a person I asked to be a reference is telling people I’m job hunting

A reader writes:

I work in higher education in a student support capacity (not a professor). I have been working at the school for seven years total, two years in my current position. I am not unhappy with my current job but there is very little room for further growth as we are a smaller institution. So when a former coworker reached out to me about an opportunity at a larger school where she is now, I figured why not at least apply and see where it goes.

I have been through two rounds of interviews and they asked for references a few weeks ago. I asked a few colleagues from various departments who represent the range of work I have been doing for the past seven years, not just my current position. I did not ask my current manager to be a reference, as I’m not yet ready to tell them I am looking and frankly I’m not sure I’m ready to leave even if I am offered the new position.

I found out today that one of the people who I asked to be a reference has told at least four people that I am applying elsewhere, and now I am getting questions from other departments asking when my last day will be. I haven’t even been offered a position yet.

I didn’t necessarily ask the reference to keep things to themselves, as I sort of assumed that was common courtesy. Should I have been more straightforward that this wasn’t news I was ready for the world to know? Should I tell my current manager that I have interviewed elsewhere before it gets back to them as some twisted version of the truth? And how do I let the reference know that I am extremely upset with how they have handled this situation without damaging the professional relationship, as we do still have to work together?

Aggh, that’s really bad. If you’re currently employed, no one should ever share that you’re job searching without your explicit permission. There’s too much risk that if it gets back to your current manager, it could cause problems for you or even lead to you being pushed out sooner than you want to leave. What your colleague did was terribly thoughtless.

That said … it’s also true that not everyone is aware of that risk and so it’s smart to explicitly ask people to keep your search confidential, especially if they’re current coworkers (who may think that if you’re telling them, you’re talking about it at work). Sometimes people really don’t think this through, and you don’t want to leave it to chance.

As for what to do now, three things:

1. Go back to the person who blabbed and say this: “Have you mentioned to others that I’m applying for other jobs? I haven’t told Jane that yet and it’s important to me that she doesn’t hear it before I’m ready to have that conversation. But people have been asking me when my last day will be, and I’m really concerned about it getting back to her.”

See what she says. Assuming she’s appropriately mortified and apologetic, there might not be any need for anything else besides, “Please keep the fact that I’m searching confidential and don’t mention it to anyone else without my okay.”

You could explain how upset you are, but if you still want to use this colleague as a reference, it’s probably in your best interest to just set the record straight and leave it there (and be careful about spelling out everything for her in the future). Keeping your eye on your ultimate objective here (getting good references and moving to a new job), I think you’re better served by that approach than by chastising her; it’s better that she continue thinking of you warmly and not defensively. That’s not to say a chastising wouldn’t be deserved — it would be — we’re just talking about what best serves your goals.

2. If anyone else asks when your last day will be, say this: “I don’t have any plans to leave! I’ll be here for the foreseeable future.” (This is technically true. Right now, although you’re interviewing, you do not have any concrete plans to leave.)

3. As for your manager … I wouldn’t raise it at this point. It’s possible the info will never reach her, and there’s no point in setting off that mini-bomb when it might be unneeded. If she ever brings it up with you, you can say something vague like, “Yeah, from time to time I get contacted by other companies about roles they’re hiring for and occasionally I’ll hear one of them out, but I have no plans to leave right now!”

(If you then end up accepting another job soon after that and feel awkward about the timing, at that point you can say, “I didn’t expect the offer I received, and it was too good to pass up.” She might see through that, but the point with that language isn’t to hide your search at all costs, but to acknowledge that it’s a shift from the earlier conversation rather than pretending the earlier conversation never happened.)

Read an update to this letter here

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. Grim*

    I’ve never asked any of my references not to tell my current employer that I’m interviewing, I just thought people knew better than that.
    Lucky for me, no one has ever told my employer I’m interviewing; I guess it doesn’t hurt to mention it to my references in the future.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yeah, I just assume this is part of the covenant between job-seekers and references.

      Is it possible that’s not the case in academia somehow, or is the blabber just a jerk and/or clueless?

      1. PT*

        It COULD be, if the person is in the sort of academic role where they’ve normally changed jobs at a proscribed career step, where everyone assumes, “Oh so and so has completed their PhD/been a postdoc for 4 years so naturally they’re on the market,” and thus also somehow lacks the common sense and tact to not realize the whole world doesn’t live in that bubble.

