WWYD — Applying to a New Job From a Job You Still Kinda Like

So I am two years into my first real, official, post-college big kid job. I like the job, and have learned a lot from it, but advancement potential is limited so the search has begun for job number 2. I am casually looking, seeing what is out there and only really applying to potential perfect/dream job. The problem is that a lot of these places require references, and my references that apply to relevant job experience are all at my current job. I don’t know what to do! I know using references without informing them is obviously not a great call, but it is awkward to inform supervisors and coworkers that I am using them as a reference … and am therefore thinking about leaving. If I was seriously looking, with a distinct timeline and real reason beyond “I’m ready to move on! Kind of. Eventually.” I might be more comfortable doing it. To be honest, more money would keep me here longer, though I have asked for a raise and been denied due to vague “financial issues.” (The raise request was legitimate — I permanently took on a departing coworkers duties in addition to my own, and my supervisor advocated for me. Some shady HR business went down involving fudging my job duties to prevent me from getting a title change or raise — not great). I don’t want threatening to leave to be seen as a ploy to get more money, and I don’t think of it that way! I just need a change.

To complicate things further, there have been several dramatic departures from my place of employment (6 people, a quarter of our staff) in the past few months. Everyone is stretched thin, and if I was to leave, that would stretch everyone further. I doubt that any of my references would sabotage me, but I’m sure that they aren’t in the mood to provide me with a glowing reference. And if I do stay, it is awkward for people to know that I might not want to be there. The departures also makes a raise seem more likely — fewer staff to pay and we are all doing more work for at least 6 months until the jobs are filled. What do I do? Ask for another raise first? Do I apply to the jobs and tell them to contact me for references, so I’ll know if they are serious or not? Do I just use my previous references-from college and nannying jobs? Or should I just bite the bullet and tell my references that I am casually looking? Help!

Dear Casually Looking,

First of all, you’ve done a lot of things right, so CONGRATULATIONS and take a deep breath. You’ve gotten a job out of college. Yay! You’ve stayed in it about two years. Amazing! Two years for a Millennial is like five for a member of Generation X. You’ve taken on more work and asked for a raise when you felt you deserved it. That is some pro-level stuff. Now, you’re looking to move on, in part because your legitimate request for a raise was declined. That’s fair and — considering the fact that it seems like your place of employment is in a state of disarray — even wise. But who do you list as a reference?

You’re correct that you shouldn’t give contact info for anyone unless you’ve spoken to them in advance, secured permission, and ideally gotten a sense of what they plan to say about you. The same advice is underlined here. Also, try to make sure they’re reliable. I had a professor in college I loved; she was smart, passionate, and knew me and my work better than anyone. But she was flakier than a head full of dandruff, and for my own peace of mind I should have bypassed her charm for someone else’s reliability.

Speaking of professors, if you’re only a couple of years out of college, consider getting in touch with one of the instructors you were close to. Perhaps they could serve as a character reference. Old employers, like the person you nannied for, are also good options. Be creative. Do you volunteer anywhere? Have you taken any classes? All “references” really need to be are well-spoken people who have insight into your abilities and can describe you as a strong potential employee.

Then offer to provide a list of current references at your place of employment upon request. Usually when HR gets ready to check references, it is because your odds are 1:2 or 1:3 of landing the gig. Sometimes it’s even merely a formality. If you get to that point, then you can sit down with your direct boss and explain that you are exploring your options.

The key thing here is that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing. Believe me, I know what it’s like to feel loyal to an office. In my four years at my last job, I watched so many people come and go that I kept a list. I felt proud for sticking it out — and even more proud for becoming somewhat invaluable as a repository of institutional memory and all that. BUT. But! Have you really not gotten a raise or a title bump in two years, even though you have taken on more responsibility? Though of course every situation is different, it sounds a bit like this office might be taking advantage of your youth and inexperience.

Even if you were being treated royally, though, you would still be absolutely within your rights to keep looking around. It’s even advisable to keep your eyes and smartphone apps open and your resume up to date. (Always! Be prepared!) Your coworkers and supervisors will expect it. Also normal and expected: if you do get an offer, bring the offer to your current supervisors to see if they can match it. Maybe they will, in which case, mazel tov! You can stay if that’s worth it to you.

If you still want to go, though, feel free to go. You’re young! It can be useful to try different work environments while you’re still footloose and fancy-free. Yes, we’re in a recession; you shouldn’t flit around just for the sake of it. But you seem like a very stable and responsible person. Give yourself the liberty to experiment. Later on, when you have more encumbrances — a mortgage, a baby, a sick parent — you can settle and/or settle down. For now, give yourself a new mantra, like a Corleone: it’s not personal. It’s business.


