my boss insists on knowing everywhere I’m interviewing

A reader writes:

I’ve been working as an assistant/coordinator at a small company (about four people) for a little over a year now. I like it fine and my boss values me, but after over a year here, I feel like it’s time for me to move on. There’s not a ton of work to do, especially when splitting it with the more junior assistant, and I find myself exceedingly bored throughout the day. I’m early in my career and I’d like to take my next step to be at a bigger company with more name recognition and more opportunity for advancement. I’d also like to work in an office with more people around.

I got promoted to coordinator after about eight months, when I first expressed the feeling that it was time to move on. In response, my boss bumped up my title, increased my salary to just tolerable (assistants and coordinators in my industry are notoriously grossly underpaid), and promised to introduce me to higher-up executives who he sometimes collaborates with. I accepted under the condition that I would only suspend my search long enough to hire and train the new office assistant, and would resume searching at the beginning of this year. One of my stipulations in accepting was that I had to be able to tell my boss when I was going on interviews; I had a couple last year but felt strange about lying, and there are only so many doctor’s appointments I can have before things start to look suspicious.

And so everything seemed fine. Recently I started applying for jobs again like I told him I would, but I’ve run into an unanticipated problem: having to tell my boss where I’m interviewing when I tell him I’ll be out of the office, especially when the places I’m applying for are in the same industry, just bigger. I’ve been out on interviews a few times now, and each time he insists on knowing where it’s for. When I reluctantly tell him, we end up in an interminable round of him trying to convince me to stay while I nod politely and wait for the first opportunity to back out of the room.

It’s yet another issue with working in such a small place: he’s the king of our little four person castle, and there’s no HR department I can turn to. He’s an older, wealthier (white) man set in his ways, and having built this company from the ground up, he’s used to getting what he wants. He’s also the one who personally signs my checks every week, and I need to stay in his good graces while I keep looking.

I have an important interview coming up at one of these larger places. When I tell him, I know he’s going to be upset, because if I’m going to stay in the same industry, why not just stay here? What he’ll hear is that the business he’s built isn’t good enough for me. Which, honestly, is somewhat true, I just don’t know how to say it. How can I phrase it so that it doesn’t come out like an insult to him? Or better yet, what’s a tactful way to ask him not to ask in the first place?

Very small businesses like this one are often run as their own little fiefdoms, rife with norms and practices that wouldn’t fly in other workplaces. That can be tricky even for experienced professionals, but it can be especially dangerous for people early in their careers, when you don’t always have the frame of reference to recognize when something is weird.

I say that because what your boss has asked of you, and what you’ve agreed to, isn’t how this typically works.

Usually when people are job searching, they’re pretty discreet about it. Most of the time, people don’t inform their employer, because there can be serious consequences: You can get pushed out of your job earlier than you want to leave (either because your manager sees you as disloyal — which is ridiculous and yet a thing that happens — or because your employer pushes you to set an end date for their convenience rather than for yours); or you can end up on the top of the list if your company needs to do layoffs because “you were leaving anyway.” Less-dire consequences, like getting shut out of important projects because people assume you might be gone before the work is finished, might still be something you want to avoid.

Because of all that, people don’t often let their managers know when they’ve decided to interview for other jobs. There are exceptions to that, of course. Some managers make it safe to confide in them when you’re ready to move on by demonstrating that they won’t react poorly, push you out, or pry into your plans in ways that would be unwelcome. And some jobs are clearly designed to be shorter term, and it’s openly acknowledged that you should be looking after X amount of time. But generally speaking, the convention is that your job search isn’t your employer’s business and you’re not obligated to announce you’re looking or share details when you do.

Your boss seems to have somehow missed this message. And I’m worried that he’s making you think he’s entitled to pry into your job search in the way he’s been doing.

Now, to be fair, it sounds like you might have initiated this conversation when you told him you were ready to move on last year. And you asked to be open about going on interviews so you wouldn’t have to lie. But that seems to have opened the door to him involving himself in your search in a way that’s not reasonable.

He’s not entitled to know where you’re interviewing. And he’s not entitled to insist on the chance to try to convince you each time that his company is a better spot for you.

If we had a time machine, I’d tell you to go back and be more close-lipped from the beginning. He didn’t need to know you were job searching at all! And he definitely doesn’t need to know each time you’re leaving for an interview.

I get that you felt awkward about lying, and in some ways it’s easier to be able to explain that you’re out of the office for an interview. Except that he’s shown you that it’s not easier, because he’s going to subject you to an interrogation each time you tell him.

So I’d revert to what most people do when they’ll be away for an interview — say you have “an appointment” and if he presses for details, it’s “something personal I have to take care of.” Or try to schedule interviews for early in the morning before work, late in the day afterward, or during a long lunch. But if your employer makes it impossible for you to be vague, they’re pretty much forcing you to use a cover story, and in that case, some people find it useful to say they’re having dental work done, since that can take a series of visits.

When you stop telling him about each interview you’re going on, hopefully you’ll eliminate — or at least cut way down on — the cross-examinations.

If it comes up again anyway, and/or he starts pushing you to stay in your current job, you can say, “I really appreciate that you value me, thank you! I’m sure I’ll move on eventually, but you’ll be the first to know at whatever point that day comes.”

And if he pushes you to justify why you’d want to leave for a larger company … don’t engage. It sounds like he hasn’t been willing to accept your very good reasons for this desire in the past, and there’s no sense in continuing to go round and round with him about it.

If you absolutely must respond — and since you’re concerned about placating him — there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Your input is really valuable to me and I appreciate hearing it, thank you.” That doesn’t say you agree with him or you’ll do what he wants; you’re just being diplomatic in a situation where the dude who signs your paychecks is being overbearing about something that’s none of his business.

And again: None of this is normal! In future jobs, default to keeping any job searching confidential, unless your manager has a clear track record of handling that kind of information well (and maybe even still then; it’s just safer).

