Disclosing Your Job Search Can Be Tricky

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 22, 2008 12:27 PM

Many workers do not have an ounce of guilt when they are contemplating leaving a job. But that is not always the case. Sometimes there are work relationships that might be important even if you have decided to move on, or projects that you might wish to see through to a conclusion.

In this case, here's a worker who honorably does not want to leave his current employer in a difficult position if he leaves:

I have a lead position for one of my company's most important clients. We're searching for someone from another office or another company to relocate and eventually succeed me when I move on to something else (or perhaps retire). In the meantime, a potentially attractive job at another firm has come up... I'm not really dissatisfied with my current job or employer, but this job is a very good fit for me for much more pay. I've been to two sets of interviews.

Normally one would wait until a new job was secured before informing a current employer. However, my company, my team of people and a potential successor would be left in a difficult position if I leave, especially on short notice.

Is it a bad idea to tell my employer soon that I may land another job and we should have a short-term succession plan in place in case it should come through? This seems like the right thing to do to me, but it also seems unusual and might come across as if I'm just looking for more pay.

If we identify a successor soon, should I make sure this person knows the situation before committing to moving him or herself and their family? Taking over the role with a couple of weeks of overlap, rather than a couple of years, would be very difficult.

On the one hand, I'm thinking it's unethical to leave people at my company in a very difficult situation when, with a little more time to plan, things could be easier. On the other hand, I don't want to do anything to jeopardize my chances at the other position and it seems that it's my company's responsibility to have a succession plan in place for this kind of situation so I shouldn't owe them any special consideration.

Ronald McKinley, vice president for human resources at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, says, "If you've done a good job, you've got nothing to feel guilty about" when you're contemplating leaving for another job.

McKinley says that this executive, in pondering his future, need not worry about informing any successor about his plans. "Almost no one has two years to hand off something," he says. "I wouldn't worry about it. They're going to hire good people" and that person in turn can gauge the lay of the office landscape and act accordingly.

McKinley says it is an open question whether this worker should inform his current employer about his job search. Some employment experts believe you should not announce your intention to leave unless you have a firm offer in hand.

"It really depends how this person believes the boss at his company will accept the news" that he looking for a job elsewhere, McKinley says. "Sometimes if you say you're thinking about leaving, you're persona non grata. And if the job doesn't come through, you've burned a bridge and haven't left."

He suggests determining "how that person has reacted when someone else has announced his intention to leave. If the boss was open and helpful, you should tell the current company."

But if not, forget it.

And even if you do disclose your possible move, McKinley said this executive ought to remember that "if you don't get the job, they're not going to forget you were looking around."

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive