. Alli525*

            That can be a pretty standard practice, as I understand it – obviously the references list that you or I provide will be a curated list of people we believe will give us good references… but it’s not a document that legally stops the hiring manager from contacting other people to make sure your references aren’t fake or playing favorites.

        3. MassMatt*

          From the letter, They blabbed about the OP to the grapevine of their niche industry and it got to the OP’s boss and now the boss is looking to transition the OP out and yet she has no job offer. It’s possible the boss found out through the reference check (and it sucks that they require the current supervisor as a reference check) but that is not what the OP says.

          Either way, it seems as though this employer basically outs every candidate to their current employer, so unless they get hired, their current employment is jeopardized. This is a terrible, terrible practice, and they should pay the consequences. OP, please review them on Glassdoor and wherever else you can. I hope you can repair things with your current position but it sounds as though that will be difficult.

    4. Triplestep*

      Yes, the timing is confusing. We have a potential employer who insists on a current manager’s reference, and an interviewer who had reached out to the current manager – we just don’t know the order in which these things happened.

      We also have a potential employer who did not respond to the candidate’s follow up e-mail after discussing her candidacy with her current manager. So while Alison’s advice is good, I don’t know why anyone would expect this potential employer to respond to a second e-mail.

      Sorry OP – this is a terrible spot for you. I hope everything turns out the way you want it to.

    5. BRR*

      I read it as someone talked with the LW’s manager and that it might have happened without listing their manager as a reference.

    6. Crowpocolypse*

      “After the final round, HR told me that if they ask to contact my references, it means I’m the top candidate. ”

      I understood this as the LW was OK with her boss being contacted directly because it would mean she was the TOP candidate. She was OK with risking him being contacted if she was that close to getting the job.
      Since her boss found out through the grapevine, and he hasn’t been contacted for a reference, it means she’s not the top candidate and now has to deal with the fallout of her boss knowing AND with not actually getting the job.

    7. The New Wanderer*

      The interviewer didn’t keep the candidate’s information private. It doesn’t really matter if the candidate had provided their current manager’s information – that was a requirement of the process, which the interviewer knew, not an option. The way I read it, the information was required on the application but the candidate would still be asked if those references could be contacted if the candidate was the top choice and before the references were contacted. The candidate would then have the opportunity at that point to let their manager know they would be contacted as a reference. In that case, the manager would only be guaranteed to find out about the candidate job hunting at the candidate’s discretion.

      It reflects really poorly on the other company that their interviewer was blabbing about this to people known to be mutual contacts with the current manager.

      1. uranus wars*

        I think this is common, though – “hey, you have experience with so-and-so, what did you think of them when they worked for you?” without absolutely knowing the circles they run in or the people they might know. Some industries are big and some are small.

        1. Emily K*

          FWIW, I have done informal reference gathering like that, but I always make a point to say something to the effect of, “I don’t believe her current employer knows she’s being considered for another job, so please be sure to keep this in confidence.” When you assume and all that…so I assume that anyone I’m talking to has no sense of business norms and spell out any “unspoken” norms that are as important as this very explicitly.

    8. Annette*

      Reference check = job is done deal, LW is leaving. This is just idle gossip. Now she might stay and boss knows. Totally different.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Not really though. A job might check references and not end up making an offer, or they might make an offer that the LW doesn’t end up accepting.

        1. Annette*

          Of course not necessarily. But I’m explaining the timing to amy who didnt understand. LW was upset because in this job reference check (boss knowing) = imminent offer. And boss knows but no offer is imminent.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I’m not an idiot, thanks. Checking references hardly means the job is a “done deal” which means that OP knew there was a chance that boss would be contacted and there would be no offer forthcoming. That’s the part that confused me. And there was no mention if those official reference checks took place either.

            1. Annette*

              No need to be hostile. You said you were confused – hence my explanation.

              This situation = very simple. Maybe you did not see where she wrote “as long as reference checks go smoothly I’d be getting an offer.” Maybe you feel she’s wrong. But if we believe her. Then that’s why she’s upset. Boss knows. But no offer.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              It may not always mean that but in this particular letter the OP indicated that is essentially what they were told: “After the final round, HR told me that if they ask to contact my references, it means I’m the top candidate. As long as reference checks go smoothly, I’d be getting an offer.” The OP counted on that when providing their current manager’s information.

        1. soupcold57*

          There’s no such thing as a “done deal” with at-will employment. It says so right there in the offer letter.

        1. Annette*

          You do but this company doesn’t. It’s right in the letter. I’m referring to LW’s situation only. Not in general.

