No matter your relationship with your boss, it’s completely unnerving if she decides to quit without warning. After all, when the person you directly report to leaves, it will no doubt affect your day-to-day — and could even put your own job in jeopardy.
But amid the chaos new professional prospects can emerge, says Brandi Britton, district president of staffing service OfficeTeam. "This may be an opportunity for you to step up to the plate to show you can help fill in the gaps and lead others," she says.
If you find yourself in this nerve-racking yet potentially career-boosting position, here's a step-by-step plan for using it to your advantage.
Take Care of Yourself
First, maintain a healthy perspective on the situation and don't jump to conclusions about how it may affect your own position. "With change sometimes comes uncertainty, but it can definitely be for the better," says clinical psychologist and business mentor Dr. Ariane Machin.
Machin also suggests giving yourself some time to process the changes and make sure you have good self-care habits in place. This means making sure you're not losing sleep over the news, you're keeping up your exercise routine, and you're eating well. Keeping your out-of-office habits — even just to maintain a sense of normalcy — will help you through the transition by giving yourself a clear frame to mind to handle things gracefully.
You may consider taking time to talk with your former boss about her decision to leave, suggests Michele Mavi, director of internal recruiting and content development at Atrium Staffing.
"Your boss may have quit for a variety of reasons, so it may help you to determine why," she says. "It could have been for personal reasons — even interpersonal reasons with management that don't impact you directly — or your boss may have been privy to some inside information about the state of the company that she might be able to share with you once she has officially left," she says.
If she’s unavailable or you two didn't have the type of relationship that would allow you such a candid conversation, talk to the person who delivered the news about her leaving or someone in HR, Lambert advises. Think about asking the following: What happened? What sort of timeline are we hoping to find a replacement? Will there be additional structural changes/shifts as a result of this? What does my position’s job security look like now?
Either way, stay away from any gossip. If your boss did in fact leave on bad terms, she (or others in the company) may make comments after her departure. Be sure not to contribute to rumors or speculation. If you’re being pushed, try responding vaguely, such as, “I’m not really sure about the details, but we’re working things out.”
Create a Backup Plan
While you don't want to dwell on worst-case scenarios, you do want to be prepared for them. To protect yourself in the event that your job ends up on the line, update your resume and any online portfolios you maintain, like a professional website or LinkedIn profile, Machin suggests. Reach out to friends or contacts in the field you trust about any upcoming opportunities. "This way you will feel secure no matter what the outcome," she says.
Lambert adds that this may be a good time to solicit a few LinkedIn recommendations from people you work with, asking only colleagues you can trust to be discreet about your request so it doesn’t look like you’re jumping ship. This way you will have direct feedback from colleagues on your profile, which may be viewed by a prospective new boss or even higher-ups at your company as they evaluate who might fill your boss's shoes.
During the transition, present yourself as someone with solutions, says certified job and career transitions coach Mashaal Ahmed. Approach your former boss's boss and suggest that you’d like to put together recommendations for covering projects and responsibilities your boss left behind. "If you get the green light, you are ready to take the lead and collaborate with your colleagues to decide what areas are a priority and who can cover them," she says. And if you’re unhappy with the current workflow, this is a chance to streamline a new plan that better fits your team’s needs. Not to mention an ideal occasion for you to let your leadership skills shine and show that you’re good at handling change.
Provide regular status updates to those above you and keep a record of everything you’re doing that goes beyond your regular job description. It’ll come in handy for future performance reviews.
Go for a Promotion
Depending on your goals with the company, this may be an ideal time to step up even further and ask to take on a bigger role. When a boss quits, usually someone from upper management will talk to each person on the team to do some damage control, Mavi says. In this meeting, you can ask if internal candidates are being considered as a replacement and how they plan to fill the gap in the meantime.
If you don't take the opportunity to prove yourself, you may never get the chance again. Whether a higher-up reaches out to you first or you take initiative and schedule a meeting, prepare to make your case. "Show how you've been a critical part of your team's success and lay out your plan for improving functionality and productivity," she says. Turn the conversation toward your career path, and “mention that you'd be happy to take on additional responsibilities and help manage the team in the interim," she says.
Embrace New Leadership
If you’re not chosen to fill your old boss’s shoes, avoid showing resentment. Instead, think about your long-term career and react positively to the decision — you might even consider giving your new boss some insight on the company culture to initiate a positive relationship.
Stay open to change, because "your new boss will bring unique preferences and strategies to the job and you should be ready for the possibility that some of those ideas may conflict with existing processes and procedures," Britton says.
In order to cut down on adjustment time, get a sense of their management style early on. "Pay attention to the little details, such as the best time of day to contact your supervisor or the mode of communication she prefers, and adapt your own work habits accordingly," she says. This shows that you're willing to work with, not against, the new hire and will set up your new relationship for success.