How do you think it would go over if you told your spouse or your significant other that you were starting to look for someone new? At the very least, it would likely put a strain on the relationship. Worst case, your significant other tells you to get lost.
It works the same in the job market.
The best time to tell your boss that you are looking elsewhere is when you have accepted a job offer.
There is one rare exception that I will get to in a moment. However, if you tell your current employer that you are looking at other opportunities, you run the risk of four things happening – none of them good.
1. Creating animosity
Some employers will take it personally. Instead of understanding that you might simply be trying to further your career, they take your interest in working elsewhere to mean that you don’t like working for them. Or they feel that you are being disloyal after they gave you a job.
2. Getting fired
I have seen several times when an employer found out one of their employees was looking elsewhere and they got rid of the person. I even saw it once at a national network. The thought is, “If you don’t want to be here, we don’t want you here.”
3. Unfair speculation
A boss might reasonably wonder how much effort they are getting from an employee who already has one foot out the door.
4. Devaluing yourself
It could look bad on you if you tell your boss you are starting to look elsewhere, and then your search takes a long time. Your value drops in the eyes of your employer when nobody else is hiring you. At that point, good luck getting a raise out of him.
An exception to the rule
The other option for when to tell your boss that you are looking elsewhere is when you have been invited to interview for another position. I advise doing this, though, only if you have an unusually good relationship with your boss.
For example, in minor league baseball many GMs understand that their broadcasters want to be upwardly mobile. Some even want to help their broadcasters move up the ladder because they like the individual and it reflects well on the organization when their guys are in demand. In cases like this, you can feel comfortable telling your boss that you have an interview elsewhere.
For the most part, what your boss doesn’t know won’t hurt him. Or you.