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 127 comments… read them below }

    1. Anonys*

      100%. Even if you had a great boss who knew you were job searching and supported you in it and didn’t pull all this crap, it would be overkill for them to know every interview you go to is an interview. No need to remind your boss of the fact you are job searching that frequently (or non-frequently, both give away too much).

      In fact, even if someone thinks their boss is great and would support them moving onto greener pastures, in 90% of cases I wouldn’t recommend them to inform their boss about their job search at all.

    2. The Voice of Reason*

      It may be none of the boss’ business, but OP opened the door to this by repeatedly telling the boss she wanted to leave.

      And she started this after only 8 months (!) on the job, when she withdrew her threat to quit after being given a promotion and raise. The boss gave her what she wanted, even though that’s probably way too early to expect a promotion. And she still told the boss she was job searching.

      This sounds like a clubby industry — dare I say it, maybe showbiz? At any rate, I suspect the boss is worried she may be interviewing with people he knows. He may be worried that she will badmouth the company, given the repeated threats to quit. Or he may be worried that she will take trade secrets with her.

    3. The Voice of Reason*

      I missed this — not only did she open the door to this by telling the boss she wanted to leave, she asked to tell tell her boss where she was interviewing. (“One of my stipulations in accepting was that I had to be able to tell my boss when I was going on interviews.”)

      This was a boneheaded “stipulation” — “I’ll stay longer but insist you hear me out about which competitor I’m leaving for” — but you can’t blame the boss when he wants his employee to do something she not only agreed to do, but specifically brought up of her own volition.

      1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

        I think you may be mis-reading the letter. It sounds more like the OP means to say “One of my boss’s stipulations of offering me this raise, was telling him about every interview I went on”. It’s highly unlikely that OP would make it a stipulation that she inform her bossy about her actions outside of the office and then write to Alison for advice on how to avoid telling him about her interviews.

        1. Anonys*

          “One of my stipulations in accepting was that I had to be able to tell my boss when I was going on interviews; I had a couple last year but felt strange about lying, and there are only so many doctor’s appointments I can have before things start to look suspicious.”

          She makes it very clear it was her idea (MY stipulation) and that she didn’t want to “lie” about going on interviews. Asking for exact details about where those interviews are at is her bosses doing, though predictably so, imo, considering she is telling him when she goes on job interviews.

        2. k8*

          it reads to me like OP *wanted* to be able to tell her boss that she was interviewing to avoid having to come up with lies….and now she’s shocked that he wants to know *where* she’s interviewing as well as when. imo she kind of opened up the door to overshare and should really slam it shut now that she’s realized it might not have been the greatest idea in the first place….

      2. Anonys*

        To be fair, I don’t think she wanted to give information about WHO she was interviewing with, but only THAT and WHEN she is doing it. I agree it’s total overkill but it seems to have stemmed from a misguided desire of “not having to lie” and being all harmonious and on the same page with the boss about her desire to leave.

        My personal opinion is that in a professional context, there are many situations where you shouldn’t, can’t, or mustn’t tell the full truth about something – either personal stuff for privacy reasons or matters regarding the business itself for confidentiality reasons. You can practice radical honesty with your friends and family if you must, but in a work context it’s not a practicable idea.

        1. Threeve*

          My read as well. She wanted to tell her boss when she was interviewing every single time b/c she “felt strange about lying.” She just didn’t want to share where. And you can’t bring a subject up constantly without expecting someone to be interested in the details when they have an actual stake in the outcome.

          Also, it’s fine to say that you’re looking for professional advancement and new challenges, but oh my God just telling someone you straight-up want a bigger, better company?

          Don’t. Don’t do that.

          1. Anonys*

            Did she straight up say she wanted bigger and better?

            I agree. It would be fine to talk to your boss about looking for professional advancement, but being totally frank about wanting to leave isn’t good. OP did kind of dig her own grave here, though I don’t think it excuses the boss being overly pushy like this. I also think OP has probably just learned slightly weird workplace norms, starting her career in a 4 person company and probably and hopefully has time to unlearn them.

            There seems to be some naivete coupled with a very strong aversion to not telling the full truth that isn’t going to do well in workplaces and interviews. For example: “What he’ll hear is that the business he’s built isn’t good enough for me. Which, honestly, is somewhat true, I just don’t know how to say it.” Her only solutions here are to frame that the business isn’t good enough for her more nicely, or to find a way to avoid the boss asking this question.”This business is great and I’m grateful for all I’ve learned here – but I’m looking for a new challenge and I think I will find it in a large workplace” doesn’t even occur to her. this actually is the truth, if she only frames it in her head a little differently. Tbh, she shouldn’t have to say this now, but might useful if the boss throws a fit when she hands in her two weeks and she wants to smooth things over for reference’s sake.

            tl;dr – you’re gonna have to “lie” a little bit in the workplace. Most people just don’t define lying as strictly as OP seems to, but think of this as using polite and professional framing when communicating about delicate matters.

          2. The Voice of Reason*

            And you can’t bring a subject up constantly without expecting someone to be interested in the details when they have an actual stake in the outcome.


          3. GammaGirl1908*

            She wanted to tell her boss when she was interviewing every single time b/c she “felt strange about lying.” She just didn’t want to share where.

            More specifically, it didn’t occur to her that opening the door to sharing her interviewing schedule meant Boss would ask further questions. She envisioned leaving a couple of hours early and breezily announcing she was off to an interview, and Boss absently going, “Okay, good luck!” That’s not how it went down, *especially* as the process dragged on and she wasn’t having success.

            That’s all on top of her announcing less than a year into the job how unsatisfying it was and that she needed something bigger and better, and putting a bunch of conditions on her staying. Girl. TMI. It’s okay to keep some things to yourself, especially because Boss now knows he has a disgruntled employee on his hands, and is imagining what you’re saying to his peers in interviews (or is he even calling those peers to provide an unsolicited “reference”?).