        2. MassMatt*

          No one is saying don’t check references!

          But if you require applicants to give their current managers as a reference, and blab about them with no discretion so that it gets back to the current manager, it’s really tantamount to saying “applying here will jeopardize your employment”.

      2. AnonyMouse*

        I just went through an interview where after reference checks, they decided to repost. So not always a done deal, unfortunately.

        1. Annette*

          I’ve BTDT but LW says. “if reference checks go smoothly, I’m getting an offer.” Not generalizing. Talking about this situation.

      3. Chocoholic*

        At this moment, I’m checking references on 2 candidates who are interviewing for 1 position. We are split in our decision on who we are going to hire. We may be able to hire both, but may only be able to hire 1, so we are doing background checking and references on both so that when we make a decision we are ready to make an offer.

        1. Susana*

          Right, but as Annette points out – not the case here. They told applicant they would call the manager only if LW was their finalist (no plural) and if it went well LW would get an offer. What happened here is someone at the company blabbed about application, so now LW is left with no offer and a boss who thinks LW wants out.
          I reached my 5-article limit with NYM, so could not read Alison’s response. But if it were me, I would call the company and say, glad to have been considered, thanks for that. But I need to alert you to a problem it caused me, so it doesn’t happen with another applicant. Then just state the facts, (nicely) saying it put LW in a very uncomfortable situation that now can’t really be fixed, so perhaps a good idea to remind mgt. there of importance of discretion.

          1. Annette*

            Exactly Susana. It seems commenters do not believe LW because of their own experiences. Who cares about your company. At this place it works differently.

          2. Galloping Gargoyles*

            Employers do informal reference checks all the time. I’ve done it numerous times. It’s not possible to know all of the people who know all of the people in the applicants circle. The person that blabbed is the mutual acquaintance of the boss, who should have known better, but even that could have been an innocent mistake. Something like “I didn’t know the Penny Feather was moving on. Have you replaced her yet?”

            Alison’s advice was to contact them and explain the situation and ask for an update. The underlying message is “you created this awkward situation for me” without coming right out and say it.


      4. That Would be a Good Band Name*

        I applied for one a few months ago where they required references to apply and when you hit submit on your application it immediately sent emails to your references. I was not pleased. Thankfully it did not require current manager (nor had I provided that info).

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          What?! What company is this so I don’t make the mistake of applying there. What in the world would make someone think this was a good idea? Your prior supervisors could know your current one, which would blow your cover if you were job searching on the low.

          1. Overeducated*

            I definitely encountered this when I was applying for academic jobs, but those are ones where references are expected to provide actual written letters well in advance of the finalist stage, and aren’t usually people you’d be continuing to work for otherwise, so it’s more understandable there.

        2. JJ Bittenbinder*

          That’s terrible! And completely inefficient for the company doing the hiring. Now they’ll get references for everyone who applies (of course, not all those references will respond to the email, but even a 30% return on 100 candidates is a lot) and have to search through them when they get to the final-3 stage. Why would they even do that to themselves?

          I could understand if it was an internal applicant, as a few places I’ve worked had policies that internal applicants had to notify their current managers prior to applying, but it doesn’t sound like that was the situation.

        3. Works in IT*

          I realize we aren’t supposed to say what companies we work for, but does this count? Because I desperately do not want to apply to work at a company that will auto email all my references the instant I apply.

    9. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      I was really confused by your comment until I realized the Cut version had edited out that part of the letter! Just another reminder to always read the letter on this site as the version on the Cut is often edited down.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Well dang, no wonder people are getting kind of snippy arguing back and forth on this lol! That’s a pretty significant piece of information they cut out!!

    10. Mike C.*

      I was required to put down my current manager as a reference so I did so

      This might explain why.

    11. AdAgencyChick*

      I’m not sure whether this is the case. Either way, someone at this company sucks, whether it is the person who required OP to list the boss as a reference (hopefully OP meant that she was asked to list all current and former supervisors on the application form, but was allowed to check off “please do not contact current supervisor” as an option), or the interviewer who knows the boss and disclosed OP’s candidacy, whether intentionally or inadvertently.

      The latter happened to me several years ago, so I feel for you, OP.

    12. OP HERE!*

      Hi all – OP here! Thought I’d clarify some stuff and update everyone of what has happened since I wrote the letter.

