ask a boss

‘My Boss Found Out I’m Job Hunting!’

Photo: The Cut

Dear Boss,

I’m a few years into my current job and have been looking for roles in a different field. After a long job-search process and many interview rounds, it’s finally down to just me and one other candidate for a position I’m really excited about. About two weeks have passed since the final interview and I haven’t heard anything, even after a quick follow-up email. But last week, my current boss suddenly told me that he knows I’m a finalist for the job! It turns out, one of the interviewers knew my boss from a long time ago and talked about my candidacy to a few people in the field who know both me and my boss — and word eventually got around to my boss.

I was stunned. My boss seemed relatively supportive, but he said he wants to put up a job posting for my current role and asked me to start creating transition documents. I told him that of course I want to do everything I can to make the transition easier, and that I appreciate his support, but those steps feel a little premature, especially because I actually think I didn’t get the job!

Almost every other day last week, my boss asked if I’d heard back so he can post my job online. Frankly, I’m pretty frustrated that the interviewer talked about my candidacy to other people, and that it got back to my boss when I have no offer in hand. I don’t know what to do! Should I talk to the new company’s HR department, or tell my interviewers what happened? What should I say to my current boss to make sure I’m not pushed out? And now that my boss knows I’m itching to leave, how will I continue job hunting if it doesn’t work out?

This is every job seeker’s nightmare!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck.

Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘My Boss Found Out I’m Job Hunting!’