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I'm currently searching for a new job. If my boss asks me if I'm looking, should I tell the truth?

My small group is pretty demoralized at this point. One of my coworkers gave his notice late last week, and apparently there's a good chance our supervisor is going to ask me if I'm thinking of leaving also.

Because I don't think this is an appropriate question, given the nature of the employment contract these days, I don't feel an ethical obligation to tell the truth. On the other hand, it's plausible that the negative consequences of lying (in terms of future references) shouldn't be dismissed.

  • 1
    "Why, are you offering one, or hoping to get rid of me?" (No, I probably wouldn't, but it's tempting.) – keshlam Oct 11 '15 at 22:23
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    +1 - It's a good thing you're planning ahead because everything you've said about this company makes me believe your boss is dumb enough to ask this question instead of asking what he can do to keep you. – user8365 Oct 12 '15 at 12:41
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    "I always keep an eye on the job market" – user44634 Mar 15 '17 at 12:49
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    "Well, other jobs sure are looking for me" – Rohit Chatterjee Mar 16 '17 at 9:46
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    "Should I be?" (from another user`s good answer) – Caterpillaraoz Nov 6 '17 at 11:26
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You have three choices:

  • Tell the truth. What would happen? Would he fire you for it?
  • Lie. He might not believe you, especially if you're not good at lying
  • Decline to answer. This may lead him to believe you have "something to hide", but so be it.

Personally I would prefer to decline than to lie. Practice - you might say something like:

I'm happy to discuss my future here any time, and your plans for this department and for me.

and, if he presses:

I really can't say. I don't think it's a good idea for you to ask me that. Anyone can be looking in a vague kind of way any time, and then stop looking, or they can be not looking and then start looking. Demanding to know what I'm doing at the moment isn't very useful. I'm happy to talk about my hopes and wishes for the future and how I can find that here.

That's what really matters, anyway: not "would you ever consider leaving?" but "what is it about this job that might lead some people to leave?" If your boss wants to start that conversation with you, go for it.

  • Having been is this situation myself, I find this to be a great answer that will work is most cases. Diplomatic yet assertive. – Ronnie W Aug 10 '16 at 15:52
  • Deflect is the fourth possibility. – HLGEM Nov 6 '17 at 22:42
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+250

Put the ball in your boss's court.

Answer with questions, placing the ball in their court.

If your boss asks if you are thinking of leaving or if you are looking for a new job, respond with a question: "Uh oh! Should I be looking? Is something bad about to happen?" Pay attention to the response - it may reveal a lot if the boss is an honest person.

Your boss may bring up the other people leaving, in which case you explain that it is your understanding that the other co-workers left for better environments.

You may be asked what is better about those environments, in which case you explain that you really can't speak for other people and, therefore, it is best to contact those people to find out.

If your boss presses you about you specifically, say something like "Well, like most people, I like to keep my options open, but your line of questioning is making me a little nervous. Are all these questions intended to give me a hint that I should actively look for something new?"

This allows you to cooperate, but without having to reveal your personal business.

  • This approach seems likely to just make your boss uncomfortable (in that you're implying that they don't have the company's best interest in mind, by underhandedly trying to warn you, for a question intended to do the opposite), which might stop the discussion, but can't possibly leave a positive impression of you. – Dukeling Nov 4 '17 at 15:04
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    @Dukeling Since the boss' intrusion in asking whether the employee is looking for a job or not puts the employee in a tight and uncomfortable spot, I see no issue here. If the boss doesn't want to "feel uncomfortable", then they shouldn't go around asking uncomfortable questions in the first place. The boss feeling like that may encourage him/her to not ask about things that are none of their business. – code_dredd Nov 6 '17 at 9:39
  • @ray In another social situation, I might agree with you, but making your boss uncomfortable can fast-track you out the door. – Dukeling Nov 6 '17 at 12:53
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    @Dukeling No one is intentionally trying to make the boss uncomfortable as a goal. I'm just saying that if the boss feels that way due to the response to their own question, it was self-inflicted. – code_dredd Nov 6 '17 at 18:41
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    If the boss gets upset at you because they're uncomfortable as a direct result of their own inquiries, then that's one more reason to be looking. – Doktor J Nov 7 '17 at 18:19
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Cleary the boss knows the situation is dire, and he wants to stop the bleeding. Now is your chance to get whatever is the problem fixed.

Be straight up. I am not happy, Bob/Jane left because of -some reason-. If you could do something about then it might improve things.