            Re Alison’s suggestion that you manufacture some “dental work,” think of it this way: you’re looking for a new job so you can stop grinding your teeth and sucking your tongue and clenching your jaw at this one. It’s true enough.

            1. GammaGirl1908*

              Also re feeling strange about lying, most people lie all the time; we just rationalize it, and sometimes it’s necessary for the greater good.

              I once encountered an exchange where someone insisted she NEVER lied, and then someone else pointed out that her kids believed devoutly in Santa Claus >D

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, this is a very odd situation but it seems to me to have been mostly created by the OP. I’m honestly baffled by the fact that they offered her a raise and promotion her keep her and she just straight up said “I accept, but also I’m still going to leave anyway” and they were like “ok.” This whole thing is so odd. But while it’s true that it isn’t the boss’ business to know where she is interviewing, I think it’s not very reasonable to insist on oversharing more details than usual and then being surprised that they end up asking followup questions.

    4. The One True Church of Ecucatholicism*

      I think if LW is writing to ask for permission to lie to her boss, most people here are telling her “yes, go for it.”

      I might say the same except for concern about damaging the relationship if your boss discovers that you’re fibbing. I mean, if he’s hassling you now for interviewing, how’s it going to go when you get an offer and you tell him you’re resigning? “You didn’t tell me you were interviewing with them” is how the conversation will start.

      If it is truly impossible for your current boss to give you the job you want, I think you should continue to be honest with him and try not to let it get to you when he argues that you should stay. I mean, it’s understandable that he wants to keep you on.

      When you *do* get that dream job offer, that’s when you should have a real conversation with him about what you need – if he obviously can’t supply that, and he can’t deal with it, then that’s *his* issue. You, on the other hand, have taken the high road and can say stuff like “you know, I never lied to you”. I guess the idea is that you don’t leave him thinking sour grapes stuff like “oh well, she was dishonest anyway.”

      All of that said, it’s really up to you to think on the situation and decide what is best in your given circumstances. Is your boss going to lose it completely and fire you on the spot? Or is he going to forget about it overnight? I don’t know. But I don’t believe anyone here has suggested this course of action, so I’m bringing it up.

  1. Mama Bear*

    Yikes. LW should also not feel obligated to say where they go, either. “I’ve accepted a new position and my last day will be x.” Sometimes I’ve told people where I’m going and sometimes not. I think LW should also read up on AAM cautions about a counter offer b/c this seems like a boss who would try to make one.

    Not every job is right for every person, and vice versa. LW should try to see it as business vs personal. Less is more. Start putting him on an information diet.

    1. Anonys*

      So true about counteroffers! Sounds like that’s already sorta what he did, only bumping her title and pay when she was about to leave.

      Also, OP, don’t think about it as lying. Frame it in your head as confidential information. Most employers should know that well enough. I come across quite a bit of confidential info at work, every important project has a ridiculous code name and tbh, I often have to “lie” to colleagues, mostly by omission, but sometimes more actively as not everyone in the company is allowed to know about every project. Sure, in a four person business it’s possible everyone is involved in everything, but your boss would have no problem hiding sensitive company information from you, should it arise and become necessary. You should have no problem treating your sensitive private information with confidentiality as well. Think of “dental work” or else as simply your code word to protect your privacy. Don’t think about it as lying, because it isn’t really.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        An advice columnist I read did a good job of framing the difference between privacy and secrecy. Privacy is not sharing information with others that isn’t their business. Secrecy is not sharing information with others that IS their business. LW needed to not feel weird about maintaining her privacy.

      2. Mints*

        Often when I’ve been able to schedule interviews more than a week in advance, I’ll ask for afternoon, and then I’ll just ask for the whole afternoon off. Nobody expects details for a PTO afternoon. “I’d like to take Thursday afternoon off as a vacation half day.”

    2. Matilda Jefferies*

      Yes! OP, you’ve already accepted a counteroffer, and it didn’t work out. The raise brought your salary to “just tolerable,” and it sounds like the introductions to execs and so on haven’t happened – or at least if they’ve happened, they still haven’t brought you to a place where you’re happy at this workplace.

      So I agree with Mama bear that your boss will almost certainly make you a counteroffer, and that you should certainly certainly not accept it. You’ve been there and done that, and it’s time to move on. Good luck!

  2. Jellyfish*

    It sounds like OP is worried her boss will stop paying her if he doesn’t like where she’s interviewing. He can fire or lay her off, but he legally can’t just stop signing her paychecks for work already completed.

    I did this in my first full time job too though – telling my boss far more than she had any right to know. My boss was horrible, but I didn’t know anything else. She definitely took advantage of my inexperience and desire to keep the peace, and that only pushed me to job search harder. Good luck getting out and finding a healthier workplace, OP!

    1. Ama*

      Yup, me too. And when the first (very understanding) boss that I told I was looking got fired in the middle of my job search and I was rolled into another department, I made the huge mistake of telling my new boss that I was in the process of looking for a new job. It was summer of 2008. Within two months the economy had crashed, job openings had dried up and it took me over a year to even manage to find an internal transfer to get out of there — with new boss resenting me the entire time and interpreting every minor mistake I made as proof that I didn’t respect her authority. The only thing that protected me was that I was in a union position and we were in a hiring freeze, so she would have had to show much greater cause than “forgot to put the milk away after a staff meeting” (yes, I was lectured for my “bad attitude” after that incident) in order to fire me unless she was willing to completely lose the position.

      I’ve had much better bosses since then and my current boss and I have a very close relationship (we’ve both been through a lot of personal strife in our time together) and I still haven’t breathed a word that I’ve been looking since January.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I mean, it’s possible he isn’t all that bad, and she is new to the workforce, and so wants a good reference and to be on good terms when she leaves. And boss may truly want her to be successful, but is just a little too invested here because he knows he can’t hold someone at his small company ready to move onward and upward.
      Also, he might be trying to play the mentor, but isn’t doing it very well.