      Basically, in the middle of the interview process, I was asked to submit a list of references. I was asked to include my current boss in that list (which sucks! sympathies to all in the job search process) but HR told me IN WRITING in an email that they will not begin referencing checking without communicating to me first. (I am quoting what they wrote exactly!) So, I put my current boss down, thinking that IF they communicate to me that they wanted to move onto reference checks, I would at least be very close to an offer and I could warn my boss that this is happening and control the narrative a little.

      At the very final interview, the panel said that the next step would be reference checks. If all looks good, they said I can expect an offer. I waited….Then, after a few weeks of waiting, I learn from my boss that he heard from people in our circles about my candidacy! I was caught super off-guard and was at a loss on what to do next – so I wrote in to Alison.

      Since then, I have had a few candid conversations with my boss that I do NOT have an offer in hand and that even if I had an offer, I would not necessarily take it immediately. I asked to not put my position up online until I hear back from HR, and they’ve (reluctantly) agreed. My boss has been relatively supportive, but also clearly anxious about me leaving (he still asks me every few days if I heard back), so managing that has still been a challenge, but overall, I think I’ve been firm enough in my responses that I don’t think they can easily push me out soon.

      In the meantime, the employer in question has officially moved forward with reference checks. All of my listed references (including my current boss, ironically) got officially contacted by HR last week, about a week or two after I wrote this letter. They are all people who I have had great relationships with, so I’m sure they said positive things. However, I do not have an offer in hand yet. This is a field notorious for bureaucracy, so things seem to be moving slowly. I’m hoping to hear back soon, but if I don’t hear back, I may use Alison’s suggestions to email them and inquire what their timeline is. What happened with the interviewer informally leaking my candidacy and our mutual acquaintances going to my boss (like come on!) did leave me really frustrated. But this is also a field that I’ve been interested in transitioning into for a long time – I think this is my best opportunity to get my foot in the door, so I’m hoping I get an offer that I can at least seriously consider.

      Thanks Alison and fellow readers for your advice! Job searching is a wild ride and good luck to all of those job searching.

  2. animaniactoo*

    Possibly a stop-gap to ease his anxiety: Go ahead and work on *some* of those transition documents under the thought process of “Needing to have the information and somebody else in the role appears to be such a priority for you, that I am concerned about what would happen if I just simply had a family emergency and was unexpectedly available for a week or so. Why don’t we nail down some documentation to cover that gap?” Pull together the parts of the job that don’t change and who you go to for what, set it up so that stuff can be changed at ease when you switch suppliers for something (for example), and then push off doing anything about current projects that aren’t likely to repeat, etc.

  3. AnonyMouse*

    This advice is sadly about a year too late for me, but I’m living this same situation (I read the OP’s situation and almost thought I had wrote it!). I don’t have additional advice, just posting that I can relate since I’m in the same boat.

  4. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    The interviewer NEVER should have broken OP’s confidence.

    Anyplace I ever worked – doing that would be a terminal offense. Basically, it’s snitching on a candidate who is interviewing in good faith.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They didn’t do that. They talked with mutual contacts (and that kind of informal reference checking is very common), and those mutual contacts told the boss.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Be it “mutual contacts”, informal, etc. someone may have broken a confidence along the line..

        There have been times where an acquaintance applied to my company and I’ve been asked informally about so-and-so – but – if that contact came to be from the acquaintance’s company – I’d be worried, no matter how informal it is. I have been told NEVER discuss a candidate with anyone outside the company.

    2. soupcold57*

      This is why it is a good rule to never allow checking of references prior to a final job offer

      1. Indigo a la mode*

        I don’t know. I think sending a formal job offer and then pulling it if references aren’t good enough would be way worse than just not getting the job at the reference stage. Job offers should be final, full stop, not contingent on more information. (Other than case-by-case formalities like a state-mandated background check that takes a couple weeks or whatever.)

        1. soupcold57*

          In what way would it be way worse? Presumably the references would have to be pretty bad to pull an offer at that committed stage.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            But that weakens the efficacy of references pretty significantly. If you’re not going to bother to check until you’re almost certain you want the candidate, and then only plan to act on them if they’re dire, you’re putting yourself in the position of hiring people with references of “eh, they didn’t totally suck, I guess.”

          2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

            From the employee’s viewpoint, it’s the difference between “I was hoping for this interesting new job, I guess I’m stuck at OldJob for now” and being unemployed because they gave notice to OldJob and then NewJob changed its mind.

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          If they are “contigient on checking references”, then it’s not a formal job offer.

          It’s a CONDITIONAL job offer that can be revoked. So until any job offer is final – NEVER consider it as such.

