Here's the scenario. Your boss asks you if you could step into their office for a quick word. You have no idea why, but you readily agree. As soon as you step into his office, he closes the door, asks you to sit down, and casually asks you, "So, are you happy here?"
"Why?" you ask.
"Because," he says, "I just heard that you had applied to a similar position at Melvin Motor Company."
Oh, crud. Now, it all comes rushing back to you. You applied on their website a few weeks back to a tantalizing position at MelMoCo, then spoke briefly with the company recruiter. You're not quite sure how your boss found out, but it may have something to do with the fact that Fred over in the Operations department used to work there, and somebody called him to ask about you.
It doesn't really matter how your fat landed in the fire. But now you have to explain to your boss your alleged act of treason.
What do you do?
- Before saying anything else, cool off evaluate your situation. Don't let your emotions be the spark in what can be an electrically-charged situation. Try to think through your position.
- Apologize for how your manager found out. True, almost nobody tells their manager that they're looking for a new job, but that can't help that they probably feel betrayed. So, make sure that they know you regret that they heard about your application through the grapevine rather than from you.
- Turn the conversation into a career discussion. Hopefully, prior to this point you've been having meetings with your manager about your career aspirations and your opportunities for personal development, so the groundwork would already be in place. Regardless, something sparked you to look at another role - a new challenge, a promotion opportunity, or some other career factor. Let your boss know you truly enjoy working for him and the company, but that you were looking to stretch yourself in the direction you identified, and would love to continue to do so here. Hopefully, this can be the basis for a constructive conversation about where you'd like your career to go.
- Don't make any rash statements. Your manager may be looking for a promise that you are going to stay - and he may be desperate enough not to lose you that he'll toss out some promises of his own (promotions, raises, corner office, etc.). Resist the urge to tell him you'll stay for eternity, or to beg to keep your job - but make sure that he knows you appreciate the opportunity to work at the company, and that your strong desire is to stay at your current company.
- Prepare for the consequences. Depending upon how deftly you handled the conversation, and how valued you are as an employee in the organization, you could face either the carrot (incentive to stay through career development) or the stick (a stalled career or, worse, fired). Pray for the former, but you may need to accept the latter.
Incidentally, make sure that you document the discussion you have with your manager. Any promises by you - or them - about the future should be honored by both sides, and you don't want to forget what was said.
One last word about confidentiality. Keeping the interview process mum can be tricky and unreliable, no matter how hard you or a company try to keep things quiet. Besides the gossip mill, other leaks do occur - it's entirely possible (and not entirely unlikely) that you may run into a coworker at your prospective new employer, interviewing for the same job. And in case this didn't occur to you, your current employer keeps track of what web sites you visit, so applying to the MelMoCo job portal at work may not be such a great idea.
Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. He is a Human Resources professional and staffing expert with almost two decades of in-house corporate HR and staffing firm experience, and is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Professional Career Coach (CPCC).
Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.