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Ah the over-sharing with your boss trap, it’s an easy one to fall into in that setup. However then you run into them thinking it’s a negotiation, which in your case you state it’s not.

    You get better at this as you get further into you career. I had a boss a few years ago try to talk me out of moving, to the point he offered me money to “find another partner” because I made the mistake of letting him know why I was moving. I laughed at him in that “Oh that’s a funny joke because of course you’re joking!” way and moved on.

    The good news is your boss doesn’t seem malicious and is just clingy/needy/wants to keep you. This can backfire if they’re manipulative dirtbags though and sometimes you don’t know that theyr’e that way until they find out you’re a “traitor” and leaving them.

    Don’t make it all doctors appointments, be more vague then it gets less weird. It’s not lying if you just have an appointment that you need to get to, you do. Don’t say doctor, that’ll make you feel better. It could be an appointment with the DMV for all he needs to know, it’s something you need to take time off to attend to. It’ll also help you from over-sharing in general.

    1. Captain Kirk*

      Since the OP sounds younger, I wonder if they could get away with calling the appointment “for adulting things” if pressed for details? It’s not great from a professional standpoint, but that can help reinforce that you’re an adult, you have appointments. They could be anything from getting new tires to waiting at your house for cable internet installation. The more comfortable you can be being vague (and I have difficulties with this!) the easier it will be.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This works too, you can also just say that you’re taking a friend/family member to a series of appointments since they can’t drive or whatever.

        There’s a ton of things you can allude to that aren’t actually either personal medical “stuff” or medical at all.

      2. Sally*

        I think “for a personal matter” sounds more like an actual adult thing to say. With no elaboration, and for any questions just respond “it’s personal”, firmly and pleasantly.

        1. Captain Kirk*

          Exactly! And no lying involved, you just have to be willing to draw the boundary and hold to it.

          (And I know this is difficult. I’m a guy, stereotypically the ones that have no problem saying no, and I have problems holding boundaries with others.)

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          Make sure you adopt this strategy for any actual appointments or other reasons you need to leave early, too.

          Not only because you should be doing this anyway, since what you’re doing outside of work is none of their business, but it will also be less noticeable than if you were OK saying you had to take your car in for repairs one week, and then all of a sudden you’re out for undisclosed reasons.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            Agreed. Just cut back on oversharing in general unless necessary, and then it’s less weird when you suddenly don’t overshare.

            I once told my coworkers I was going to be “out of town at a conference,” and their messages while I was out made it clear that it took a moment to dawn on them that I never specified WHAT conference. My peer finally went so far as to send me a message saying, “Let me know where you are and what you are doing so I can tell Boss, because he was wondering.” Me: “I’m out of town at a conference.” Coworker: “Well, we were talking and realized no one knew what conference, and since it’s clearly not a work conference, we were curious.” Me: *silence*

            I was attending the biennial conference of my sorority. Was it their business? No. But at that point it was more fun to just let them wonder, heh.

      3. WellRed*

        Do you mean literally saying “adulting things”? That’s a great way to signal youth and inexperience, not reinforce that one is an adult.

        1. Youngin*

          I agree. Sounds extremely childish in a work setting. And I’m someone that uses that phrase often with friends.

    2. Cobol*

      This can be really tough in a small office where your boss is used to seeing you every day, all day. There are only so many appointments that can take you away as long as a job interview.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I don’t agree. And I’ve only ever worked for small businesses, reporting directly to ownership and been in the exact same situation as the OP.

        You also have to remember they don’t want to let her go here, which is to her advantage. Replacing us is what they’re trying not to do. She has more power in this situation that it feels like internally.

      2. Mints*

        I liked using dentist because it makes sense to have a a follow up a couple days later, and I also used “follow-up doctor’s appointment” for a second interview (implying blood tests or allergy tests or whatever).

        I also used DMV appointment, “plumber appointment,” “heater broke.” I also just called in sick when I felt like taking the whole day, if it was a drive. I think lying is fine in this context!

  4. siobhan*

    Before checking if your tag was a female name I was 100% sure you were female. Why? Because a lot of the time men in power talk down and try to beat their point across, and its not acceptable.

    As a female manager, I can tell you that whilst it would be sad to see you go, I would never hold you back. Once a colleague has decided that they’re leaving theyre leaving. If you had stipulated an ultimatim that your boss could have worked towards then absolutley fight for what you want but if you’ve just said now is the time to move on then he needs to accept that.

    By agreeing to time off to attend interviews you have given him authority to ask the questions. IMO you need to either arrange interviews outwith your working week or take annual leave. By doing so you take the power back and don’t have to answer any of his questions. Its as simple as that.

    1. nona*

      eh…I don’t think this is a gender lines issue. Its really a small business issue, where the loss of even one person makes it hard for the business such that the person in power gets attached/territorial about the people they have. I think you just have more men owning small business than women, but I’ve totally seen this is small business owned by women.

        1. Mary Mary Quite Contrary*

          If the gender of the letter writer is not pertinent to the issue than I would argue the race of the boss isn’t either.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I addressed this below — racial power dynamics are real. So are gender dynamics, but “female bosses don’t do this” is not correct.

          2. Elizabeth Rochelle Dickson*

            Oh, yes, it’s definitely a thing. I’ve had older white men behave in some of the WORST ways towards me, a Black woman, merely because I am Black, I am female, and I appear to be very young (I am 44, and people most often assume I’m no older than 30. Thank dog I no longer look like a teenager, though I had when I was 25). The level of condescending “advice” was maddening, especially when I was a veterinary assistant who had more training in dog handling than the owners, and could make their dogs behave better than they could. I still have that magic (basically I don’t let the dog get away with undesired behavior even once, and they know I mean it), and yet, here comes the guy (nonwhites are better about realizing I know what I’m doing) to “educate” me about dog behavior — all wrong, and the reason they have so much difficulty with the dog, and I don’t.