Don't be afraid to ask for more money at this point if that's the problem. Indicate you have been feeling the waters and you feel you are worth $X.

Don't stop looking though.

Also, as others have said, they know, your boss wouldn't be asking if he/she didn't already know. I was driving back from an interview once when things started burning down at the office (not literally, but our tech stack had taken another dive) and I bold faced lied when my boss called on my cell phone. She said 'You better not be at an interview'. My boss didn't buy it for a second.

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    As I noted above, there's nothing really I or even my immediate boss can do, unfortunately. Something as simple as "can we spin up a new linux host to make development easier" is turned down (it's part of a big planned project supposedly...which means it will take months if not years). The development environment is terrible. – user1071847 Oct 12 '15 at 14:37
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You shouldn't get the truth out straight there. But, you might want to explain the problems which you are facing at the workplace to him.

My small group is pretty demoralized at this point.

Why? There must be a reason he/she has resigned. And you too might be aware of the reason.

So, explain that to him. The reasons are very important. So, you might really sit with your boss and explain them to him, and if you have any suggestion on how to tackle those problems.

So, he would learn the problems being faced by you and would make efforts in the right direction for the team's satisfaction, which might in fact convince you to stay on.

  • Good answer. Though in this particular case I don't think things will change---the organization is too dysfunctional at all levels. But it still might be a useful conversation to have, in more than one way. – user1071847 Oct 12 '15 at 12:29
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Let's start with when its okay to tell you boss: When its okay to say you're looking

You’re being laid off or your contract is expiring

OR

Say you have an honest discussion during a performance review or separate meeting with your boss in which you learn that it would be impossible for you to be promoted. Whether due to faltering revenues or a pending merger, sometimes it’s just out of your hands.

Other than those rare cases you should not tell them your looking for another opportunity, and you should be completely, 100% ready to walk out without accepting any sort of counter offer. Consider these points.

  1. You manager may make life more difficult while your still there, or worse may find a reason to fire you or simply lay you off if they feel your a risk of some kind. ( Most states in the US are "at will employment" )
  2. They may try to make you happy by either offering more money, a new title, or both. While that may seem like a good thing, behind the scenes your manager most likely will be resentful towards you for forcing their hand in order to keep you from leaving. ( stopping the bloodshed )
  3. Once you have started looking, IHMO, you are mentally out the door already. It will be hard for you to fully re-engage again.
  4. Your boss will always have in the back of their mind each time something doesn't go your way "Is this employee happy, will this make them upset enough to start looking again?"

This is a quote from another article that relates to your situation. Tell the boss or not

Hey, sometimes that upfront honesty is recommended. And, in other cases? Well, you’re going to deal with a lot of fallout. Whether or not you explain to your supervisor that your job hunting is really an individual decision that depends on your specific situation.

While there are some situations where its perfectly acceptable to tell your manager that you are looking for other work, in general this is a very risky strategy.

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    Not in the OP's situation, but if your business is looking to reduce staffing, people who admit to seeking a new job go to the top of the list. – EvilSnack Nov 7 '17 at 4:21
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Here's a fun fact: most companies know that once one person leaves, many other soon follow. Maybe as a coincident or maybe because the other person left, but whatever it is they know that as soon as a single person leaves, so do others. There's always a time in the year when people leave, and new people come in.

With that said, it's very doubtful your boss wouldn't know others will be leaving. If he does ask, just say tell him that at the current moment you have no plans to leave. And just leave it at that.

5

Presumably, any job searching has been done in your own time. Since when is it your boss' business what you do outside of work? How's that different from a boss asking a married person "are you planning to file for divorce?"

What you do outside of work hours is none of your boss' business. I think you should decline to answer.

I'm not really sure that's an appropriate question and I respectfully decline to answer. Any and all activities I may or may not engage in outside of business hours are part of my private life and I wish for them to remain that way. Thank you for understanding.

How's that different from you asking your boss: "are you planning to lay me off or fire me?" or being asked about your religion during an interview?

I've been in places where management constantly talks about how employees are their "greatest asset" only to lay them off in large numbers a short time later..

Alternatively, you could be up-front about the simple yes/no nature of the question:

Yes, I'm always looking for new opportunities. I plan to stay here as long as there're good reasons for me to do so, so if there's anything you'd like to discuss about future opportunities for me at the company, I'd be happy to be part of that conversation.

In my book, giving the "political" response (i.e. the so-called "white lie") is not a moral thing to do, even if it's (supposedly) considered "good practice" in the industry to do so. If you're tempted to lie about it... just refuse to answer.

