Uh Oh! The Boss Asks You if You’re Looking

by | Mar 25, 2024 | Employed But Looking

A job search is typically something that a person likes to keep pretty confidential from the public. Yet, a person also wants to be able to network with others who may help them find the sought after new job. Sometimes, even with your best effort to keep your search a secret, your manager may get a sense that you are looking.

For your manager, it may just be a hunch, such as taking some last-minute time off or sneaking away at lunch time for a phone call. In a worst-case scenario, you have not managed things well and have let your performance, attitude, or attendance really drop. Regardless of the reason, you should be prepared for any scenario where you manager asks you if you are looking for a new job.

You should plan regarding your manager and what behaviors they may express during this time. Consider what has occurred in the past with another employee in a similar situation…did they walk the person out, try to convince them to stay, or work out a professional exit strategy? There are only a few responses to such a probing question, and below we go into some detail regarding each one.

• Absolutely Not! – If you think your manager (or your employer) will not respond well to being told you are looking, then you may have no choice but to fib and deny. You may want to ask why they feel this way, so that you can stop doing whatever caused them to become suspicious. Also, asking this follow-up response question can inform you how much your manager knows and may direct your next move. At the very least, if you are very careful about your search going forward, you may buy enough time to find a new position. You will need to be pristine in your on-going approach, as your manager is already suspicious. Be prepared for a potential confrontation if you then resign shortly after informing them that you are not looking. In that situation, it may make sense to offer a second fib and state that the opportunity came up after the last conversation.

• Engage In a Stay Conversation – You may be looking for a new role mainly because you are seeking something tangible such as a compensation increase. If this is your situation then the “you are looking question” might be transitioned by you into a “I need this” to stay discussion. You may be able to tell if your manager is open to such a conversation by how they address you at the open. There is a big difference between, “I am concerned you might be looking to leave” versus “Tell me if you are interviewing!”. If your manager responds positively to fixing whatever is not working, then you have to make a decision if that is enough for you to stay. A person who decides to remain with their employer generally maintains the concern of whether the perception of their loyalty has been compromised.

• Confirm Your Plans – If you feel that there is no saving the relationship and that you are going to leave regardless of what occurs, then you may want to affirm your plans. This usually is not an option unless you are convinced your manager will stay professional when informed. By taking this approach, you can work out a transition timeline and have a plan around your successor. I suggest you stay positive and not “air dirty laundry” currently, as you want to be able to work out a notice period and leave on good overall terms.

• In-Between Answer – This potential answer allows you to try to “hedge your bet” during the conversation. This answer goes somewhat like…” I have listened when employers have reached out to me, but I am not actively looking to leave”, or you are just “keeping your options open”. If applicable, you can further enhance your answer by saying something like “I owe it to my family” to at least listen when someone calls. With this response, you let your manager know that you have looked, but really want to stay with the company. Be prepared to conduct a stay conversation if that is where the discussion is heading.

It is always tough to be placed on the spot by someone, especially your manager. So, if you are starting a job search, you should plan regarding what you are going to say if asked by them if you are searching. Your response may be critical to how they will react and what the relationship will be like going forward.

As always, best of luck in your job search.

The following has been prepared for the general information of WNYJobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.

Joe Stein
WNY Human Resources Professional

Feel free to contact Joe Stein regarding questions or comments at:
Joe Stein

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