        1. cat lady*

          yeah, if the reference is a professor they likely don’t have any clue about norms about non-faculty positions.

        2. cat lady*

          though, to be honest, professors shouldn’t go blabbing around either, given that tenure track jobs are so few these days that multiple students in a given department frequently apply for the same position.

      2. PollyQ*

        It’s even possible Blabby thinks they’re being helpful by networking for OP. “Let everyone know you’re job-hunting!” is sometimes good advice. But probably they just love to gossip and weren’t thinking about the possible implications of the news getting back to OP’s manager.

        1. Snailing*

          I’ve been in that position, luckily without a blabby coworker, but with people in my community. I worked at a local business for a really great boss, but I didn’t see much more upward mobility and wanted to break out of the hospitality business. But we live in a small town, and all this advice to tell my whole network that I was looking was absolutely going to get back to my boss because she was a part of the same group! It felt really tone-deaf from the people urging me to tell everyone!

        2. Amaranth*

          What strikes me as odd is that multiple people asked about OP’s “last day” — you don’t get that from ‘OP asked me to be a reference’ its more ‘OP is leaving us!’

        3. Joan Rivers*

          I don’t get a “helpful” vibe from this. My response to people might be, “Actually, I mentioned to someone that I’d been told about a job opening and the next thing I knew it had turned into more.” And look puzzled. It’s true and gets at the person’s overreach w/o attacking her.

      3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I’m in a non-academic position in a university and I would say that the idea that faculty and staff are sort of always looking for growth opportunities is pretty widely accepted and encouraged — at least at my institution — more than in a corporate setting where it might be perceived as “disloyal”. We actually post jobs at other academic institutions that would be of interest to our employees, because it’s often the only way to progress until someone retires. But, I still think the OP’s reference should know to be discrete.

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          yup, this is my (limited) experience at a public university. In fact, within my first few months my boss talked to me about furthering my career, either at my campus or within the system.

          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            Collegiality between higher ed institutions is pretty common. Even people who have retired or moved to other schools never really seem to leave. It’s an unusual environment to get used to.

        2. TWW*

          I wish this were the case everywhere.

          I have no plans to leave my current job, but it takes almost zero effort to keep an eye on job postings and occasionally apply for something. It seems silly that I have to pretend I’m not doing so, because why would anyone assume that I’m not?

        3. Aquawoman*

          I’m in government and it’s the same. Move up here, move somewhere else, all good. I think we had a training on updating your resume recently.

        4. cat lady*

          the exception is if the position’s budget line was hard-won and/or there’s indication that the position will be eliminated instead of refilled (as so many are right now), because that could leave your boss and coworkers in the lurch. Sometimes hanging on to the person in the position is the only way to keep the position in economic times like these (this was me last year, and I *agonized* knowing that the student service I’d be leaving would be decimated until budgets recover enough to rehire)

        5. Retired Prof*

          The reality in academia is that staff (not faculty) have to move out to move up. You usually can’t get a promotion within your own department – the org chart is small and usually pretty flat, and your position is not going to be reclassified without some enormous change in department structure. I always assumed that staff members were looking for new positions – if not right then, then soon. And I can’t imagine anyone being pushed out because they were looking for a new job – at my unionized public university firing someone is really difficult, as is hiring. Everyone prefers the status quo.

      4. Awkward Interviewee*

        I work in higher ed in a staff role, and the blabber is clueless. I’ve never heard of references in higher ed being different than elsewhere when it comes to being discreet. In fact, if anything we know to be more discreet because many (most? all the ones I’ve ever applied to) job postings/application systems ask for references at the application stage. References generally aren’t contacted until much later in the process, but you still have to secure references to even *apply* to something most of the time!

        1. TootsNYC*

          this was something I wondered.

          In my field, it’s really rare to call references until you’re at last steps. (The exception might be if the hiring manager knows people who know the candidates, and reaches out in confidence ahead of time–if your source says, “she’s great!” that’s really useful; the times I’ve seen it done, or have done it myself, I’ve always said, “Don’t say anything to anyone.”)