17 Comments / Post A Comment

fletchasketch (#6,453)

Can you ask one of the “dramatic departures” to serve as a reference? They worked with you, they don’t have any skin in the game of keeping you at the current place, and you would be validating their decision to leave months ago. Everybody wins!


Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

@fletchasketch This exactly. I would add: if you are worried about your references seeming too college-y, use at least one former coworker that you have worked with directly plus your most recent former “supervisor” (label it that way, too) that will give you a good reference. Feel free to also mention that you do not wish to notify your office that you are looking yet unless the new place is planning to hire you — ask what types of references would be most helpful to them.

(I had this problem last time I job hunted. They asked if I could find someone who supervised me on a project or worked closely with me on a team but was higher up than me. I asked some friends in my then-office who I had worked with.)

dotcommie (#662)

@fletchasketch Great idea. Also, do you work somewhat closely with people at other organizations in your current job? You could ask one of them and ask em to keep it on the DL.

Lily Rowan (#70)

Yeah, it will not be surprising that you don’t want to give your current boss as a reference — or anyone you’re currently working with, for that matter. It will also be clear from your resume that this is your first post-college job. (And ditto Ester’s kudos on being there two years!) I have been the person checking references in this situation, and a combination of former coworkers from this job and people you did work for in college will be fine.

la_di_da (#1,425)

This is going to sound mercenary, but, barring amazing pay and growth potential, leaving your first job quickly is a good idea. I think people generally stay in jobs too long because they’re comfortable. But building a career requires strategy, and often that means moving on before you think you’re ready. Get out of the entry level job as fast as you can–the longer you stay the harder it is for anyone to hire you because you don’t have the title that would make it seem like a simple jump, but you’ve got enough experience that they’d have to pay you more. I don’t know. That’s what happened to me. Hopefully you’ll have a better time of it. Good luck!

helloimgreen (#998)

It feels like I wrote this letter myself! Except the “Casually Looking” has now turned into “Seriously Looking” and I am moving across the country in 2 months like a crazy person. The workload at my current position is project-driven, and my fear is that announcing my departure too early will interfere with what projects are (or are not!) given to me in the next few weeks. Luckily, I have two supervisors, one of whom I feel comfortable confiding in about my job search and impending move. The other, not so much.

sockhop (#546)

As usual, The Billfold is right on time with advice. Just last night I was more seriously looking into an opportunity I’d been contacted about on LinkedIn. I’ve been with my current employer for nearly 2 years (performance review in August) and I while I love what I do/whom I work with and for, I’m getting a little restless. Doesn’t help that job-hopping is pretty common in my line of work (advertising). Trying to get all of my ducks in a row before I take the leap and apply to this new place, though.

PoppyRed (#6,654)

Most of this advice is great, except about part about the counter offer–don’t accept a counter offer! Ask a Manager has written about it and explains why it rarely turns out well: http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2012/03/26/why-you-shouldnt-take-a-counteroffer

@PoppyRed I’ve never accepted a counter-offer, but I have heard that other people have made it work! I’d love to hear from folks on the subject. Maybe we can put together a feature: The Pros and Cons of Counteroffers.

moreadventurous (#4,956)

Hey, I’m in this boat too! Except that I have no co-workers, so it’s going to get pretty awkward pretty quickly.

Also! I know I’ll only be at this future next job for a year, which feels deceitful to not mention but also important to not mention…

laluchita (#2,195)

@moreadventurous WAIT ARE YOU ACTUALLY ME? I am currently having a hard time at a job I’ve generally liked for the last three years. There’s an opening at another org that looks like it might be great for me, but my partner’s on the academic job market so I’ll probably be leaving town in a year. Everyone tells me that you owe no one anything and a year is a perfectly reasonable time to be in a new job, but it does make me feel bad.

Lo (#6,655)

We are not in a recession. The US economy hasn’t been in recession for five years.

DarlingMagpie (#1,695)

This is literally my situation right now (down to the job title, fudging things, vague financial issues, etc). Thanks for all the tips.

erinep (#4,236)

This is me except I do not like my job at all (except for my only coworker) and there is no way that I am using my current boss as a reference because she is completely unpredictable.

charmcity (#1,091)

As someone who has been both an interviewer and an interviewee, it’s pretty unusual for a person to check your references before you’re interviewed in person. And it’s totally fine and accepted practice to ask, at the end of an interview, for the interviewer to give you a heads up before contacting your current supervisor. Leaving a job you’ve outgrown doesn’t make you a bad worker – both your current boss and your future ones will understand that.

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