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‘Should I Tell My Boss I’m Looking for a New Job?’

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Dear Boss,

I have a question about how much notice to give my boss before leaving my role. While I have not received any offers of employment yet, I have begun actively applying for jobs. My boss, with whom I have a very close working relationship, had previously asked me to give her as much notice as I could before leaving (her requested time was two to four months) so that they can hire and I can train my replacement before I leave. At the time I was fairly certain I would be leaving this role to go to school, which would have a firm start date, and so I agreed to generally give as much notice as I could.  
I have since decided not to pursue school right now. I would like to keep my word, but I also know how unpredictable the job search is and I don’t want to risk my job without having a new one lined up. But I also don’t want to damage my relationship with my current company. Do you have advice on how to bring up that I want to leave without losing my current job before I’m ready? 

Don’t do it!

It’s not reasonable for your boss to ask you to give months of notice that you’ll be leaving, let alone expect you to tell her when you haven’t yet accepted another position yet.

Granted, as managers we’d all love a ton of notice! It would make life a lot easier on your boss’s end if she weren’t blindsided by you quitting and instead had time to start looking for a replacement before you’re gone. What manager wouldn’t want that? But it’s not how things normally work; two weeks’ notice is the standard for a reason. Reasonable managers understand that (a) expecting months of notice isn’t in line with typical business conventions, and (b) providing that much notice wouldn’t be in your best interest, even if it’s in theirs.

Here’s the thing about providing an unusually long lead time: It can result in you getting pushed out earlier than you’d planned. Once your manager is alerted to your job search, she’s likely to start making plans for your departure and looking for your replacement. And if she finds someone she wants to hire, maybe it’ll be okay for you to have a lengthy overlap with that person … or maybe she’ll start pressing you to set an end date before you’re ready. Even genuinely supportive managers who don’t intend to push you out can start getting antsy when you’ve told them you’re not sticking around but haven’t actually left yet. The whole reason they wanted that heads up is so they would be able to plan — and that planning depends on you leaving, so at some point they’re going to expect you to do that, whether the timing is ideal on your end or not. You risk experiencing a great deal of pressure if your job search takes longer than you initially expected and you find yourself a few months down the road with your replacement waiting in the wings.

Moreover, once your company knows you’re on the way out, you’re more likely to end up on layoff lists if they need to make cuts, or to be overlooked for a raise (since wage increases are retention devices and you’re leaving anyway) or high-profile projects that might benefit your résumé during your search. It’s just not in your interest to give notice before you know your exact end date.

And despite how much managers might like the idea of being able to hire and train a replacement before someone leaves, that’s not how it typically works in practice. The usual amount of notice provided is two weeks, and that’s a very, very standard convention. In some fields, three or four weeks is common, but it’s rare for multiple months to be expected or granted. Those few weeks between giving notice and departing aren’t intended to be enough time for your employer to hire and train someone new. They’re just supposed to be enough time to transition your projects and tie up loose ends.

Now, all that said, if your manager has established a solid track record of accommodating long notice periods without ever pushing anyone out earlier than they wanted to leave, you might not need to take quite as hard a line on this. But even then, I’d be cautious. Your circumstances — or the company’s — could end up being different in some way this time around, and the stakes are pretty high for that gamble.

If you were leaving for grad school, providing months of notice would make more sense (although even then, I’d consider what you know of your employer and your manager and make your decision accordingly). But for a job search, with its uncertain timing and no guarantees, there’s just not much upside to giving early notice.

You might be worried about your relationship with your manager: She asked you to give her more notice, after all, and you agreed to give it. But when you made that agreement, you were planning on leaving for grad school, which is a different set of circumstances — and you can explain that when you do eventually resign. It’s fine to say something like, “I was planning on giving more notice when I was thinking I might leave for grad school, but of course with a new job, I only got the offer recently and they want me to start in a few weeks.” If she’s dismayed that you didn’t notify her that you were job searching, feel free to say, “It really fell in my lap without a lot of warning.” It’s not unreasonable to use a white lie when someone with power over your career is pressuring you for something they don’t have the right to expect from you.

By the way, none of this is to imply that your manager was a monster to ask this of you. Managers often don’t realize that what sounds to them like a reasonable request can put employees at a disadvantage. And it’s easy for managers to think, I’d never push a good employee out earlier than they wanted to leave, without considering the ways the employee could end up feeling pressure to do exactly that, or simply without considering the risk they’d be asking the employee to take on in doing so. Often, power dynamics blind the person with more power to the risks inherent in the other person’s position, and that’s likely what happened here. Hopefully remembering that will help you feel more confident extracting yourself from an agreement your boss shouldn’t have asked you to make in the first place.

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 other Tuesday.

‘Should I Tell My Boss I’m Looking For a New Job?’