The Debatable Logic Behind Telling Your Boss You're Applying To New Jobs

In theory, the labor market is based on the law of supply and demand, per Bamboo HR. Employees provide their services in exchange for wages, while employers are expected to pay them on time. But in reality, it takes more than just a paycheck to keep a person in a job. It's not uncommon to see people quit their jobs because they hate their boss, lack career growth, or their passion has dried up. 

People have different reasons and methods for quitting their jobs, but one thing is constant: It is usually a thought-through process. It's rare to see a person resign spontaneously or in the heat of the moment. Most of the time, we run our decision to make a career change by our family and friends to get their input before taking the next step. But our boss — who we report to at work — is usually the last person to find out. 

For people who see their jobs as their security blankets, the job-hunting process always starts before they tender their resignation. The goal is to secure a new job offer before exiting their current company so they can minimize the risks of unemployment. Imagine how stressful it would be to not be able to find a new job after telling your boss you're quitting. Sending out your resumes in secret can be thrilling and nerve-wracking at the same time. But is it actually in your best interest to keep your boss in the dark about your decision to quit? 

Think about your motive

Before tendering your resignation, it's worth thinking about the reasons why you want to quit and whether those issues can be dealt with by having an upfront conversation with your boss, per Ask a Manager. This conversation with your boss doesn't have to be about you wanting to quit, but rather you opening up to your boss about your difficulties at work. You can have this type of heart-to-heart talk in your regular employee performance review with your boss. 

Perhaps you lack opportunities to prove your mettle, or you struggle to get along with the team. Or maybe you are not happy about the way your boss communicates with you. Expressing your concerns and getting feedback directly from your boss helps you learn whether they really want to retain you, which allows you to make an informed decision. If your boss gives you the impression that they're not interested in creating a more conducive work environment for you, then departing may be the right decision. 

If you're threatening to quit just to get a pay raise, think twice about it. Unless you're working in a talent-deprived field or you are really in line for a promotion, pulling a stunt like this may cause your employer to lose respect for you and get rid of you faster. Tendering resignation is like opening Pandora's box. Once you do it and you can't find a new job, you can't ask your employer to take you back.

When it's okay to tell your boss you're job hunting

Before telling your boss you're applying to new jobs, consider evaluating the relationship between you and your boss, says David Pinkley, who is a professional speaker, career strategist, and founder and CEO of The Career Sage (via The Muse). If you know your boss to be supportive and would love to have you on the team, you can clue them in on your plan to seek additional or different career opportunities, so they can help you participate in more professional responsibilities internally and find more inspiration in your daily grind, says Pinkley. On top of that, if you're required to submit a reference letter, telling your current employer the truth about your making a career change will stand you in good stead in your job-hunting process. 

Another way to tell if you should tell your boss you're applying to new jobs is to find out how they reacted to resignations from other employees in the past, according to Ask a Manager. Not all companies handle resignations with generosity and civility. If your boss has a history of parting ways amicably with their employees and even giving them glowing recommendations, you can proceed with your resignation with confidence. The best method to avoid being caught off guard by an unexpected response from your employer when you say the "Q" word is to learn from past incidents.

Potential downsides of being honest with your boss

Under many circumstances, telling your boss about your job search without giving them a specific last working day could give your employer the impression that you're disloyal to the company and put your current job at risk. If you think that you can just casually tell your boss you're looking for new jobs and not expect them to treat you differently, you must be very naive.

According to The Cut's columnist Alison Green, telling your boss that you're exploring job opportunities elsewhere might cause even the most supportive of employers to get antsy, and there's a possibility they might start making plans for your exit. If your job search doesn't pan out well, you risk leaving your current company without a job to go to. Plus, you're likely to wind up on the layoff list if there's a new round of redundancy coming or get knocked out of the reckoning for a raise if your company knows you're not sticking around, says Green. 

A useful rule of thumb for job hunting before officially resigning is to put your head below the parapet. Do not inform anybody until after you have received the offer letter for the new post. Just in case you perform poorly in the job interview or you don't accept the offer, you can at least keep the details of your job hunt to yourself and continue buying time at your current job until you find a better job offer.

When's the right time to give your boss a heads-up

If you've decided to tell your boss you're leaving the company, you should also inform your boss when your last working day will be. Giving prior notice is usually part of your employment contract unless you're working in an at-will employment or there's a breach of contract and one party wants to terminate the contract without notice.

The practice of giving a notice period depends from company to company and from position to position. Typically, employees should offer two weeks' notice before quitting their jobs, per Barbachano International. C-suite executives — those who serve in top executive positions in a company — are usually required to give a longer notice period in order to give the company ample time to find a successor and kickstart the transition process of handing over relevant tasks and processes.

However, resignation is not always a smooth-sailing process, especially if you depart before your contract period ends. If your notice hasn't expired yet and you're exiting, your company can take action to prevent you from working for another company, according to McCabe and Co.

How to part ways with your boss amicably

One of the concerns that job seekers have is being requested to provide recommendation letters from current or previous employers. According to The Washington Post, requests for references won't typically be given throughout the employment process until after the first round of interviews. That means, if you're simply sending out resumes to test the waters, there's no need to come knocking on your boss' door for a reference just yet. In many job applications, you'll see a request for permission to contact your present employer, which you can mark "no" if you're not ready yet.

In case your job search progresses meteorically and now you're in a stage where a recommendation letter is needed, you should speak to your boss. When you bring up the topic, humbly mention all the contributions you've made to the company and express your wish to step outside your comfort zone and take on new challenges. Make it sound like your boss — by giving you a reference — is helping you advance your career.

At the same time, prepare for refusal. It's perfectly normal if your boss refuses to give you a reference. That's why you should always line up people in your network who know you professionally as substitutes. Having a few references without relying completely on your current employer will make your job search much less stressful.