          So I can see someone assuming that since they were called for a reference, the person is about to get the job, it’s now a formality. But still…they haven’t ACTUALLY been offered, and I’ve seen tons of times that there were a couple of finalists, and the reference made the difference, so just getting a call wouldn’t tell you anything.

          Plus, it’s just…it’s not your news. Shut up.

      5. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Academia isn’t completely bizarroland – reference culture isn’t any different than in any other sector in my experience. Sure, there’s collegiality in passing along job opportunities (but that happens outside of academia too…), but it doesn’t usually go as far as references having a different expectation of discretion.

        PT made a point about people in academic jobs where there’s an assumption of being on the job market at certain career steps. That scenario isn’t any different than when someone outside of academia (or in a staff position in academia) has some type of fixed-term contract job or something with a built-in expiration date. I think that someone either within or outside academia would have to be pretty clueless to not recognize that the optics of job searching are different depending on whether your current job is meant to be a long-term gig.

      6. Jayne*

        Not on the non-tenture track side according to my career. The default for a reference is to not to talk about it. Especially to coworkers. Even before the Covid induced financial problems at some institutions, being seen as job hunting often means that the organization will stop investing in you via professional development, new computers, consideration for promotion, etc.

        Gossips will gossip, however, which means that this person is not acting in good faith as a reference. Especially since they must have exaggerated the situation if people are asking when the OPs last day is when she has not gotten an offer.

        Hiring is still restricted at my institution, with positions sitting empty unless you can justify them to the highest level of the university. With jobs being so tight, I would consider the reference to be a major boundary crosser and put them on a restricted info diet.

    2. DiniGirl*

      Higher ed is a different animal. They don’t understand corporate norms that normally go without saying.

      1. Higher ed is complicated*

        This is not a situation where I would agree with this statement. Professors, sure, they seem to be more open and supportive. But I work on the academic support side where the industry is in a generational shift – there’s a whole lot of professionals who have been with their institutions essentially their entire career, and anyone who chooses to leave is personally hurting the person who left them, because we’re all supposed to be a family, and families don’t leave each other. It’s been this way at multiple institutions. Obviously, professionals in this subsection of higher ed who are on the newer end of this generational shift are very supportive of each other, and very lock-lipped about it.

    3. TechWorker*

      I also wouldn’t use current colleagues as references though – unless I knew them *very* well and knew it wouldn’t get back to the company (say if they themselves had previously talked about leaving).

  2. Snailing*

    Oh boy… OP, I don’t think you did anything wrong, as typically references understand the unspoken rule of not friggin blabbing about it! I’d definitely go with a combo of Alison’s suggestions here – make it clear to the reference that this is on the down-low (Alison’s suggestion on how to do this is perfect), and also breezily brush it off a la option 2 if other coworkers ask you when/if you’re leaving. What an awkward position your reference put you in!

  3. Rachel in NYC*

    I never would have thought of asking someone to keep it quiet that I was job hunting. On the other hand, I had a co-worker reach out to me to ask about some of our benefits and such because she needed someone to ask.

    Over the course of the conversation, it came out that no one had told her that it’s understood that employees won’t stay forever. I think she felt that she had to hide that the reason she wanted to go to graduate school was to get a better paying job and was sorta shocked by “our boss knows people are gonna leave” and “he’s happy for them.”

    1. twocents*

      It’s occurred to me to keep things quiet after my first corporate job was for a manager who punished people for trying to leave (they got the worst projects, the most difficult customers, etc.).

      I’m glad you’ve never had reason to think your employer may ever do the same!

    2. TootsNYC*

      not every boss is like that, though–I can totally see why she would be surprised at that. I’ve heard enough horror stories, especially in restaurant and retail, but even in what you’d think were corporate jobs.

      1. Threeve*

        It doesn’t even need to be a horror story. It’s as small as being left off of a project because your boss wants to assign it to someone they think will be sticking around, or not being offered a professional development opportunity you would otherwise be eligible for.

        Most bosses aren’t going to be monsters about it, but few of them are going to treat you better when they think you’re on your way out; there’s no upside to the word getting out before you have a solid plan in place.

