If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.



Bench & Cubicle

The secret search for a new job

If only we could give our employers honest feedback

by Chemjobber, special to C&EN
August 23, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 32


Illustration of someone secretly searching for a new job.
Credit: C&EN/Shutterstock
Searching in stealth

You’d never announce in a department meeting, “You know, I’m applying for another position. In fact, I’m really looking forward to not working with you all soon. This organization is going down the tubes, and I’m leaving before I get laid off.”

Instead, it seems the dissatisfaction that leads to thoughts of leaving a job happens in private among coworkers. You may even be so cautious as to not speak of these things in an email, perhaps relying on a text message from a personal phone. Why is that? I’ve seen enough employers let employees go after learning that they are looking for work, and just that possibility is enough to tamp down on open “I’m leaving” talk. Another reason is financial. It’s always better to find your next employer while you’re still employed and receiving a paycheck.

Why would you want to leave your job? Geography is a classic reason. No matter how pleased you are with your position, living in the same town as your family and your old friends is deeply satisfying. I am blessed to live near my parents, and being able to drive over and see my mom and dad on a whim is priceless. There are other considerations as well. Perhaps your role has changed, and there is less laboratory research time in your future and more paperwork. A research role at another company may look more attractive. Your desire to leave can also be pay related. Maybe you’ve learned that you’re getting paid significantly less than a more junior coworker, or that your salary is below the market rate. A change in supervisor can also drive dissatisfaction.

So now you’re looking. What do you do? You can always go to the internet and start applying for other positions. If I were looking (I’m not!), I would start by talking with my peers in the industry. During these pandemic times, it’s going to be hard to get a cup of coffee or an after-work beer. Instead, texting or calling old classmates or work friends may help you get the lay of the land.

There was a time when recruiters would call you at work and boldly ask if you would be open to considering another position. While I used to view these folks with some annoyance, I’ve changed my perspective over the years. Recruiters are professionals, just like chemists. If you meet good ones, they know some chemistry and they definitely know the chemical industry. I am perfectly happy with my position right now (really, boss, I am!) and I will tell recruiters that. But I’ll also tell them that I’m not looking for something new right now. If they’re a good recruiter, they’ll be smart and discreet and develop a long-term relationship with you. If you’re not happy with your current position, then a good recruiter can help you search for what’s next without announcing it to the world.

Perhaps it’s hopelessly naive, but I hope employers want to know if their employees are looking at the door longingly. You hear of senior managers who will greet news of departing employees with, “I wish you would have said something earlier.” It’s hard to know if that’s a genuine sentiment or a polite fiction.

What if we had a culture where rank-and-file employees felt comfortable sharing honest feedback with employers? Some employers use anonymous surveys to gauge company morale, and maybe employees fill those questionnaires out honestly, but that doesn’t help the individual whose reasons for leaving are already bubbling over. I appreciate each of my coworkers for their unique talents, and it’s the blend of different people and their skills that produces quality work from strong teams and, ultimately, great products and great companies. Keeping those teams intact and thriving takes work, and it’s all too often neglected by employers.

Honest feedback from employees is needed. Until that time, surreptitious text messages between coworkers will remain the best predictor of employee departures.

Chemjobber is an industrial chemist who blogs about the chemistry job market at Find all his columns for C&EN and suggest future topics at

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.