My Boss Caught Me … Job Hunting

Secret Job Search


You have decided to look for a different job. Although your plan is to keep this a secret, there’s always a chance that your boss will find out. So you should plan, in advance, how you will respond to this situation. By the way, you should develop this strategy before you begin your job search.


Some of the considerations that you must address are:

  • Your boss’s emotional reaction
  • The probability that you job will be jeopardized if boss discovers your search
  • The amount of potential damage to your relationship with your boss
  • The probability that telling your boss the truth might actually help your predicament
  • Your sense of morality about lying versus telling the truth

Lisa Quast wrote an article for Forbes entitled, Job Seekers: How to Respond If Your Boss Finds Out You’re Job Hunting, and offered a few suggestions for your possible course of action. You can read the original article here.

Here are the suggestions Lisa offered for your consideration:

Lie – While I don’t encourage lying to others (especially your boss), one way to potentially save your job is to say, “No, I’m not looking for a new job. Why do you ask?” You may find out background information on why your boss believes you are job hunting. Once you know how your boss became suspicious, you’ll be better able to determine how to keep it from happening again. While lying might be a short-term solution, keep in mind it can create a more difficult situation later, if you decide to quit after finding another job. You will confirm the lie and burn a bridge with your boss as soon as you resign.

The Side-Step – This is similar to lying, but it might. For example, depending on the circumstances, you might say, “No, I’m actually helping a friend with their job search.” Then you could also say, “Why do you ask?” to try and find out why your boss believes you are job hunting.

The Semi-Truth – This one can be helpful if your boss confronts you with proof of your job search, such as finding a job description you printed on the department’s shared printer. In this case you could choose to be semi-truthful by saying a variation of, “Yes, I printed a few job descriptions. With performance appraisals coming up, I wanted to see what responsibilities are included in similar and slightly higher level positions to mine at other companies. I thought looking at other job descriptions might give me some ideas to include in my self-evaluation for areas I’d like to develop.”

This type of response tries to convert the “oops” into a way to improve your current job because it can open the door for communication with your boss on why you aren’t feeling challenged (if that’s one of your issues) so you can mutually determine solutions.

Honesty – You have heard that “Honesty is the best policy.” The key is to find out how you were discovered. If directly confronted, say, “Why do you ask?” and evaluate the response. Based on the answer, you may choose to tell the truth, with a variation of, “Yes. I have been looking at what’s available within and outside the company. I don’t see many chances for growth or promotion opportunities in my current position, so I’m looking at what else is available.”

There is no need to be defensive or accusatory. Then use the moment as an opportunity to open a variation of this suggestion with your boss: “I’m interested in career growth and I would really appreciate it if we could schedule time to sit down and discuss my performance, responsibilities and potential career paths in the company.”

Hiding your job search can be difficult in this era of social media use, so take time to plan your strategy as to how you’ll handle the situation if your boss finds out – before you begin your job search.

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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