Editor’s Note: This blog is a modified excerpt from professional “headhunter” and bestselling job-hunting book author Skip Freeman’s next book in the “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets series of job-hunting books, Career Stalled? Publication is scheduled for late fall.

At what point during her new job search do you suppose Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, advised her boss at Google that she was “looking”? (The answer to this question, which may very well surprise you, is at the end of this blog.)

The truth of the matter is, if you are like most people, you are happy in your job most of the time. That does not alter the fact, however, that there are also times when you may honestly wonder if you’re not overlooking other genuine career opportunities outside your current company. You may begin to feel that you might just be “settling” for what you now have in your current job and be leaving money and career advancement opportunities “on the table.” That’s when you are most likely to . . .

  • Occasionally visit indeed.com and similar online sites to see what may be available “out there.”
  • Set up “saved searches,” so that the right career opportunities start being emailed to you.
  • Update your LinkedIn profile.
  • Begin receiving (and taking!) calls from “headhunters.”

All simply to “test the waters,” of course.

And, since you are already “flirting” with the job market, you may decide to go on a few “dates,” too, i.e., job interviews.

Again, though, simply to “test the waters.”

But what happens if these “dates” (interviews) begin to strongly suggest that, as you somewhat suspected, you may indeed be overlooking some genuine opportunities to advance your career? Well, the adrenaline can start pumping, suddenly a new-found sense of excitement can kick in, you start to get “butterflies” in your stomach, your heart beats just a little bit faster. . . and soon thereafter here they come . . .

The old GUILT feelings!

Dealing with the ‘Guilt’ Feelings

Why am I doing this? you ask yourself. Then, in answer to your own question, you’re quite likely to come up with answers such as these:

  • Because I am not totally happy with my current job, or at least not as happy as I know I should be.
  • I know for a fact that I am not being paid what I am worth.
  • Will I ever receive a promotion, or am I destined to remain at basically the same level throughout my career with this company—no matter what I accomplish or how well I perform?
  • Why won’t my boss trust me with more responsibility and authority?

Still, the guilt feelings persist.

In order to alleviate these guilt feelings, you decide that the best thing to do at this point is to “come clean” with your boss. After all, you do have a good relationship with her—actually, a very good relationship with her—right? She told you during your last performance review that she genuinely cared about you and wanted only the best for you and your family, didn’t she? Certainly, the boss will want to do what’s right for you, right? Maybe, after you “cleanse your soul,” by telling her you’re “looking,” you might actually end up getting a nice raise, perhaps even a promotion, right?


Two Reasons ‘Cleansing Your Soul’ with Your Boss is NOT a Good Idea

Here are at least TWO reasons why your reasoning is very wrong and filled with significant risks to your career:

  • First, how can you tell, for sure, that you do indeed have a “good” relationship with your boss? What if you guess wrong about the true nature of the relationship you have with her? What if you think you have a good—even GREAT!—relationship with her but she would beg to differ, if asked? Or, what if you do indeed currently have a “good relationship” with her but it quickly “sours” once you’ve told her of your “indiscretions”?
  • Second, an employment relationship is not like a marriage contract or any other type of binding, legal contract or arrangement. Nonetheless, many people continue to view it as such. The fact of the matter is, almost all employment arrangements today are what’s known as “at will” arrangements. That means that, like political appointees, an employee “serves” at the “pleasure” of the company. If and when it is no longer your employer’s “pleasure” to keep you, you will be gone, gone, gone. Still, many want to believe that their co-workers (and yes, sometimes, even their boss) are true “friends,” their “family-in-residence,” as it were, but that really isn’t true at all.

If you currently find yourself facing a career dilemma such as the one described in this blog, I suggest that you STOP and ask yourself these questions:

  • “If I stay where I am for the rest of my career, am I okay with that?”
  • “Has my ‘story’ at my current job been completely written yet?
  • “If I were unemployed and had a chance to interview for my current job, would I do it?”
  • “Money aside, do I really love this job?”

If your answers to these questions is a resounding “yes,” then stop looking NOW . . . get control over the urge to “confess” and get back to work!

Risks Inherent in Confessing Your Career ‘Affair’ or ‘Indiscretion’

On the other hand, if your answers to these questions are even qualified “no’s,” then the only question becomes whether or not to “confess.” The short answer is: Don’t even think about it unless you want your career to tank at your current company! If you choose to ignore this advice, here is what, at a minimum, awaits you for as long as you remain with your current employer:

  • Don’t expect to any longer be seriously considered for any promotions that may come up.
  • If you get a salary increase, it will be miniscule at best.
  • Don’t expect to any longer even be considered for involvement in any long-term, high-profile company projects.
  • Expect your professional brand to be quickly and irretrievably “tarnished,” and expect it to grow even more “tarnished” the longer you stay with the company.
  • Anticipate that the “great relationship” you thought you had with your current boss will soon head south.

Do you still believe, then, that “coming clean” with the boss if you are “looking” is a good idea? I hope not. Don’t make the mistake so many excellent candidates tend to make by telling your boss you’re “looking.” There is absolutely no way whatsoever that this can ever be to your benefit or advantage.

Rather, take a cue from the new Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer. This savvy young executive demonstrated that she definitely knows how the hiring “game” is played. She also showed that she is an expert player at the game. The “advance warning” she gave her boss at Google that she was “looking”—exactly 30 minutes before she left!


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.