      2. Bananatiel*

        In my last job search I was told that they had a strong preference to speak to my boss at the reference stage, who was basically half the reason I was leaving. I countered with, here are three references (including a former dept head over my boss) and you can speak to my boss if and only if I am the final candidate– kind of a bold move but I would have been out of a job had they spoken to my boss. Turned out that one of my references was indirectly asked about my boss and they were able to explain on my behalf that there were “culture issues” to say the least. I got the job without them needing to speak to her at all after that.

        Needless to say I’m inclined to think that if you want to speak to references at the current company it needs to be serious at that point.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Except what is the point of checking references after you’ve made an offer? They are additional information to help you make a hiring decision.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Per my HR, they find that a lot of people prefer not to provide references, particularly current employers, until they have an offer in-hand. Considering how labor-intensive reference checking can be, too, they will only do ask for references and do background check once a formal, written, conditional offer detailing position title, work hours, salary, and exempt/nonexempt status is extended and accepted.

          The offer is conditional on passing background and reference (and, for experience candidates, a conflicts check), and we ask candidates NOT to give notice at their current employer until they clear reference, background, and, if required, conflicts. (Conflicts are not always disqualifying, either, we may just need to ethical wall them off from something.)

  5. Bunny Girl*

    I was so worried about this with my last job hunt. I was interviewing for a transfer to another department (in a very large company) and the reason I was leaving was because of my boss. The department I was in was considered a bit of a stepping stone to other departments and had very few long term employees, so I know a lot of people were okay with others reaching back, but I hadn’t even been there a year! Luckily the interviewer asked previous supervisors and left my current one out of the loop.

    I really have never understood any company that required people to put down their current supervisor, because this happens so often!

    1. AnonyMouse*

      I’m in an industry where it has (unfortunately) become a bit of a norm. I went through a hiring process last year where the hiring manager complained up and down about how I didn’t provide a current reference (she ended up doing an informal reference check without my permission anyway, hence my comment about how this advice was a year too late for me).

      My boss also made a comment about how he thinks it’s “unusual” to not provide your current supervisor. However, that may have been a manipulation tactic on his part considering how my search has played out. This time around, I have a coworker who was recently promoted who I think will be willing to be a reference for me. So that should at least be a middle ground where it’s a current reference, but they also don’t have power over my continued employment there.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        I have never, not in 20 yrs, had a prospective new company/manager ask to speak to my current manager. That is just weird. It can cause so many problems for the candidate.

        1. Kimmybear*

          I had it happen once. Turned out that the hiring manager also knew my current manager from years in the same field. That was actually one of the least odd things about that job.

          1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

            Still, there should be no attempt made to contact the other – informally or not, unless you give consent.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          As someone who did hiring, the only time I ever spoke to a current supervisor doing reference checks was when the employee was looking for a second job, moving, or switching from FT to PT or vice versa.

      2. Blue*

        Yeah, I definitely don’t think it’s “unusual” to decline to include your current boss as a reference… But for what it’s worth, I took this kind of approach when I applied for my current job. I wasn’t actively applying, so I didn’t want my boss to find out and get worked up over something that likely wouldn’t go anywhere. A coworker I trusted to be discrete agreed to be a reference. She was management-level (I wasn’t) and even though I wasn’t in her supervision line, our teams worked together a lot, so she had plenty of first-hand experience with my work. It might not go over well everywhere, but it worked out for me.

    2. LaDeeDa*

      It is completely wrong to speak to an internal candidate’s manager (or even worse- requiring their current manager to “approve” their application)- it discourages people from applying for internal jobs- which means people will leave the company for a new job, instead of looking for a new internal job. It is counterproductive to retention, to encourage a well rounded and knowledgable workforce– ideally, the higher up people go the more we want them to have insight into all areas of the business. So lateral moves or moves to different parts of the business is something that should be encouraged.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        it discourages people from applying for internal jobs

        Not necessarily. I applied internally at my last company a couple of times – only one of my managers took it personally and went on a full scale attack to try to torpedo my candidacy with the new team. Most employers, good ones anyway, would rather you stay with the company and keep the the institutional knowledge around, so if that means you need to jump to a new department to be happy and not leave completely, they’ll encourage it. Especially if you’ve been in your position for a while, or they know they won’t be able to promote you anytime soon and you are ready to go to the next level of your career.

      2. JJ Bittenbinder*

        It’s very dependent on the company culture. In one of my previous companies, it was a requirement that you had to have a conversation with your current manager prior to applying to internal roles, but the company itself was VERY big on development and rotational assignments and all that. So, it was very much encouraged to look at other opportunities within the company and talk to your manager and the hiring manager and see if it was a good fit.