      2. TechWorker*

        I’m pretty sure that my grand boss thinks anyone who chooses to leave our company (and doesn’t also relocate) is making a mistake. In some cases it definitely is ‘grass is greener’, but also… not every company suits everyone and that’s ok..?

      3. Rachel in NYC*

        I got it too. She moved to our department from another within our large university- and our department is an incredibly healthy place to work. Partially because we’ve somehow managed to be this little independent island in the middle of the university.

        It’s rare both in our niche field and our university.

  4. 1234*

    Alison’s advice is perfect! But I wonder what the advice would be if the manager tried to continue the conversation about job searching. For example, the boss could come back and ask “So how come even if you’re not looking, you’ll still hear one of those companies out?”

    But wow, there really is no excuse for that reference to mention it to anyone else that OP asked them to be a reference. I didn’t think people did that?

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I think it would have to be bad manager to say something like that. They would be aware that the institution is small and not much room for growth. And really, its normal to keep your eye out at other places, especially when your in a smaller place.

    2. Snailing*

      I feel like if a boss is asking that, they’re just an unreasonable boss. Personally, I’d probably answer with something about how it gives good information about the local market for my experience and job type, that it never hurts to see how other companies are doing, etc.

    3. MK*

      Actually there are many possible excuses, most obvious of which is that in their own experience there is no reason to hide that you are job hunting. If you think about it, the reason that discretion is necessary (that your boss might react badly or push you out) is what’s screwed up, not this person casually mentioning that they are being a reference. They are probably just clueless about how crappy bosses can be, at worst thoughtless.

      1. Snailing*

        Deliberately Obtuse Boss – cousin to Carelessly Aloof Boss who cheerily says stuff like “Oh Snailing, I hope you never leave! What would we do without you?” while you’re job searching on the down low…

  5. Merci Dee*

    Goodness gracious, it looks like we have a couple of letters today with coworkers who like to tell everything they know!

    1. Former Young Lady*

      I was thinking the same thing. Maybe it’s time for interviewers to add a new question to their standard battery:

      “Do you think of other people’s personal secrets as a currency you can exchange for admiration and attention?”

      1. Drago Cucina*

        It’s also good for managers to periodically remind everyone that they are not entitled to all the details of people’s personal lives. Had to have that conversation more than once. Respect people’s privacy. Sometimes people don’t want to talk about their spouse’s cancer, a divorce, or even who they are dating.

        I once went to a resume workshop in preparation for applying for another job. I specifically said I wasn’t ready to tell people and to please keep my participation quiet. Later one of the participants came up to my husband in a group and asked when we would be moving. Sometimes blabby people are going to be clueless and blabby.

    2. Joan*

      I applied for a job within my organization but in a separate department and had multiple people let me know that they had been asked by the hiring manager about their impressions of me! One was particularly gossipy and told a whole slew of my coworkers. I had prepared a few references that could speak to my experience (including my current manager) but they were never contacted. I lost out on the job to someone with more experience, which I completely expected, but for months afterward had to deal with coworkers asking about the status/telling me how sorry they were I didn’t get that job.

  6. Meh...Working On It*

    Is it common now to provide reference from your current workplace? It has been a while since I’ve looked for a job (thankfully), but I would never think to use a current coworker. Although, maybe this is because I’ve always worked in small organizations?

    1. NatilieG*

      Op here. My last job before this one was not at all related to academics so the references I do have from outside my current organization can only really reference my work ethic not any of the skills needed or learned while working in academics. I used a few other people from within my current organization and they were all excited for me but have kept it to themselves as far as I am aware.

    2. Just Another Manic Millie*

      Same here. I would never use a current co-worker as a reference, even those who worked in a different department. It’s still the same company! I bet the co-worker assumed that the OP had told everyone, including the manager, about looking for a new job, and the co-worker felt free to blab.

    3. Snailing*

      It could be that OP hasn’t worked many other places if she’s early in her career, in which case she may need to rely on non-work references or current-job references.

      1. Sandi*

        Or worked in the same place for many years, or in a relatively specialized field. I could probably ask a hundred people for a reference from the past 20 years, but I’m pretty sure all of them know my current manager.

