Ask HR: How Do I Look for a New Job Without Telling My Boss?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP October 23, 2020
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

​SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA Today. The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

Question: I'm unhappy at my current company and am starting to search for a new job. However, I don't want my current employer to know I'm looking, because it's likely I'll get terminated. How do I get around that tricky section on a job application that requires the contact information for your current employer? —Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: This challenge is a lot easier to overcome than many people might think.

The fact of the matter is most potential employers will not contact your current employer without discussing it with you first. And typically, reference checks won't occur until an applicant is further along in the process.

In fact, the majority of job applications include a check box to specify that potential employers do not contact a current employer. I recommend checking this box if you wish to maintain the secrecy of your job search.

You might also include "I would prefer not to list my current employer's contact information until a job offer is received." Potential employers are likely familiar with situations similar to yours and will generally understand, and honor, your request to refrain from contacting a current employer until an offer is imminent.

Applying for a new position can be nerve-wracking—trust me, I understand. If you still feel unsure, you could even add a note explaining you are currently employed and would appreciate if your application was kept private during the interview process. In most cases, this request may be unnecessary, but, if you're worried, it could be enough to buy the peace of mind you need to be and feel your best.

I will say this, though: Reference checks are a tried-and-true tactic used by employers to make smart hiring decisions. They are an integral part of any job application. I encourage you to reach out to your references and let them know you are beginning the job search so they are not caught off guard if a hiring manager reaches out.

Happy job hunting!


Question: I am a new, young manager. One of my direct reports is around my age. I'm naturally an open and friendly person, and I want to have a good relationship with my team. However, because I'm so close in age and was once their peer, how do I draw respectful boundaries without coming across as cold? Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Congratulations! Getting promoted to manager is a big deal, and I hope it's one of many more landmark moments in your career. That said, I can see how your excitement might be mixed with apprehension. Going from being peers with your colleagues to becoming their boss is a big change.

While boundaries do and will shift, it doesn't mean you must completely transform your working relationship with your team. In fact, your new position could improve it.

Here are a few ways you might try establishing healthy boundaries to build a productive dynamic:

  • Set aside time for individual and team meetings with your reports to discuss what they are working on. Great ideas often come from these free-flowing, open and collaborative conversations with the team. Let them know you welcome their questions, ideas and perspectives.
  • Be patient and allow your team to ease into this new relationship. You're embarking on this journey together.
  • Build trust by providing direction and support as needed. And remember, you can still be an effective leader while being friendly and approachable. This doesn't take away from your managerial skill set and newfound authority.

Keep in mind this adjustment isn't all about you. While you're getting acclimated to your new position, your direct reports are also adapting to working with a new manager—who was once their peer. It can be tricky, maybe even a bit awkward, but just know it's a completely normal period of transition. For additional guidance, consider finding a relevant course on LinkedIn or earning a management certification.

You can still socialize with former peers. Just keep it professional and consider limiting conversations to hobbies or interests. There will be a lot of fine-tuning on both ends as you navigate your new role and the new dynamics that come with it.

Bottom line: Trust yourself and lead with empathy, confidence and transparency, and you will forge a winning team. 



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.


The PMQ teaches managers to lead effectively, giving HR more time to meet the demands of the workplace.

The PMQ teaches managers to lead effectively, giving HR more time to meet the demands of the workplace.

Discover PMQ


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.