        Now, I am sure that there were bad managers who would not have been supportive of their employees moving to other roles, but for the most part it worked. People stayed a long time and moved about if they wanted to, and found what was mutually beneficial for them and for the company. I will say, though, I was taken aback when I reached 6 months there and my manager said, “Now that you’ve been here long enough to qualify for internal transfers, let’s talk about whether you’re happy doing what you’re doing and working for me, or if there are opportunities you’re interested in pursuing.” I loved working for him and in no way wanted to move!

        On the flip side, I’ve worked for places where internal applications are kept confidential until the final reference from the current manager is needed, and it created a lot of problems. Managers felt blindsided when they found out that their employees were on the verge of leaving, for one thing. And hiring managers often had candidates in the final stages, only to find out that there were a lot of performance or behavior issues that they wished they’d known about earlier in the process so that they could have weeded that person out.

        I’d say case-by-case is a better way to approach it.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Six months?! My last company required us to wait at least a year in each position before you could move along. You guys were lucky, lol.

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        It doesn’t need to discourage people from applying internally, and a company with its head on straight should be able to easily overcome that discouragement.

        My current firm includes the career trajectories of direct reports as part of managers’ performance evaluations. They are incentivized to help their reports move up the firm’s food chain, and it would be bizarre and heavily career-limiting for a manager to stand in the employee’s way.

        My manager knows I’m looking at two departments for my possible next move, and one of them is the one he went through on his way to management; he’s been giving me loads of encouragement and helping me keep an eye out for openings. Now that tax season is over, job shadowing season is on and it’s not at all uncommon to have a visitor from another department sit and watch and ask about what we do.

        It’s a healthy culture that benefits the entire firm. He knows what I’m interested in and I can draw on his knowledge to know how best to position myself to get there. If I had to hide my interest from him, that would be awkward and stifling for me.

      4. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Most larger companies where I’ve worked require you to disclose that you’re applying for an internal position to your current manager. In fact, one company had a form that you had to fill out and have signed.

  6. Cass*

    Ack. OP, I’m sorry you’re in this situation. If you do end up getting an offer you might consider asking exactly how this happened before accepting. I consider this such a huge breach of confidentiality that I would have real reservations about working for this person without an explanation and recognition of how shitty of a situation this put me (you) in.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      It may not have been the interviewer/hiring manager’s fault that this info got back to the boss the way it did. Still, this employer should apologize should a job offer be extended because OP could have been let go that day depending on what type of manager she had. Luckily, the manager sounds anxious, but not vindictive.

  7. Phony Genius*

    Should we as a society be pushing to end the taboo of job searching while still employed? Maybe rename it “job improvement” or something.

        1. animaniactoo*

          The company’s ability to plan for filling the role with an unknown-but-expected end date, and their ability to assign projects, etc. with those same concerns in mind. Do you sign an employee up for a conference with non-refundable fees if you know they’re job searching and you may be out some money? If the answer is no, do you later regret that decision if employee has looked around, decided they don’t like what’s out there right now and they’d like to stay where they are for now? How do you handle the client relationships assignment and handover? Relationship building is often part of a role and people want established relationships where possible, not “relationship that is terminal but as long as they’re with us this is who will handle your stuff”.

          That kind of stuff.

          1. Oh So Anon*

            That’s what good succession planning is for. It’s not just about covering your scope of work if someone finds another job unexpectedly, but also if someone gets hit by a bus or goes on mat leave (which, here in Canada can be up to 18 months now). Making sure that you’re prepared for some cross-coverage and cross-training is simply the cost of doing business.

            1. Marie*

              The person who covered for me on mat leave (only 11 weeks) left a month later. It’s a good thing I’m not planning on another child. Not that it’ll be reflected in my salary or anything.

            2. animaniactoo*

              Yes, that’s how you survive *unexpected* or *planned* absences. But in the meantime, it’s not realistic to operate in long-term flux with the person currently in a role. The assumption of the scenarios you listed is that there is either a completely unexpected happenstance or a definitive timeline where you know the person will not be in the role going forward – which informs how you handle what you assign them or sign them up for now in the present moment. Someone who you know is job searching and may take 9 months to find another position but could give 2 weeks notice at any moment along that? Not the same deal.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I doubt we can, entirely. It is obviously a logical and reasonable thing to do. But it’s also inconvenient for the previous employer, and those employers who are jerks will react badly to that, despite it being logical and reasonable.

