by Meridith Levinson

Should You Ever Tell Your Boss You’re Applying for a New Job?

Jun 01, 20113 mins

Sharing your career plans with your boss has risks and benefits. examines some of the pros and cons in this case study.

Last week a friend asked me for some career advice. She’s been contracting for a company where a full-time position recently opened in another department. She wants to apply for the full-time position, and she asked me if she should tell her boss about her intent to pursue it. 

My friend, who is a person of great integrity, was feeling obligated to be forthright with her boss for a couple of reasons. One, her boss and the manager who’s hiring for the full-time position work together. She was worried that her boss would question her commitment to her contract position (which she needs for financial reasons) and immediately look to replace her if he found out through the hiring manager that she was pursuing the full-time position.

Two, my friend’s boss had a lot of trouble filling the role she’s currently in, and if she gets this full-time job, she doesn’t want to leave him in the lurch when her contract position extends through the end of the summer.

My gut was telling me that my friend was over-thinking her dilemma. I told her that she was under no obligation to inform her boss of her career plans and that she had to put her career and financial interests above her contract employer’s.

My friend was not satisfied with my answer, so we talked through her situation more. It became clear to me that not burning any bridges was as important to her as finding a full-time job. What also became clear to me was a way to balance the two seemingly competing goals.

“Is your boss a reasonable guy?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “He’s definitely even-tempered and very rational.”

“Then he’s most likely going to understand your need to work full-time. But he will be concerned about completing his project. That’s his priority.”

I told my friend that if she truly felt most comfortable informing her boss of her intent to apply for this full-time job, she should assure him during the same conversation of two things:

1) She is committed to completing her end of his project.

2) She will help him find someone to replace her when her contract ends by helping him write a job description and screen resumes.

By making those assurances, my friend might diffuse her boss’s concerns and prevent him from immediately seeking a replacement for her (which I think is probably unlikely since he had so much trouble finding someone with my friend’s skill set.)

The benefit to telling her boss about her interest in the full-time position is that my friend can live with herself and her boss can now—at least theoretically—be a positive reference for her.  Hopefully, he’ll tell the hiring manager that my friend is honest, hardworking, and that he should hire her post haste.

What advice would you give my friend? Should she tell her boss about her intent to apply for the full-time position? Is it ever appropriate for working job seekers to tell their bosses that they’re applying for another job?