            1. Indy Dem*

              That’s terrible that you had to deal with that – none of those reasons should have a right thinking person judge you as less capable.

              Also, please tell me that you meant to type “Thank dog”, because that is awesome.

              1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                “Thank dog” is an alternative many people use :) Its’ most likely intentional.

    2. Stormy Weather*

      A good manager wants their employees to succeed, and that doesn’t necessarily mean in the same company. It’s always great to see someone say they wouldn’t hold an employee back.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Are you actually trying to make this about “A woman manager wouldn’t do this”? Because that’s simply untrue and unkind to try to bait someone into false security over women never being sexist or on a power trip.

      This is about a power balance issue.

    4. t*

      You don’t know that the LW has annual leave. Small businesses don’t always do that. Also, this boss sounds like one that would demand to know what you plan to do during an employee’s time off.

    5. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I don’t think anybody needs authorisation from their boss to search for another job or go to interviews. I’d say that OP should just go to interviews, tell their boss they’ve an ‘appointment’ somewhere and leave it at that.

  5. A Simple Narwhal*

    If you want to go the “I have an appointment” route and he insists on knowing what it is for, I’ve heard dental appointments are great covers, there are so many check ups and tiny things that require multiple visits!

    If you wear glasses/contacts, another good excuse is that you’re getting fitted for/trying out different contact lenses. They give you a lens, you try it for a few days to a few weeks, and if it doesn’t fit you have to go back in to try another one. No one can tell if you’re wearing a new lens or not, so no “proof” to be looked for. I started the process for getting a new contact lens for my eye with astigmatism back in September, and I only just settled on one that works well enough right before the stay-at-home orders went out. It was annoying to have to go back into the eye doctor so often, but it made me realize it would be a great cover for people interviewing with nosy bosses!

    Again, the LW shouldn’t have to do any of this, but sometimes you have to play the hand you’re dealt.

    1. pope suburban*

      I endorse this strategy. I worked for someone like OP’s boss for three miserable years, and whenever I had an interview, I’d either schedule it for lunch or call it a medical appointment. My saving grace is that I’d had other professional jobs before, so I knew full well he wasn’t entitled to any information about a job search. I lied to him cheerfully and with a clear conscience; he got as much insight into my career plans as he’d earned being a passive-aggressive petty tyrant.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Can the interviews be scheduled for early evening or morning, outside of work? Some places will let you do that. Like if your shift ends at 4:30 PM, they might do a 5:00 interview.

        1. pope suburban*

          I was able to do that, yes, especially for phone interviews. I scheduled my interview for the job I have now during my lunch break and took it early (11:30 as opposed to noon). All anyone there ever heard from me was that I had an appointment, because the boss was absolutely capable of retaliating against someone who had the gall to leave (He was the sort who said the business was “like a family,” only it meant an abusive, dysfunctional one that wanted to isolate you from the rest of the world). If someone is in a workplace like that, I completely recommend looking out for yourself by scheduling interviews so as not to interfere with your work day. I hate that people have to, but I think it’s completely right and worthwhile to take those steps if it gets you out of there and into a healthy workplace.

    2. irene adler*

      Other things might be to assist/accompany a family member to an important doctor’s appointment.

      My mom is losing her eyesight. So she wants me to go with her on her doctor visits. And for other important visits too-like to the family attorney.

      And there are visits-like to the cardiologist-where she wants someone to help remember all the questions she wants to ask. And to take notes on the doctor’s responses.

      I will tell you right now not all of my absences were for Mom’s issues.

      And for the late arrival in the morning or leaving early for the day: the good old plumbing emergency. Or other household repair (“the AC crapped out yesterday. Only open appointment time was 8 am today. Had to grab it-I’m sure you can understand.”)

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I’m pretty darn sure that some of the “taking my dog to the vet” absences one of my former coworkers had were interviews, since he gave his 2 weeks notice right at the end of a string of vet visits. (Given his dog’s habit of eating anything and everything, I also suspect some were legit, and some were a combination of both.)

        1. irene adler*

          That’s another excellent reason to leave work early/arrive to work late!

          For the last few years of my dog’s life it was a monthly trip to the vet. Fortunately for me vet took Saturday appointments. But gee, should the job search necessitate, I’m sure the vet would suddenly not have anything available for all the Saturdays to come (at least for me!).

    3. Mill Miker*

      The last three people to leave my team all had a string of dental appointments right before they quit. It’s a great cover.

      1. Threeve*

        And I spent a horrible month genuinely needing several hours of dental work every week–so it’s a real thing, too.

    4. Thankful for AAM*

      I have a thing already to go if ever pressed about my appointment – “it is for my vagina.”

      1. MayLou*

        Ha! I like this. Because if you have a vagina, then it’s TRUE! You have to accompany your vagina to a job interview. Or rather, it has to accompany you.

      2. Lonely Aussie*

        Yup. We have a new male manager who wants to know why we’re out sick and the nature of the appointments we’re going to. Every single appointment is a papsmere and every single illness is cramps. He’s not twigged onto the fact I’ve had six paps this year….

  6. Oh Behave!*

    Ugh! This must be frustrating. It’s unfortunate you agreed to give him this info. It would be great to schedule a day or two off and schedule interviews then under the guise of having home repairs. You could also say you didn’t feel it would be a fit therefore you won’t tell him the company name. He’s thinking of this as a headache for him to replace you probably.
    Does him being white have anything to do with this? Just curious as to why it was mentioned as I didn’t feel any bias in your letter.

  7. Lynn*

    There are only so many doctor’s appointments you can have — but then there are also dentist appointments, home repair emergencies, needing to help a friend with their appointments, etc.

    I don’t encourage lying, but LW’s boss has personally made this a no-win situation, and it didn’t have to be.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Appliance repairs are probably good cover stories. I had a warranty repair on my microwave/oven combo when I built my current house, and after 4 visits and days scheduled to work at home for me, the guy still never fixed it. 1 visit to dx the issue. 1 visit to install the part that he didn’t have the first time. Repeat.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      Well, actually, you can legitimately have a lot of medical appointments. (Raises hand).

