Here’s what to do when your boss catches you looking for a new job

Nervous people
Caught in the act? flickr/russelljsmith

We’ve solicited readers to submit their most pressing career-related questions.

With the help of Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job,” we’ve answered the following: “I think my boss knows I’m looking for a new job. What should I do?”

Whether you think your boss suspects that you’re looking for a new job — or you’re certain they know, because they caught you red-handed — you’ll probably feel anxious and perhaps even doomed.

“Maybe you were caught visiting a job board; there was a snitch among your ‘trusted networks’; or it turns out your boss actually does notice you — that is, your frequent LinkedIn updates, long lunches, and ‘doctor visits’ the days you come in wearing a suit. But before you seek refuge under the nearest credenza, take heart; you can recover from this,” Taylor explains.

First, she says, you need to realise that this happens to so many people. “Most workers stay employed while they conduct a job search, and even if you do it on your lunch hour or breaks, there can still be other outward signs if you’re not extra vigilant: a new, interview-worthy wardrobe, more absences and visible networking online, and an overall change in behaviour,” she says.

If you’re in the midst of a job search or thinking about one, now is the time to be prepared for softening the blow to your manager (and to your career), she says. “Of course, more than an ounce of job hunting discretion doesn’t hurt, either.”

Here’s what to do if your boss calls you out:

[slideshow]
[slide
permalink=”/#know-where-you-stand-1″
title=”Know where you stand.”
content=”Before you approach or respond to your boss, Taylor suggests you examine the following factors:

-Your current level of job security (Do you have a great track record?)
-How upset your boss might be as a result of this possible/perceived ‘betrayal’
-Whether you’re willing to forfeit the job entirely
-How comfortable you are telling the truth
-Whether you feel your current job still has potential
-Whether there are external factors that may legitimise a search, such as a downsizing or pending merger


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[slide
permalink=”/#stay-cool-2″
title=”Stay cool.”
content=”When your boss confronts you, the first thing to remember is to avoid panic, she says.

‘Just how you react to the ambush is almost as important as the ‘misdeed,” she explains. ‘Your boss is unlikely to be all smiles, so you’ll need to quash the tension.’ Try to bring the conversation from contentious to constructive, with much as much diplomacy and respect as you can muster.”
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[slide
permalink=”/#be-empathetic-3″
title=”Be empathetic.”
content=”While it can sometimes seem dubious, your boss does have feelings and will likely feel dismayed and rejected, if not outright angry. ‘By identifying with his or her feeling of betrayal, your demeanour will be much more natural — and hopefully generate more patience and understanding,’ Taylor says.”
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[slide
permalink=”/#keep-your-response-simple-4″
title=”Keep your response simple.”
content=”This is no time for TMI, which can happen when your nerves are frayed, she says. ‘Less will be more in your damage control. You can give the overall truthful answer, but many details will exacerbate an already awkward situation.'”
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[slide
permalink=”/#dont-lie-5″
title=”Don’t lie.”
content=”Savvy bosses have their antennae up when you’re job searching, so it’s hard to know the source(s) of their information. ‘That’s why it’s better not to lie and risk further harming your relationship,’ advises Taylor. ‘You can, however, be diplomatic in how you describe your search.'”
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[slide
permalink=”/#give-a-thoughtful-explanation-6″
title=”Give a thoughtful explanation.”
content=”Think about your desired goals and future at the firm beforehand.

Bad choice: ‘Yes, I’m not happy here, so I’ve been conducting an active job search for a while.’

Better choice: ‘I’ve been reviewing a couple of opportunities to learn more about my marketability, but not actively. I’d prefer to stay here and am hoping we can discuss how to improve things to our mutual satisfaction. I’m fully committed to my position here.’

Best choice if accurate: ‘I have been approached by a couple recruiters/companies and felt that I should at least listen to them. But I’m most interested in staying here and want things to work out.’ Then, discuss your commitment to and interest in resolving issues, Taylor suggests.

There may be other circumstances that make the news of your job search less traumatic for your boss. If your company or department has been downsizing, or there are rumours of a merger, for instance, it may not come as a big shock. The leak about your search could lead to a discussion clarifying your level of job security, she says.”
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[slide
permalink=”/#shift-the-discussion-to-your-job-duties-and-career-7″
title=”Shift the discussion to your job duties and career.”
content=”Clearly, you wouldn’t be searching for a new job if things were entirely rosy. So this is an opportunity to lay some cards on the table, with the utmost tact, she explains. ‘The discussion could ultimately improve your relationship. Your next move will depend a great deal on the relationship you had with your boss before the ‘event.”

Taylor says this could be your chance to candidly discuss your need for greater responsibility. You might bide a little time to think through your pitch for what’s missing from your job. Maybe you feel you deserve a promotion and/or raise. Consider asking for a follow up meeting about your job and career.

‘Even if the job isn’t in your long-term interest, you still want to improve upon interim problems as best you can while you’re there,’ she adds. ‘Personality clashes may be tough to tackle, but a lot may stem from the need to set better boundaries and expectations, improve communications, project flow and/or deadline prioritisation.'”
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[slide
permalink=”/#dont-burn-your-bridges-8″
title=”Don’t burn your bridges.”
content=”If you have a combative attitude, you’ll lose a valuable reference, burn your bridges, and hurt your reputation.

If you respond, ‘Yes, I’m looking elsewhere and unhappy’ (i.e., ‘you got me!’) with no interest in a resolution, most employers will feel that you’ve already checked out — and your prospects at the company will be dim, says Taylor. ‘Stay professional. It will be remembered, despite your setback.'”
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[slide
permalink=”/#try-to-regain-trust-9″
title=”Try to regain trust.”
content=”Regardless of where your career is headed, you want to try and regain your boss’s confidence as best you can. This can be challenging, as managers are leery of proprietary leaks, especially to direct competition. Also, at this point they will be more sceptical about how hard you’re working. ‘You may get the cold shoulder for a while,’ Taylor warns.

‘Still, do your best to work hard and remain accessible. Make sure you conduct any job search activities outside the office and avoid any social media tip-offs, such as adding 100 new LinkedIn industry contacts overnight.'”
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[slide
permalink=”/#stay-focused-10″
title=”Stay focused.”
content=”It’s easy to get distracted after a setback like this; it will feel like a very bad day. But don’t dwell on the fact that you ‘got caught.’ It doesn’t mean that you’ll lose your job; you may ultimately be able to modify it. If you do ultimately part ways, it will likely be for the best — your dream job could be around the corner, she says.”
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source=”Flickr/Brad Montgomery”
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[slide
permalink=”/#show-commitment-and-enthusiasm-11″
title=”Show commitment and enthusiasm.”
content=”‘You’re likely under a microscope now, and there may even be rumours about your allegiances,’ says Taylor. ‘The pressure is on to show you’re still dedicated and producing excellent results.’

Continue to meet deadlines and be helpful to your boss and colleagues. Be upbeat and avoid any inference that you may have one foot out the door. (And be careful chatting up your search with peers!)

Stay positive and in control. ‘You could end up staying at the company in a related capacity. Or, someone at the company could end up hiring you at your next job.'”
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[slide
permalink=”/#-12″
title=””
content=”Readers: Want us to answer your questions related to your career or job search? Tweet Careers editor Jacquelyn Smith @JacquelynVSmith or email her at jsmith(at)businessinsider(dot)com, and we’ll do our best to answer them.
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[/slideshow]