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Ask Brian- When Do I Tell My Old Job About My New Job?

December 13th, 2007 · 7 Comments

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Reader Mike from Somewhere writes:

My old job wants me back. They have NOT made a definitive offer, but they seem to feel it’s only a matter of time before it trickles through HR and it’s more or less mine if I want it.

Here’s my problem. I don’t want to be unprofessional, and I know I’m bound to give 2 weeks notice at my current assignment. I can’t decide if I should just keep my trap shut until I get a definitive offer, then just give 2 weeks; or if I’m out-of-line if I knock on my boss’es door, and just try to say (in as non-threatening a manner as possible), “I wanted you to know I may be giving two weeks notice fairly soon. It seems like you have a right to know so you can make the long term plans you need to”.”

Brian sayz:

Your fanatical desire to bend over backwards and be nice to your current boss is certainly commendable.

And hey, who am I to say, “Don’t be a nice guy.”

But man, every job I ever left, they were counting on me to be more… counting on me to be long term. They were disappointed. Tried to talk me out of it. If you think your boss is going to be disappointed, that’s great! It speaks well you and your value as a worker.

But as I’ve said before on this blog, indentured servitude went out in the 18th century. You’re free to leave a job anytime you want. You have a contract that says you have to give 2 weeks notice and that’s all that can be reasonable expected of you. This is a very mobile economy. People switch jobs all the time. The 30 year career employee went out with the telephone booth.

I think you’re only tempted to give notice because you’re the one waiting to get the word. You know this is a possibility and your boss doesn’t, so you feel like you’re withholding.

But what if tomorrow your old boss contacted you with that new job offer? Would you feel bad then about going in and giving an immediate 2-weeks notice? No. Of course not. You gave notice as soon as you knew for sure.

In other words, I think this secret is burning a hole in your conscience. But you’re not lying to your current employer… you’re just keeping private information that is not their business yet. You’re looking out for your own interests.

Let me give you one more argument in favor of, as you put it, keeping your trap shut.

And this is from my point of view as someone who’s been a boss and done hiring and such.

Lets say I’m your boss and you come to me and say maybe you’re going to leave. What do I do with that information? It’s not definite. It’s still a maybe. I mean, it’s nice to know, but I can’t replace you until you go (unless you’re asking me to). Maybes don’t help me all that much. Maybes can sometimes be a pain in the ass. What if you end up not leaving? Now I’ve got you sticking around, and theres different guy waiting for you to leave, on the hook for the job that now isn’t open after all. What do I tell him?

In other words: Come back to me when you have something definite that I need to act on. That’s my job as a boss.

Mike, you’re certainly a nice guy, but waiting until you have something definite is not only all that’s required, it might just be the best thing for all involved.

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Tags: Ask Brian · Career Change · Office Politcs

  • Rick

    Hey Mike! It’s commendable that you have your current boss in mind as you contemplate this change. But I agree with Brian; you can be honest and forthcoming — but at the right time, and it’s not the right time yet. One suggestion: When you have the offer for the new job at your once and possibly future employer in hand, don’t sign it until you talk with your current boss. If there could be a reason or two why you would stay where you are, your boss might just convince you to stick around, maybe with more money if that interests you. Bottom line: Wait until you have something in writing before you drop the bomb.

  • Mike

    Is it unprofessional of me to comment on my own Q&A? (I’m the Mike that wrote in.) I think Brian (at least partially, called it. He’s right to the extent that I’m the one wanting to take action, and right in the sense that it’s not really helpful to anyone.

    I probably will keep my trap shut, but I feel bad for my co-workers when I get new assignments I know I won’t be around to finish. Still, I hope it doesn’t fall through. It’s going to be sweet. There’s something different about the world for a couple days after you quit a job you hate.

  • Karl

    I agree. If nothing is definite, then there’s nothing to say yet. I know this is not the perfect analogy, but my wife and I are trying for a baby. We’re obviously not telling her work until we know for sure.

  • Brian

    Mike, of course you can comment on your own Q&A! This is a career advice community. I’m not the only one that can give you advice. Sometimes my commenters is smarter than I! :)

    Hopefully, others will chime in with their 2 cents.

  • Mike

    As, an-after-the-fact-note; I thought it would be fun to recap events:

    I thought about what Brain and the other commenters said, specifically

    “I think you’re only tempted to give notice because you’re the one waiting to get the word.”

    There’s allot there. I think it’s true to the extent that I didn’t want to give notice, I just wanted to ACT. (despite the fact that no action of mine would help much). So I vented my desire for action by trading voice mails with my old boss if only to ask if he’d made any progress with the req.

    The good news is, he went and checked. It had gotten stuck up on technicalities in HR, he shook it loose and called me back.

    (See! JobBored does give good advice! If this doesn’t fall through, getting to quit is gonna be one hell of a good christmas present!)

  • Brian

    Hey! That’s what I like to hear!

    Yeah, it sounded to me like you wanted things to happen, but were projecting YOUR impatience into an obsession with being polite to your boss.

    If what you really needed was to act (and I never thought of this) then you’re right, the person to talk to was your OLD employer, who was the one keeping things from happening.

    Good luck!

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