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yep. Even for things that aren’t Major Health Problems, I’ve definitely had a string of “well, it turns out you don’t have X, but while we were looking we found Y and so you need to go to another specialist to make sure THAT’s not a problem, and while I have you here when was the last time you saw a dentist?”

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Allergies are good for this. I get hives and have to make follow-up appointments sometimes.

  8. Sleepy*

    Honestly–a decent person/manager who knows you are underpaid will be happy to see you getting a better position, even as they may be sad to see you leave your current job if you are a good employee. I’ve supervised a lot of people who are underpaid part-time workers, and I always encourage them to go for it when the rare full-time position opens up in our field. I don’t like having to hire someone new, but it’s part of my job to do so, not an imposition on my job.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      This is true. But the OP isn’t talking about her supervisor, or even her manager. She’s talking about the owner of the business – someone who knows she is being underpaid, has the authority to do something about it, and is actively choosing to *not* do anything about it. So I don’t think he’s a decent manager. And he’s questionable on the “decent person” part as well, with the way he’s crashing all over OP’s (perfectly reasonable!) boundaries.

    2. Loves Libraries*

      Boss doesn’t want to have to find another employee who will accept the paltry salary.

  9. Polivia Ope*

    While I feel for the OP and their boss sucks and is not going to change, I don’t understand how his race is relevant. The OP didn’t mention any racism that would factor into what he is doing and nothing in the letter indicates that so I’m confused as to why it was included or why Alison left it in.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Racial power dynamics are real ones; we’re not going to pretend they don’t exist. In particular, if the OP is not white, it might feel very relevant.

      1. Oh Behave!*

        No one is pretending racial power dynamics exist. The only mention of race by the OP is when she identified boss as white. OP never inferred they were a POC so that was a confusing thing to add about the boss. If this is a racial issue, then there are bigger problems than an owner who does not want to lose a valued employee.

    1. HS Teacher*

      OP may have mentioned it to show he’s a member of the dominant class, so she may be intimidated by him. I don’t get the sense it’s intended to be a slur or a negative thing. Just giving information about the situation.

  10. New Job So Much Better*

    And there’s always a chance he’d contact someone he knew at your potential employer and ask them not to hire you.

    1. juliebulie*

      That was my first thought. I’d be afraid that he’d be tempted to sabotage OP’s job search.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      Huh, 3 more people who think like me.

      I’ve seen this happen with an overly entitled small business owner. Sadly, it was with the coworker he was sexually harassing, so she couldn’t get away from him.

  11. Heidi*

    There was bit that stuck out to me: It sounded like as part of the OP’s promotion, there was an agreement that she would suspend the job search. I might be misinterpreting this, but if the OP feels that that this means that she has agreed not to quit or needs permission to job search, that’s…not a real thing. You can always quit a job. You don’t need a reason or permission to find a new one.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      YES. Alison has had a few letters where a boss has “refused someone’s resignation” or the like, and… that’s just not how it works. I am trying to comprehend that level of ego.

  12. Tink*

    Major control issue. Do you think, through industry contacts, he could be sabotaging or trying to sabotage your interviews?

  13. Campfire Raccoon*

    I don’t usually endorse lying, but if you’re running out of “appointment” excuses, tell him you are interviewing with a recruiter/third party, instead of a specific company. If he asks why you can say something about “better exposure” and/or “it’s good practice”. It also has the added benefit of preventing sabotage via his professional contacts.

  14. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    Sorry if this is a breach of protocol but does anyone else run into “Monthly Limit” issues with such articles?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A lot of people do, it’s spoken about in just about all the linked articles comments frequently. There’s a pay wall.

      If you only read Alison’s articles, like I do. You rarely run into it but it happens from time to time if you go back to re-read things later on. Otherwise it’s probably because you read other articles that you didn’t realize were linked to this site.

  15. PMgr*

    What he’s doing is uncool. But if he does press on why you need to move on, answers like “broadening my professional network in the industry” or “trying to apply what I learned here in a new situation” might work. You learn a lot by working for different bosses and seeing more than one way of doing things. Plus you make more connections if you move around a little.

  16. Dream Jobbed*

    I’ve “reached my limit” of free articles. Can anyone summarize the advice given quickly? Thank you!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      No. It’ll be a breech of Alison’s contract with these sites to circumvent them. Even if it’s a summary, the point here is that these people pay Alison for her content and they have a paywall because it’s a business.

  17. IrishLadyMN*

    The advice given was good and will hopefully be food for thought for other who find themselves looking for a different job and needing to interview. I do have one question, though. What if the boss (since he sounds rather unprofessional and possibly vindictive) starts insisting upon from your doctor or dentist notes to “prove” you were there? Sadly, especially at small companies, I know of people who have been subject to all sorts of infantilizing restrictions such as this.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      And this is why you don’t use a medical excuse for every time. Or you conveniently forget to get a note. Unless someone has a known history of firing people, I wouldn’t sweat it. I’ve known only one boss out of many that have fried anyone for utter nonsense. Especially a “prized” employee like the OP.

      You can’t reason with unreasonable people, you must just dodge them and escape any way you can see fit.

      1. Idril Celebrindal*

        Ok, I know it was a typo, but I laughed at the one boss who “fried anyone for utter nonsense.” Was this one boss a supervillain by any chance? I’m imagining a Death Ray….

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Heeeheeeeheee I used to liken one of my old bosses to a cartoon villain, this fits perfectly.

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      And that’s why you want to go as non-specific as possible – both so that it’s not an actual lie, and so that there’s nothing to be called out on. “I have to duck out early/I have an appointment/something came up“ is better than “I’m getting a root canal.”