    4. introverted af*

      When I applied for my current job in late 2019, I used a current coworker. But I’m new to my career, and this is only my second job out of college. The current job would have liked a reference from a manager, but was happy to have a reference from someone who could overall speak to my work ethic and general behavior, if not performance specifics. I also worked at a really small organization then, so my coworker had a stronger title than you might expect and even though she worked in a different area we worked very closely together on some projects that were on my resume that she could talk about.

      However at my current job, unless things change I definitely plan to work with my current manager about references. He’s been very supportive of any conversations about my future career plans and developing my skills for the long-term direction I want to go, and has explicitly said that he would love to keep me at on his team as long as makes sense, and if not in our team then at our organization.

    5. Ama*

      I am likely going to use a coworker from my current workplace as well as a couple of former coworkers from this same workplace — I’ve worked here for 8 years and moved from entry level to management with the same boss the entire time. The only people I have who can speak to my current skillset worked with me here. If someone insists I can provide the manager from my last job but she’s not going to really know much that’s relevant about my current skillset or the kind of jobs I’m applying to now.

      The current coworker I’m going to use is actually heading to grad school in the fall and swore me to secrecy about that fact so I can trust her to do the same for me.

    6. Canadian Valkyrie*

      Yep. It’s quite common. It can hurt your image in that job if you don’t get the job your interviewing and are now staying and they know you want to leave. Also, a boss might be the reason you’re leaving – my last boss was so toxic that 3 of her 5 direct reports quit within 8 months, so I couldn’t, and still don’t use her as a reference, I use another coworker as my reference. Also a boss might not want you to leave and that could bias them.
      The exception for me is if you have a contract (eg if your covering a maternity leave, which is 12+ months where I live), your boss will know you’re leaving and might want and expect to be a reference because you’re not trying to leave a crap situation, you’re just… leaving a contract that the boss full well knows you have to leave from.

    7. allathian*

      I’ve been at my current job for 14 years. If I ever want to change jobs, my references are going to come from my current organization. I haven’t kept up with my former managers in other fields, and it’s not like they could say anything relevant about me as an employee at this stage. Luckily references are less important here than they are in the US, probably because it’s more common for people to stay a long time at their jobs.

      My former manager who hired me originally is still with us, but I’ve matured a lot as a professional in the 7 years since she was my manager, so she doesn’t really know anything about what I’m like as an employee now. My previous boss just retired, and here it’s utterly inappropriate to expect a retired person to be your reference.

      So I’m left with my current manager. I interviewed for a job last summer, and there was no awkwardness about her being my reference. We have a great professional relationship and I trusted her to be honest in her evaluation and not to sabotage my chances. I’m glad I interviewed, but I’m also relieved I didn’t get the job because they expected the new hire to be in the office while everyone else on the team was WFH about every other day. Without the pandemic, it would absolutely not have been an issue for me, but as it is, I’m just glad I can continue to work with coworkers I know reasonably well.

    8. MCMonkeybean*

      I would hope that anyone you could trust to be a reference you could also trust to be discreet! I worked in one job for 7 years and when I applied to another company I was lucky to have had two people who had at one point been my manager but were now working in different departments. I used both of them as references and they were very good about it. It is a pretty large company though! (And now I’m actually back as I decided pretty quickly I didn’t like the other company as much haha)

  7. Twisted Lion*

    LW I had this happen to me and my references decided to not only tell my boss but also advertise my position as available (when it wasnt because I had yet to have been given a job offer). Luckily I did get the job and took it, but my references implied I should have told my boss and my coworkers I was applying as a common courtesy (?!!!) and a heads up. You have NO obligation to do so and just as Alison says. I did tell that coworker in strong terms what he did was inappropriate as I had never announced I was leaving nor should he offer people my position. I think I was lucky in that I did leave because I dont know how I could have stayed but my work was crazy. Hopefully you can just say you wanted to test the waters to see what was out there… I dont know. Good luck. I hope things work out for you!

    1. Snailing*

      That’s horrible! Who does something like that?? Thank goodness you got the new job, good riddance to those other folks.

  8. MissDisplaced*

    And this is a inherent problem with the “reference” system and job hunting. I rarely give references at my current job precisely for this reason—people gossip! If I do, I make sure it’s someone I’d trust implicitly, or an HR number where it’s only for verification purposes. But usually I go for former managers.

