What's Your Problem?

I've been headhunted for a new job, but I feel guilty about lying to my colleagues.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: I was recently approached by two headhunters with some quite interesting propositions. Initially, the secretive calls and e-mails were fun, but I'm feeling increasingly awkward about lying to my colleagues about where I'm going, and I think they might be getting suspicious. After all, how many dentist's appointments does a person need? What is the protocol for dealing with this?

A: There's no accepted protocol - and there may not even be a perfectly guilt-free way of navigating this choppy stretch of water. But let's examine the structure of the problem. No-one would be justified in criticising you for considering alternative job opportunities. In fact, you'd be irresponsible not to: you've only got one working life and you're in charge of it.

Most alternative job opportunities, by definition, can be explored only in working hours; that means some inevitable invasion of your existing working day.

Much the most open way of dealing with this conflict is to apply for the occasional day off, to be deducted from your annual holiday entitlement. It's nobody's business what you intend to do with that day - and you don't have to lie. Neither are you nicking time (and therefore money) from your existing employer - so your conscience is clear. Your line manager and your colleagues may wonder a bit what you're up to - but that's OK. Let them.

Beyond that, you should do everything you can to restrict phone calls to your own - as opposed to your firm's - time. Ask the headhunters to leave voice-mail messages on your mobile; then call them back when you next take a break.

So much is relatively obvious; but however scrupulous you are, it won't completely spare you from feeling a little bit furtive - or even disloyal. You are, after all, continuing to take your existing company's salary while simultaneously and secretively exploring opportunities to leave it; and, possibly, even to compete with it.

But if you think things through, there are only two possible ways of changing jobs with no implicit deception: you either tell your existing company that you're going for interviews; or you resign one job before looking for the next.

Both routes have the advantage of absolute honesty but clearly carry risks. And the most serious risk is this: so great will be your consequent pressure to change that you'll find it almost impossible to assess any new job dispassionately. You'll feel the need to take it - and that's not healthy.

You should always be able to compare what's being offered with what you already have. Sometimes, the status quo emerges surprisingly well from such comparisons.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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