When is the right time to tell your boss you’re looking for a new job?

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About a month ago, I was sitting at my desk when a young colleague asked if I had ever received an e-mail solicitation about a job offer. I scooted over to see what she was talking about. I had seen this before and asked her if she had ever applied for a job through any of the various Web sites. She turned white and hurriedly explained that she had applied some six months earlier because she was going through a tough time at work and just needed to feel like she had other options. She begged me not to tell anyone because she didn’t want to put herself in the firing line.

In comforting her, I reassured her that it was completely normal to vent frustration and look for other career options, even if you are just having a bad day. Hey, we have all done it. And sometimes seeing what else is out there can even help guide us down a path we may not have realized we wanted to take. That being said, I also advised her that the next time she has a bad day, she should apply with a personal e-mail address instead of her work one.

A few weeks later, a friend told me she was moving interstate to be with family and was looking for another job. She also asked whether she should tell her boss. Before she even finished her sentence, I butted in with a “No!” Although it wasn’t a reflection on her office environment, but rather her personal choice and circumstances, it’s hard to know how your bosses will react when you say you don’t love them anymore.

They may just not take the rejection well. Half-heartedly, she agreed, admitting this had actually happened before in her old job when she told them she was looking to move interstate. Two weeks later, she got her pink slip. I didn’t realize “intention” was grounds for dismissal, but then again I’m not a lawyer.

It is commonly thought that you should never disclose your desire to leave a job, but given that your potential new employer will call up for a reference at some point, your bosses will eventually find out anyway, right? Isn’t it better then to forewarn, rather than risk them being caught off guard? Or should my friend just start screwing up her job so that her boss wants her to leave? Or will quality of work deteriorate naturally the more you dislike your job?

The conundrum facing us is: just when is it the right time to tell the boss you want to leave?

I have always been somewhat lucky. In my previous career, when looking for a new job, I had such a great mentor and manager; someone I followed wherever he went. But when I wanted to take a career change, he was understanding and provided me with good guidance. I also know that this isn’t always the case, and when approaching bosses on this matter, the outcome you wish for isn’t always the one you get.

The Inbetweener is a financial services professional in Australia. The views expressed are her own and not those of eFinancialCareers.

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