    I’m truly sorry this happened OP. You’d think people would know better.

  9. NatilieG*

    OP here. Thank you for your response Alison. I definitely need to find time to contact the reference and ask them to stop sharing news that isn’t even news yet, I did take the weekend to calm myself down a bit so at least I think I am approaching this with a more level head. Before all this I had almost considered them a friend, we would often chat about non work related things, movies, kids, etc, which makes this feel like so much more of a betrayal.

    1. Snailing*

      Good luck OP!! I think tone is everything here – scoff at people asking you about your last day like it’s a bewildering concept!

    2. MJ*

      OP, is it possible for you to find another reference? If they are spreading this news about you around the office, what could they be telling on a phone reference call?

      I used to trust a colleague on personal matters. When we both talked about how we would look to leave our company, I told her I was seeing what was out there. A while later, my boss asked me if I was looking for another job. The colleague was the only person I had mentioned this possibility to.

  10. TootsNYC*

    OP, what sort of a person is Jane?

    I ask because: if someone came to me and told me that my direct report as interviewing, or had taken a new job (as these people are assuming), I would say, “I haven’t heard anything.”

    And that would be the end of it. I’d never bring it up; if she came to me to resign, I might say, in this case, “I had heard through the grapevine, so I was rooting for you to get it, if you wanted it. I hate to lose you, but I fundamentally want what’s best for you.” The second one, I might say if I thought she deserved a heads-up that it had leaked, so she could manage references, or friends, etc.

    I’m not a stupid manager–I know when my people are at a point that moving on would be a good move for them. And I’m OK with it.

    If she didn’t come to resign, and it appeared that she hadn’t gotten an offer, or had turned it down? I’d ever say a thing. I might even forget about it it eventually.

    Now…no reference or friendly colleague should ever assume that someone’s manager would be like me. They should keep their lips zipped. But it may not be as horrible as you fear.

    1. Bagpuss*

      Yes, the only time I might say something would be if there was something which I thought might be relevant to them in their decision – but even the, if I was able to give them the relent information without explicitly saying I knew they were looking elsewhere, I would.
      (I did once have a situation where I got wind that an employee was looking, and I was abut 90% sure that a major reason was an issue with their direct supervisor. Who we were in the process of dismissing, which takes a while here and has to follow certain procedures, and would normally be confidential unless / until the process comes to an end. I really didn’t want us to lose the good employee but knew that saying to much might give the bad employee leverage that would make it difficult for us to dismiss them… Fortunately the bad employee then chose to share the fact that they were going through the process by complaining about it very publicly, but if they hadn’t, I would have been very tempted to try to find a way of suggesting that the good employee delay their hunt for a week or two..

  11. TootsNYC*

    I once was offered a job at Company B and reached out to a former colleague from Company A who had previously worked at Company B, seeking advice on what I should negotiate.

    She posted on a “former Company A employees” Facebook group that I had gotten that specific job (not just A job)! But I hadn’t formally accepted the offer, and there was an in-house employee who was their number-two pick, so I didn’t want her to hear anything until it was solid, and I wanted her to hear it from the company. I didn’t know if she knew anyone from that Facebook group, but it’s a smallish industry.

    I pinged her to take it down.

    People just shouldn’t tell other people’s news so quickly.

    1. Artemesia*

      Some people are desperate for attention and so rush to tell other people’s news — babies, marriages, engagements, new jobs, deaths — and so you get the same twerps doing it in the workplace. I had an in -law who had to be first to share personal news and so she quickly was at the bottom of the list when news was to be shared.

  12. Agile Phalanges*

    I had this happen to me recently. I work in accounting and worked closely with an outside CPA. I asked her a while back if she’d be a reference for me, and she agreed. Then I mentioned that I was actually searching and might be asking for a specific reference in the near future and THAT’s when she told me that as our company’s CPA, she had an ethical obligation to let the owners of the company know, so I told her never mind. But of course she told one of them anyway (the remote one), and he called me literally minutes before I was about to talk to my in-person boss (and then call the remote boss), which was super awkward. I wish she’d just told me back when it was hypothetical that she could be a reference but couldn’t keep it confidential. Then I wouldn’t have used her unless/until necessary. Lesson learned, I guess? Don’t use ANYONE from current job unless you explicitly tell them to keep it confidential AND they agree and seem to understand the repercussions.

