Exploring Job Opportunities for a Career Move

January 2014

This month’s question is answered by Kimberly Thompson, Director of Institutional Research at University of the Rockies. Kimberly also serves as an IPEDS Trainer. The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR.

Dear Kimberly: I am ready to explore job opportunities for my next career move. What are the rules of etiquette in searching for a new position while maintaining commitment to my current position? 

This is a great question and one with which many of us have struggled. I’m not sure there are written “rules” for this situation, but there are some common-sense practices that I have used and am happy to share.  

The decision to notify your current employer that you are looking for a new opportunity is one that should be carefully considered and really depends on the culture at your current institution. Sometimes, your employer will recognize that you are ready for new challenges, and if a promotion or an increase in responsibilities is not available, your supervisor will help you explore new professional opportunities. In another situation, you might need to keep a job search as private as possible. In that case, be sure to inform the hiring institution that you do not want your inquiry made public. In either case, when you accept a new position and announce your departure, be sure to frame your decision in a positive light and stress the opportunities afforded to you. Refrain from making negative or critical comments about your current employer or position.  

Selecting references is also an important decision. You should always get the permission of the individuals you want to list as references, and be sure to check back when you know they will likely be contacted by potential employers so they know what to expect. I think it is good to select individuals who can speak to various aspects of your experience and qualifications for a position. For that reason, I seek references from former supervisors, but also from staff who reported to me and colleagues from other departments with whom I worked. 

During the time you are searching for a new job, plan for your departure. Make sure to document progress on long-term projects and track all work you have started, but not yet completed. This will provide a more seamless transition once it’s time to give notice of your departure, which can go a long way in terms of how you are remembered in the future. You will likely want to use your current employer as a reference, so it’s important to leave on good terms. I always provide a status document with my letter of resignation that includes information about all of my assignments, such as next steps, documentation on where to find materials, and any other information needed for continuity. 

And, while we are on the subject of the letter of resignation, be sure to write one – don’t rely only on a verbal resignation. Keep the letter short, polite, and professional. Give credit where credit is due. Early in my IR career, one of my bosses spent a lot of time mentoring me, which contributed greatly to my ability to move forward to new opportunities. In my letter of resignation, I noted that fact and thanked her for her kindness and the time she spent working with me. To this day she is a trusted colleague and friend, not to mention one of my best references! 

The most important thing to suggest is that we tend to remember that which is most recent….that is, employers and co-workers will long remember the way you conduct yourself when you separate from the institution or organization. Make sure those are good memories. Give adequate notice and remain professional and productive through the last minute of your employment.  

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