Telling the boss

In order to be eligible for employment, Foreign Service officer candidates must be able to be granted a Top Secret security clearance. As soon as I passed the Oral Assessment in February, the State Department began its investigation of me. Part of the investigation involves interviewing friends and coworkers of the candidate.

It’s a good idea to give some advance notice to people who might be interviewed. If a a G-man knocks on your friend’s door and starts asking questions about you, you’d want your friend to have some idea what the questions were all about.

The same goes for your boss. You wouldn’t want your boss to get the wrong idea about the interview. But there’s a dilemma: to tell your boss to expect a security interview is to let your boss know that you are actively seeking employment elsewhere. That can be awkward.

One person on a bulletin board reported that she was fired immediately upon telling her boss about her candidacy for the Foreign Service. Since most of us in the working world are “at will” employees, we can be fired for any reason that isn’t a violation of a legally-protected status. Your boss can’t fire you for being a certain race or gender, but he can fire you because you have an annoying laugh, or you dress funny, or you like the wrong sports team. Or if you have applied for a job elsewhere.

After reading that person’s story, I felt the need to share my own experience about telling my boss. Here is what I wrote:


My experience with telling the boss was wonderful. About a week after I passed the OA, I told my boss that I was pursuing a career in the Foreign Service, and that he could expect to be contacted by investigators.

I was anxious about telling him, because a few years ago, when I was still a university faculty, I was awarded a Fulbright, and my boss was not only not supportive, she was angry with me. Being a Fulbright Scholar damaged my academic career. 🙁

Fast-forward a few years. In a new career in the financial sector, I was anxious about telling my boss about the FS. When I broke the news to him, I was careful to remind him that there are no guarantees, it wasn’t going to happen soon, and that any number of factors could, as the renowned reproductive scientist Todd Aiken infamously stated: “shut that whole thing down.”

To my surprise, my boss not only knows what the FS is, but he also had a very positive reaction to my news. He smiled, congratulated me, said that he was proud of me, and promised to do everything that he could to help. In short, his reaction was a polar opposite of how my previous boss reacted to the Fulbright.

It was hard to believe that he was really supportive, but a few days later, he asked me to be the point person on a new long-term project. I told him that I would be happy to work on it as long as I am still working there, but I reminded him that my future was a little uncertain. He said he remembered, and that he would be happy to have me as long as he could.

A few days later, his boss (VP) popped his head into my office and congratulated me, too. I am very pleasantly surprised at the level of support and encouragement that I have received from the management.

To make a long story short (too late), although Marti’s experience doesn’t surprise me, not every boss will have the same scumbag reaction. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones (this time).

TL;DR: my boss didn’t fire me when I told him about my FS aspirations.


One Comment

  1. PMc

    One is always at the mercy of an employer’s good will and maturity when it becomes known that one is seeking a new position. Compounding the situation is the fact that one is often leaving the job because the employer lacks both! Unfortunately, negative responses are the typical ones. For senior hires we routinely don’t ask for letters of recommendation–where the job-seeker then has to make known the possibility they might be leaving–until the very end of the process, when only two or three applicants will be affected.

    The Fulbright analogy is not a good one. You weren’t leaving your position but gaining new experiences and winning a prestigious award that increased your value and advanced your professional status in your then current position. Holding it against you remains among those one of those inexplicable, curious, and bizarre responses to accomplishment that life seems bound to deliver on occasion. Keeps us on our toes and ready for the unpredictable at every turn.

    On the other hand, the response of your current employer to your FS opportunity seems so incredibly supportive and mature that the scales have tipped decidedly back to the good!

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