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?

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