  18. Blagosphere*

    Trying to see this from the boss’s perspective. The OP sent a pretty big signal that they wanted to discuss the interviews openly when they made that a condition of putting off their job hunt. I could see a situation where the boss thinks they are being polite by asking where the OP is interviewing. I wonder if the boss has any idea these conversations are making the OP uncomfortable. If you don’t want to lie, maybe say you have an interview and then when they ask where, just say “I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it yet, but fingers crossed!” That’s a much clearer signal and it’s still honest.

    1. valentine*

      The OP sent a pretty big signal that they wanted to discuss the interviews openly
      OP simply didn’t want to lie about taking time off. That’s “I’ll be out for an interview Wednesday afternoon,” not agreeing to listen to a lecture. If the boss really thought it was meant to be a discussion, they should’ve asked long ago why OP isn’t happily chatting away. Instead, he expects OP to agree to share the work of a one-person job while being the problem in a letter we’ve seen here: “I was hired to replace someone, but they won’t leave.”

    2. WellRed*

      They didn’t say they wanted to discuss the interviews at all. They wanted to be open about having an interview scheduled. If you have a dr appt, you wouldn’t expect the boss to ask what invasive procedures you were having done.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Agree. I’ve been in a situation where my boss and I both cheerfully agreed that there was no room for advancement in my current position and it wasn’t even where I wanted to go career-wise anyway, and so I was able to give a heads-up about interviewing so she could get a head start on dusting off the job description and stuff. But she still didn’t ask me *where* I was interviewing or even how it was going.

  19. Llama Groomer Extrodinaire*

    Another aspect here is the employee being new in their career. Not only is the boss trying to be manipulative but they are manipulating someone new to the work world. A good boss should understand and maybe even be supportive of an entry level person wanting to move up the ladder even if it means leaving their office. They are not only nosy but also stunting your career growth which is another red flag. At least all of this behavior is showing that you need to get out of there.

  20. CM*

    OP says it was her idea to tell the boss about interviews: “One of my stipulations in accepting was that I had to be able to tell my boss when I was going on interviews.” So I don’t think she’s going back on her word if she doesn’t tell him. In this position, I would just stop talking about interviews. I think it’s the less awkward choice — once you say you’re going on an interview, it’s a lot harder to shut down questions abut it. An alternative would be for OP to say, “I appreciate your support as I interview for other positions. I’ve realized I’d prefer not to talk about specific interviews until I’m farther along in the process. If I get to the offer stage with a job, I’ll let you know.” But that would be tough to enforce if the boss keeps asking questions.

  21. Lyudie*

    I just want to point out that changing companies but not changing industries is totally normal! Lots of people move from company to company (often the companies are very similar even, say, someone could move from one software company to another), and no one blinks an eye. The reasons you cite are more than enough reason to go somewhere else, you don’t need to justify it at all.

    1. Lavender Menace*

      THIS. I work in tech and the average tenure in our industry is something like 2 years. People often move to other companies for no other reason than they just wanted to work on something different. That’s a totally valid reason to jump ship!

  22. The Rural Juror*

    I once was honest with my boss (also the owner of a very small business) about meeting for coffee with a sales rep from a much larger company that happened to be a vendor of ours. They were hiring for a position with lots of travel. I was young and unattached, with no opportunities for travel with the current role I had, so I met with them to hear more about it. Didn’t even tell my boss if I was interested or not, just told them I had let the sales guy give the me spiel. Well, my boss called that sales rep and threatened to stop buying products from him if they were to hire me away…so yeah, that went well. He shot himself in the foot that day. Once I found out about it, I found a new job as quickly as possible and left him in a lurch. I was not happy about him attempting to sabotage opportunities for me!

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      I hope you left him with no notice whatsoever. “Oh, btw, yesterday was my last day!” He deserves it.

    2. Lavender Menace*

      I don’t know why anyone would think that’s a good strategy to keep someone. You can’t threaten everyone, AND you’ve shown yourself willing to use your power to sabotage someone in your employ with less power than you (whose career you are supposed to be managing and developing).

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I am dying to know if he was actually a big enough of an account to even matter. “I’ll take my $2000 a year account away!” is my favorite power trip, they get so mad when you say “I’m sorry to hear that! If you want to reestablish your account in the future, we’ll be here for you.”

  23. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    When I was getting ready to leave my last job, I gave both my team lead and manager a quick, casual “Hey, just FYI, I’ve had some health stuff come up that means I’m going to be having more appointments during the day in the coming months until everything’s under control” Et voila! A built in reason for your more frequent appointments with no specific reason or end date. If boss is so presumptuous as to ask what is going on, be as vague as you like. If boss continues to push and is as OP states in her letter older and male, there’s a high probability that he will back off and run the other way like a cartoon character if the answer is anything resembling “women’s issues”.

  24. Mel_05*

    Dental appointments are the best cover. They can take hours and often involve a chain of related visits. I genuinely have bad teeth, so trust me, there’s nothing odd about a series of dental visits.

    You can also do vet appointments, furniture delivery, plumbing problems… but dental work is a thing anyone will understand you need to so *now* No one want to sit around with dental pain or a chipped tooth ( in the back, obvs)

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Exactly! A root canal and crown are many appointments! Lol!
      Not like you can see it either if in the back. Good cover story!

  25. MissDisplaced*

    It can be really difficult at very small places like this to simply say “I have an appointment,” or “I have something I need to take care of.” Because you have to tell the person directly signing your checks. And they want to know why.
    That said, try to schedule your interviews first thing in the morning at 8 or 9 and then say dental appointment or something common, boring, and plausible. I caution against saying doctor because then people in small offices tend to think you’re sick and may be intrusive or nosy about that.

    And yes, you are giving this guy too much agency and involvement in your job search. Unless this is a true mentoring situation, though it didn’t sound that way based on the letter.

  26. Bob*

    He wants to bully you into staying by acting like a overbearing parent.
    You need out. This is also a good reason why Alison has often said don’t accept counteroffers to stay.