      1. soupcold57*

        An employee leaving a job with two weeks notice is far far far less inconvenient than employer terminating employee with no notice

    2. Emily K*

      It’s not really a taboo. It’s more that people have a really hard time holding information without acting on it. Once your employer knows you’re job-searching, they want to do something with that information, as in the letter above.

      This OP’s boss doesn’t seem to be pushing her out because he’s offended that she’s job-searching – we do hear about those bosses, but in this case he’s pushing her out because he’s clearly panicking at the thought of being short-staffed during the time between her last day and when he can get someone new on boarded, and he’s finding it difficult to quell his panic and worried that he’s hurting himself/his department/business every day that he doesn’t act on this information but could have, which is battling against his inclination to do right by his employee, and he’s struggling to figure out how much he owes her vs how much he owes his department/company. None of that is taboo-driven, unfortunately.

      1. soupcold57*

        An employee works and job-searches in their personal capacity. The manager hires in a professional capacity as a representative of the company. The manager should be more professional and cognizant of that difference.

        1. Emily K*

          There’s a reason why orchestras audition people behind curtains and most employers won’t ask your religion in a job interview even though technically just asking isn’t illegal as long as they don’t use the information in their decision. Because as much as everyone would like to think they can known the gender of the flutist or the religion of the job applicant without letting it affect their decision, we have piles of scientific evidence that people across the board have a really hard time actually compartmentalizing information that way.

          There’s a King of the Hill episode that deals with this problem – Peggy, through a job she’s working, learns that a batch of beer has been contaminated with soap. She has a confidentiality agreement that prevents her from telling Hank and his friends, who drink the beer, that it will make them sick if they drink it. She does end up telling Hank but makes him promise not to tell the others, passing the conflict on to him. Now Hank’s only way out of betraying Peggy’s trust and putting her job at risk is to pretend the beer is not contaminated, possible even to the point of having to drink beer he knows is going to make him and his friends sick. As much as you could argue that Hank shouldn’t be in possession of the information about the contaminated beer, the fact is: he has the information, and it’s very hard for him to go about his usual beer drinking as if he doesn’t have the information.

          It’s the same with this manager. He knows the beer is contaminated, but he’s been asked to carry on like he doesn’t know, potentially making himself and his friends sicks along the way. He’s weighing whether he should betray his employee by acting on the information he’s not supposed to have, or bring negative consequences on himself and he’s team by not acting on the information.

    3. MoopySwarpet*

      That level of transparency would be nice. I don’t think the way it’s done now is particularly wrong, though. If I’m job searching, of course my employer is always going to be on edge. I’m also going to get a lot more pressure to work faster and wrap things up sooner and probably document individual steps in the process so someone could step in and take over at any time. I would think employers are going to keep an eye out at all times for my replacement. What if the perfect candidate just happens to be looking now. The employer would have to hire them and I’d be out of a job.

      On the flip side, layoffs would be nice to know about, but the stress of knowing your company is financially struggling, but not knowing when/if they are going to have layoffs vs closing the doors vs some miracle client walks in?

      I think at-will employment in general is already on an unsteady foundation (with a few rare exceptions) so having this kind of knowledge would be like giving the foundation a good shake at random intervals.

      By unsteady, I mean there are no guarantees beyond your/someone’s word that you’ll report to/have a job tomorrow. It’s all built on trust between two entities that don’t really trust each other.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I get a kick out of it, we (society) don’t even think about how contradictory our advice is.
      “Don’t job hunt while employed.”
      “It’s much harder to get a job if you are UNemployed,”

      The take away here is that one should be both employed and UNemployed at the same time, in order to move to another job. wth.

      I think that it is up to the manager to have a plan on how they would replace each employee if they suddenly had to. Review the plan periodically and add up dates. I remember reading this in a textbook decades ago, so I don’t think this is far-fetched stuff. It jumped out at me as great advice, so I made it my own. While I understand managers can get worried/nervous over such things, uh… that’s part of the job. I have had plenty of days where I had this concern or that concern. Sometimes the concerns kept me awake nights. That’s what the job is, though.

  8. bookwormish2018*

    I agree that this was a very bad move on the part of the hiring company. We are looking at a candidate where someone knows the manager, and we are checking with the candidate before contacting the manager.