    1. CRM*

      I’m so sorry this happened to you! I have no idea why she wouldn’t mention this “ethical obligation” the first time around. By the way, I use obligation in quotations because I work in HR and I have NEVER heard of anything like this. Unless you signed a contract that was not at-will, you have no obligation to inform anyone that you are leaving, and neither does anyone else!

      1. Lurker*

        Yeah, I’m not sure about this. When I was in contention for ex-job, unbeknownst to me, they reached out to their auditor (who was also the auditor my then current company was using) to ask about me. Several years later when I wanted to look for something different I asked that same auditor to be a reference. He was no longer the lead auditor for ex-job – we were still using the same firm, but a different partner was the lead.

        At ex-job I also worked very closely with a consultant, who I knew I could use as a reference. However, I intentionally didn’t use her because I didn’t want to put her in an awkward situation if/when I left — if my boss asked her whether she knew I was looking, I wanted her to be able to truthfully answer no.

      2. MCMonkeybean*

        Yes, another CPA here who is positive she was either full of crap or else extremely misguided about her obligations…

  13. loose lips sinking ships*

    I might tell your manager. I get what Allison’s saying, but if you’re at a small college, that word is going to travel fast (you have a better sense than I do, but I’ve been at a couple small colleges and it’s always been my experience that people talk, ESPECIALLY if people are asking you your last day…someone is going to ask your boss). Depending on your boss’ level of petty/ your relationship with them…getting out in front with a “I explored one job” proactively might probably play better than reactively

    1. Artemesia*

      right now the ‘well as we know from this past year, life is not predictable, so I am always scanning the field to see what sorts of jobs are out there; I have no plans to move on right now’ might work when braced by your boss.

  14. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

    A few years ago, I had an interview, and while looking over my resume during our conversation Fergus, the interviewer, said “I see you’re at Teapots Unlimited, do you know Jane?” I did, though I didn’t work with her. Apparently Jane and Fergus went way back and were good friends. Cool. Continue on with the interview. Go home.

    Two days later – presented with termination papers because “it’s clearly not working out.”

    From what I’ve been able to piece together, Fergus reached out to Jane after my interview, and Jane immediately ran blabbing to my boss Wanda. So not only did I get canned for interviewing, I didn’t even get the job I’d interviewed for!

  15. blue*

    Ugh, it just really sucks that people have to play this game. We are free to leave for new jobs any time and looking for opportunities shouldn’t be held against us. But Alison’s advice is great, as always.

  16. Regular Contributor*

    Does anyone want to buy a chupacabra? I’ve got an extra one from a deal that fell through. He’s super cuddly, and get’s along great with my forever-chupacabra. Looking for a good home. He also provides great job references and won’t snitch on you to current employers.

  17. Mary smith*

    While I agree with Allison’s advice completely, it’s incredibly common in higher Ed for people to know (including your supervisor) that you are looking for a new job. The thought is: If we’re truly there to educate and help people grow, our employees should also have opportunities to grow. It’s also seen as a very informal trading almost like sports. Example: “You need a new financial aid director? I have a person that’d be good for that. I need a new College Life assistant, do you have someone Good that I could get for that?” (Although the trades are usually spread out over years and not just between two schools)

    At all three higher Ed instructions I worked for, my boss served as a reference for me. At one conference I was at, a community college President actually introduced some of his staff and said “x person will be ready to move to become a VP of Instruction in the next 3 years, so if you have an opening, please let us know.”

    With all of that said, it’s still kept to only people who need to know, so I still fully agree with Allison’s advice.

  18. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Hi OP.
    Work culture in higher education is unique to each institution. When I worked at a public university, there were Rules that were published everywhere, and everyone understood certain responsibilities — AND had an Office of Ethics to go to if someone put them at a disadvantage like this, with consequences. Working at a private university, you really need to be observant of the way most people share information. Your friend obviously saw nothing wrong with blabbing because “everyone here is family” or some such BS. You did nothing wrong by expecting professional behavior, but a lot of private universities not only don’t work by that, they actually resent coworkers who don’t share everything.

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