  • Principles are nice but I doubt this will have the desired effect since it's such an adversarial stance to take and, like it or not, it's going to signal that you are indeed looking for a job. – Lilienthal Mar 16 '17 at 7:11
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    @Lilienthal I understand what you mean, and you're probably right in the side-effects. I don't want to suggest lying as others have done. The only thing someone else can do is simply assume that they have "something to hide", but how's that different from OP asking the boss "are you planning to fire me?" or "How many were laid off recently?". Mgmt is often explicit about refusing to answer such questions as a matter of policy. I think OP can simply decline to answer questions about their private life as a matter of "personal policy", and mgmt can't complain about it w/o showing hypocrisy. – code_dredd Mar 16 '17 at 7:18
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I'm currently searching for a new job. If my boss asks me if I'm looking, should I tell the truth?

Did you advertise yourself where they seek talent?

Did you update your resume with your current job description, and did you post this resume on an online website that your employer frequently searches for candidates?

I hope you can see what my point is going to be here. If you've publicly advertised yourself in the same space as your employer than there really are no secrets here. Your boss can make the question sound ambiguous when he knows for a fact you're seeking a new job.

It's a safe assumption that your boss hires people with similar skills as yourself and therefore you appear in the same candidate searches.

My small group is pretty demoralized at this point. One of my coworkers gave his notice late last week, and apparently there's a good chance our supervisor is going to ask me if I'm thinking of leaving also.

Your boss is allowed to ask this question. It's his job to manage his work force and if he thinks an employee is going to quit then he needs to be prepared.

Because I don't think this is an appropriate question, given the nature of the employment contract these days, I don't feel an ethical obligation to tell the truth.

I would fire you on the spot, and I've seen bosses fire people for less reasons.

If I knew you were searching for a job (i.e. I see your online activity) and when directly asked the question you lie to me. That's grounds for dismissal, and could be terminated with a reason which isn't a good thing for you.

The business sees their employees as an investment with a return over time. That takes training, skill development and money. If they knew you were leaving it means any current investment is a waste of money.

On the other hand, it's plausible that the negative consequences of lying (in terms of future references) shouldn't be dismissed.

Let's recap here:

  • you could be fired for lying
  • you could be fired later when the lie catches up to you
  • you could be fired for telling the truth

I want to stress the keyword here as could meaning that we don't know what will happen.

I apologize if the above was not very helpful, but it sadly is accurate. It's one of the reason job hunting is so stressful.

Always be honest

If your boss asks if you're looking for work. Say something like this.

"Yes, I always have my resume online and keep it up to date. You never know when opportunity will come by. So I like to keep my options open."

If you have a required 2 weeks notice, then I'd reassure your boss that you will provide him/her with the required notice.

If your boss asks if you've gone to any interviews lately?

"I can reassure you that I am not quitting my job anytime soon, and if by chance a reason comes up. I'll give you the 2 weeks notice as we agreed upon when I was hired".

The key to the above is to address your boss's fear. Unless you have a firm written job offer you are staying with your current job until you are fired or quit. So it's completely accurate and truthful. Even if you expect to receive an offer soon. The key is to not burn your bridges before you're ready.

Good luck with your job search. I assume your current job sucks.

0

The problem you have is your boss may be asking for the right reasons which is plan for bringing in replacement(s). But if you say yes it could go into your personnel file and you could be flagged as a disgruntled employee / flight risk and possibly passed over for a promotion or raise. Worse case they fire you but that is pretty extreme and not likely.

You actually pose two question. Looking and thinking.

If you really are looking then you can:

  • Lie
    Question is if this will cost you reference in the future? Not all people may hold it against you.
    As for the current job lie is the safe bet. I don't consider it unethical as I think them asking you is unethical.

  • Decline to answer
    This will be interpreted as yes I am looking but no hard evidence to put in a personnel file.
    It could effect a reference.

  • Tell the truth
    If you are pretty sure you can find a new job the near future then probably the best plan. They are not likely to just fire you this - they need people.

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    "I don't consider it unethical" - the world is unethical. That fact does not make bad behavior ethical. Nay. Don't do it. – TOOGAM Nov 6 '17 at 7:30
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    Sometimes the saying is "don't ask me, then I don't have to lie to you". Asking the question is unethical. Asked "are you looking for another job", saying "NO" is the only answer that doesn't cause you problems, so that is what you say. Absolutely, 100% ethical. Even "You shouldn't ask this question" will cause you problems. – gnasher729 Nov 8 '17 at 23:31

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