    But I also thought Allison’s advice was surprisingly tone-deaf here. If you are in a fairly skilled job where a short notice period will be a big problem for the employer, do not tell your manager that you’ll give ample notice while actually planning not to do that. That will burn bridges unnecessarily. If you think you are likely to give a short notice period, then don’t say you won’t. And if you say it, actually try to make it happen. If your current manager knows you pushed hard for an extra week but couldn’t get it, she’ll understand. But Allison’s advice sounds pretty close to actually lying to the manager. You can do it, but you may not be remembered fondly. You should tell the manager that you don’t have the offer and are not definitely leaving. If it’s true that you may stay for another year, you can say that. But don’t say it if it really isn’t true. And, as someone above said, start working on the transition documents.

    1. Jessen*

      I was reading “ample notice” as “the customarily agreed upon amount of notice that is sufficient” – usually 2 weeks, unless there’s a different standard in your industry.

      1. Elizabeth Proctor*

        If someone told me “ample notice” I would think that would mean more than the customary two weeks; I’d probably think I would be getting four weeks.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Point though – I would equally hear “plenty of notice” as “more than standard”. I would hear it as a misdirection to be told “plenty of notice” and then given “standard notice”.

            I do think it’s better for the OP to say something along with “standard notice at a minimum, but let’s talk about what we can do now* in case this does come through” with a strong emphasis on not counting any chickens that haven’t hatched and creating a different set of logistical issues for the role if OP ends up NOT moving on any time soon.

            *Meaning easing her boss’ anxiety by at least having documentation for the parts of her job that aren’t subject to change and useful to have in case she were to be unexpectedly unavailable, while not working on transitioning current projects or creating documentation for them. Since they will not need transitioning or documentation if OP is around to wrap them up.

    2. Indigo a la mode*

      I agree with Jessen. OP could say “appropriate notice” if she feels “ample” could be misconstrued.

    3. Batgirl*

      OK but what makes you think the OP won’t “actually try to make it happen” while following this advice?
      It’s a pretty good move to contact the hiring manager for an urgent update while spelling out that they’ve landed you in a tough position with your boss – implying that they owe you both information and flexibility as amends.
      These are manoeuvres which put you in a the best position possible to give more notice than you would otherwise get.
      But at the end of the day; notice period is often entirely out of the jobseeker’s hands. It’s understood that it only really means “the best I can do”.

  9. Peaches*

    Not exactly the same situation, but my husband just accepted a new job last week. He’s is currently working in Missouri (we leave near the state border), but will be working in Kansas for his new job. For his field of work (healthcare) he has to get credentialed in Kansas before he can practice at his new job. This will take 6 weeks or more. My husband wants to resign from his current company now, and just give a 6 week notice. He’s confident that his current job will want him to stay through his notice period, but I fear that they won’t. 6 weeks is a long time to be between jobs if they don’t want him to stay for that long.

    1. Elizabeth Proctor*

      I don’t know what kind of work he does specifically, of course, but I think four weeks is good if you can do it. They aren’t likely to be able to replace him before then (unless its an internal transfer, I suppose), so if his work needs doing it’s worth it for them to keep him around through the end.

    2. Samee*

      Depending on his level, and the employer, if they don’t let him work out the 6 weeks notice, they may pay him out. I have done that with accounting positions. Once the person gives notice, we don’t typically want them dealing with the financial side of our business anymore. So the more notice he gives, the more of a payout he might get… or not! ;-)

  10. Kes*

    I’m a little surprised Alison’s advice here is to tell your boss you don’t currently have plans to leave, when you clearly do if possible – that seems disingenuous and likely to create bad blood with the boss if you do leave. I think it’s probably worth following up with the company you’re interviewing with in this situation to see if you can clarify the status, so you can more confidently tell your boss if you didn’t get the job and are not planning to leave. If you still don’t know, I’d probably say something like ‘It’s true I have been interviewing for this job that came up, but I don’t actually have a solid plan to leave at this point, so please assume I will continue working here unless or until I tell you otherwise.’
    At the same time, if he’s still concerned it might be worth appeasing him by starting to work on some documentation of your role, since that is really a good thing to have regardless.

    1. Reba*

      Alison’s advice as I read it is to yes, acknowledge that the OP has the desire or at least the openness to leaving… but she has no concrete PLANS to. Which is true, she won’t leave until she has another gig.

    2. AnonyMouse*

      I also sort of felt that way, but I couldn’t think of a better phrasing. I think the idea is if you end up not getting the job and then not applying for anything for a while after that it helps to make things less awkward. But at the same time it makes things more awkward if you then resign a week later… I’m not sure if saying “I have not resigned yet” or “I do not have a job offer from another organization” would be better.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I would have difficulty there myself. However, what Alison wrote did help me find something I could be comfortable saying: “I do not have an offer yet. So until I see an offer, I have to believe there is no offer and I am staying here. IF I do get an offer my plan is to negotiate a start time to allow time for me to give adequate notice. If need be I can remind them that they hope their employees give adequate notice also, so it’s only fair that I do the same for my current employer.”

