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‘Should I Feel Guilty Leaving Work for a Job Interview?’

Photo: The Cut

Dear Boss,

How do people discreetly interview for jobs when they’re working full-time? I’ve been in my first professional job for three years since graduating from college, and I’m beginning to think about looking for another job and moving on … except I can’t figure out how to interview without my boss finding out that I plan to leave.

I don’t think she’d fire me if she found out, but we’d definitely have an awkward conversation, and I’d worry about not getting the same opportunities in the remaining time that I work here if she knew. She could also ask me to tell her when I thought I’d be leaving so she could find someone to replace me, but obviously I don’t want her doing that until I’ve actually accepted a new job!

We have some flexibility in our work hours. Is it okay for me to change up my hours in order to fit in an interview, or is that breaking some kind of etiquette rule? If I can’t do that, I have a decent amount of vacation time saved up, but I would hate to use it all on interviewing. Should I ask job interviewers if they’re willing to interview me outside of normal business hours? Is that a thing I can even ask for?

I’m also concerned about my clothes giving me away. The dress code in my current office is business casual, and I know that if I come into work wearing a suit and leave early or take a long lunch, it’ll be too obvious, especially if I’m doing that a lot (and I think I will be, because I don’t imagine I’ll get a job after a single interview). Is it okay to just wear my business casual clothes to the interview and explain the situation to the interviewer?

Is there some secret to doing this that everyone knows but me?

It’s really common to find this tricky and a little awkward. But it’s doable, and there are some tricks that will help!

The first thing to know is, most interviews are indeed going to be scheduled during business hours. There are some exceptions to that, like in fields that work nonstandard hours, or if you encounter an exceptionally flexible interviewer, or in some cases, if you’re an extraordinary candidate who employers will bend over backwards to accommodate. But most of the time, interviews are held during business hours, since for your interviewers it’s part of their normal work day (and they want to get home to their non-work lives like everyone else).

However, you could try asking for a slightly earlier than usual morning interview, or a slightly later than usual end-of-day interview, and see where that gets you; some employers might be willing to do that. Scheduling it first thing in the morning or at the very end of the day will make it easier for you to tell your boss, “I have an appointment Tuesday morning and will be in a little late” (or, “I need to leave slightly early on Tuesday evening for an appointment,”) rather than leaving in the middle of the day. You could try a similar excuse for lunchtime interviews — but make sure you know how long the meeting is supposed to take, so you don’t find yourself trapped in a three-hour interview when you’re expected back at work.

You’re in an easier position than some people because your work hours are flexible. If you’re allowed to flex your hours, you can absolutely flex them for an interview! There’s nothing unethical about that; you’re still putting in the work your employer expects from you, just shifting the hours in which you’re doing it. If it’s normal for people on your team to flex their hours, by all means, do that to make this easier!

If you expect to be out for a lot of interviews (like, if you’re actively interviewing with multiple companies), it can help to let your manager know early on that you’re going to have a bunch of appointments coming up. Say something like, “I want to let you know that I’m probably going to have a handful of appointments coming up for something I’m dealing with outside of work. I’m trying to schedule them for early or late in the day as much as possible.” That way, she’s more likely to mentally lump them all together in her head rather than wonder what’s up with you suddenly being out on a slew of separate occasions.

Now, some managers make it difficult for people to take time off at all — insisting on knowing what the time is for, or discouraging you from being out at all. If you have a manager like that, you won’t have much choice but to use white lies. “Dentist appointment” is a popular choice, especially since dental work often requires multiple appointments. That’s not ideal, obviously, but your employer forfeits the right to expect transparency if they make it impossible for you to give it.

As for the clothing dilemma: If you’re in a field where people normally interview in suits (which is most professional fields, but not all of them), you really should wear a suit — don’t show up in business casual and explain that you didn’t want to tip off your employer. Some employers would be fine with that, others will be very judgy, and still others will say they’re fine with it but will subconsciously think you’re less polished than other candidates. So wear the suit! You could try wearing only part of the suit to work, like the pants and a shell top, and add the jacket when you leave your office for the interview. Sometimes that will dress the look down enough and you’ll be fine. If not, duck into a public bathroom on your way and change clothes. (I once changed for an interview in my car in broad daylight, but I don’t recommend doing that.)

This all probably feels more overwhelming because it’s your first time searching for jobs while you’re employed full-time. Just know that after you go through it once, you’ll see it’s very doable. A bit of a hassle, but doable.

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.

‘Should I Feel Guilty Leaving Work for a Job Interview?’