    I don’t know how you will handle references but get out ASAP.
    When you leave he will blow up and maybe even attempt to sabotage you, be ready with contingency plans to handle his moves.

  27. lou who*

    Hm this makes me question my past choices. I previously had a job where the goals of the organization itself were problematic for me, but my colleagues and bosses were great.

    Would you recommend in that case that someone clue in their boss in case there’s a way to leverage networking?

    I did end up taking a lower-level position than I was qualified for (government so it’s very cut-and-dry) which may not have been necessary if my bosses had been aware and could have connected me among their networks in other, related orgs…

  28. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

    I just say I have an appointment. I’ve only been pressed a few times. I have never told a boss that I was interviewing for a new job or given any hint towards that until I accepted my new position. I don’t want to alert anyone that I’m looking. Finding a job can take a lot of time, and I don’t want to be on the “Well, Perfectly Cromulent is leaving anyway, and we need to lay off someone” or “PC would be great for that promotion, but she is leaving soon, so…”

    One of the few things I took away from Lean In was “Don’t leave before you leave.” I follow that advice.

  29. LGC*

    Oh noooooooooooooo LW!

    Yeah, going forward it’s probably not a good idea to say you’re going on interviews. From personal experience, it makes me feel awkward to know that an employee is interviewing, and although I’ll wish the employee good luck…I’d rather be ignorant. That said, your boss is acting like an overly attached boyfriend (or rather, an Overly Attached Boyfriend, if you will).

    But yes, put your boss on an information diet. I try to avoid using terminology for dysfunctional families when posting here, but…uh…it’s appropriate in this case.

  30. old curmudgeon*

    There has actually only been one job where I did not tell my boss that I was interviewing and would be leaving. Not that I’ve changed jobs that much – I am on my fourth professional position in a career that spans 39 years. So I don’t have a great deal of data points.

    The job I held longest was in another part of the country, and because I had been there for 18 years and knew literally everything there was to know about how the company worked from top to bottom, I told my boss four months before leaving that our family was moving across country, and then trained three people to replace me and wrote a 200-page thesis covering everything I knew to give the CEO before I departed. My boss knew that when I took vacation time for a trip that spring, it was for interviews, and while he wasn’t happy that I was leaving, he did all within his power to be supportive, including giving me one of the most superlative letters of reference I have ever read.

    The job I held for eight years before starting my current one was at a business that was imploding. I knew it, my boss knew it, and my boss was very candid and up-front in telling me that any time I needed time to go interview, it was completely fine, plus he offered to be my primary reference. Again, he wasn’t happy that I left, but he knew and understood the reasons why, and in fact he bailed out himself about six months after I did.

    The only job where I kept my interview arrangements completely under the radar, to the point of changing into interview clothes in my car between my work location and the interview locations, was the toxic job I landed in about 21 years ago. It was an awful job with an incompetent and malevolent boss, and I hated every minute I worked there – but stayed for five years and gave them a full month’s notice so that I could honestly say I delivered my best effort. I just didn’t tip my hand when I was planning my exit.

    My current job is the one I will probably retire from, so I don’t expect to need time off for interviews. But in all three of my previous jobs, my experience really echos Alison’s advice – take a very hard look at the relationship you have with your boss before divulging that you are interviewing. I have been fortunate to only have had one toxic boss, but I know that is unusual. It is better to be overly cautious than to be overly profligate with sharing information.

  31. not always right*

    Feel free to block this if you deem it necessary, but I just don’t see the relevance of mentioning her boss is white. Maybe it is just me, but I found it a bit jarring. I don’t mean to stir up any drama, I am just mentioning how it distracted me from her issue. The advise and subsequent commenteriat is totally spot on.

  32. Courageous cat*

    I completely agree with Alison’s advice, but the problem is, if you’re trying to stay in his good graces – once you *start* setting boundaries and being discreet (as you should have every right to be), that may very well be seen as coldness in his eyes, given you were once very forthcoming about it. It’s going to be a significant shift for him. I am not sure the best way one can pull off this advice without coming closer to burning a bridge (which is stupid because you shouldn’t have to worry about that here).

    He’s being super unreasonable and you should feel you have every right not to tell him anything, but if your concern is that he may turn on you in any way, then my concern is shutting this down suddenly might cause him to. So my personal approach would probably be to gradually lean into an information diet rather than starting abruptly. But I don’t know if that’s the right answer either necessarily.

  33. Paul Pearson*

    Sorry Boss, this info is filed under “not your business”

    I am always slightly bemused by how much ownership some bosses feel they have over their employees

    I mean, maybe if he was saying “Hey I’m super connected/well known I can put in a good word if you like” with the option to say no, maybe… but this isn’t it.

  34. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    ANY interviews you do with another company should be kept confidential.

    ALMOST ALWAYS (well, if you’re in a layoff notice period, that might not always apply).

    The apropos answer is “if I *WERE* interviewing with someone else, I’d keep it confidential, just as I’d expect YOU do to the same with me.”

    But your target company, where you’re reaching out for a job, might not want it known that you’re talking with them, either.

    There’s also an “old boy” network – where people might mutually rat out their candidates to their employers – but – that’s not supposed to happen, and usually happens no more. I’ve heard of cases where a guy resigned, and current-boss called the guy’s new employer and bad-mouthed him. Lawsuit time!

    Many years ago, as well, a headhunter called me at toxic job. I asked her to call me at home later – and I advised “I just gave notice today at Toxic Job – after I talked with you earlier – and am going to work at Nirvana Company in two weeks – all set , but thanks for your interest. ” She immediately proceeded to blast Nirvana, told me to call and say no, she had a better job for me, and I said no – that’s unethical, what you’re doing, and hung up.

    Some years later I learned that she was fired from her agency because while she was very productive, she called a company and advised – “don’t hire this (guy I want to send somewhere else)” … and you can imagine where, legally, that could lead.

Comments are closed.