      There is a part of me thinking that I would be dying to ask the boss, “Did you hear something I did not hear? Are they going to make me an offer and you already know that?” Do not do this, OP. But it really does make me wonder if your boss knows you will get an offer.

  11. learnedthehardway*

    “Unofficial” references are one of my utmost pet peeves. I had a hiring manager the other day suggest that they could check with industry contacts about a candidate to one of their roles. I asked them how badly did they want that candidate to stop being interested in their role? Because if it gets back to the candidate, it’s in the candidate’s best interest to drop out of the search and assure their manager that they aren’t planning to leave. A company that can’t protect its prospective employees’ privacy doesn’t deserve to be able to hire good people.

    1. sange*

      absolutely! It’s hard in small industries because people love to gossip – but I completely agree here.

    2. JessB*

      But surely you could ask industry contacts about someone in a general way (without specifying that they’d applied for a job with your company) or even more specifically and confirm that the conversation needs to be confidential.
      And you wouldn’t ask any industry contacts who can’t keep a secret.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Yeah, and unicorns sneezing rainbows might fly out my butt. No. The smaller the community, the easier it will get out that the person is job searching, and it will get to their boss. To believe anything else is foolish. You don’t do digging like that when you’re hiring…. you just don’t.

  12. animaniactoo*

    I wonder if it might be useful to be blunt and direct with boss: “This may not come through, and your interest and how fast you’re moving at replacing me is scaring me because if it doesn’t, I would obviously still want to be here. It feels like that may not be possible with your emphasis on checking so frequently about whether you can post my job.”

  13. SezU*

    I think I would tell boss, “I’m not gone yet, but i will let you know if I get an offer.” I was able to be very up front with my previous employer, and she was very supportive of me taking my current position.
    However, my husband’s previous boss was apparently a child in adult clothes and would pout if he found out my husband had an interview. Fortunately, he is “previous” boss finally!

  14. sange*

    OP, this happened to me – and I wound up not accepting the offer! Here’s what happened and how I worked past the awkwardness.
    I work in a very niche field and was a finalist for a very senior position. At an industry conference, one of the interviewers from Other Company met one of my current colleagues and asked if she knew me. Colleague said yes, of course. Interviewer mentioned how he’s trying to get me to go work for his company and I was playing hard to get – while in reality, they hadn’t made me an offer yet! My colleague had no idea I was recruiting elsewhere, and immediately contacted me to let me know this was happening (my boss was also in the room and attending this conference). I waited a few days, contacted my potential supervisor at Other Company, and let him know that this interaction happened. I said I was surprised not only by the lack of discretion, but I was worried that people thought I was playing hardball when no offer had been made! The supervisor was mortified and explained he told his staff he was making me an offer but just hadn’t gotten around to doing it yet…long story short, their offer wasn’t what I wanted but I was able to use it to secure a promotion and raise at my current company. I was honest that I HAD been planning to take a different role, but was looking forward to my next phase with the current company. Awkwardness was gone within a few days.

  15. Classroom Diva*

    Almost this exact thing happened to me! I had been told that my present boss would not be contacted unless it was the last thing before hiring me. He was. I wasn’t hired, because–despite being the strongest candidate–another person (with one year experience) came along who was friends with a board member (yes, I know this for a fact). :-(

    My boss had given me an excellent reference, but assumed they would hire me. He was ready to advertise my job and bring in people to interview, and I didn’t even have a job offer! I was SO upset! I was *promised* that they would only contact my boss if they were planning on hiring me, and I knew I was a very strong candidate. The fact that they allowed a personal relationship to decide who got the job, AND that they not only contacted my boss but then did NOT contact me for days afterward (I had to contact them to find out I hadn’t been given the job), was very upsetting and still causes a lot of rather hard feelings.

    I still work for the same position and this was two years ago. I really wasn’t actively looking and this potential job really did just fall in my lap. So, I really didn’t need the huge hubbub their lack of professionalism caused.

    1. Bears Beets Battlestar*

      That’s terrible! My current job is ok, but I’m applying to a few places just to see if there’s anything better out there. I’m keeping it very quiet to avoid this exact scenario.

  16. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    I couldn’t get into The Cut site. Wants me to pay to read. First time this has ever happened.

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