Do I have to tell my boss I'm applying for another job in our office before I land it?
April 22, 2011 12:15 PM   Subscribe

I am applying for a job within my small department. Career counselor says I MUST tell my boss this before landing the job. I don't wanna, but can't see a way around it either.

I work in a small office--under 10 people in the room--in a large org. My office consists of Group A and Group B, I work in Group A. Boss A semi-recently took over the group and is still pretty new to bossing and trying to figure out how to handle things. The Group A work has suddenly REALLY PETERED OUT several months ago to the point where it's obvious that I am not needed any more (I am working incredibly slowly on busywork, and at best I might not get any major work again for months), and it seems like a slam dunk that I'll get canned once the budget goes down. Boss A told me to ask for more work if I needed it and was obviously gobsmacked when I did, and he still had nothing much for me to do, hence the busywork. I am not close with Boss A, nor am I his favorite in the office. He is an okay guy otherwise, but clearly I am not a shining star here.

Recently I got asked to fill in doing work for Group B, who had someone get promoted, and they were supposedly going to not hire someone else to fill the missing job due to budget. I LOVE doing this. Group B boss loves me. But now they've decided to hire someone to fill the full position. So either I'm losing my actual work to do these days, or I apply for the position. Which I did. It is currently in HR limbo right now and should be emerging from such in May.

The Group B folks know I applied for it (it came up in conversation this week and I was forced to answer). Boss A does not. Boss A went out on family leave just as the application was due, and most likely will be out of the office throughout this entire situation, though he is still on e-mail "working from home."

The career counselor I saw at LargeOrg flat out told me YOU MUST TELL HIM, HE WILL FIND OUT, YOU DON'T WANT HIM TO BE THE LAST TO KNOW ABOUT THIS. I am super uncomfortable having him find this out before officially getting the job because I don't want to make our working relationship worse if I don't get it, make myself look even more expendable, etc. I feel like telling him before it's a done deal is gonna burn a bridge or something. And I've seen enough stories on AskMefi about how you shouldn't do this until you've got the offer in writing. However, they are all literally in the same office, and obviously I'd still be seeing him daily afterward one way or another. I don't know at what point he would be informed officially that I did this before the official hiring goes down. The job itself will probably take around a month to process, I'm guessing. I have pretty good odds unless someone with preferential rehire applies, in which case they can't hire me and all this angst is for naught.

I don't think he'd be surprised or massively shocked or saddened, given the lack of work situation. But... shoot, I don't know what to do or what to say. And whatever it is, obviously it's gonna have to be done over work e-mail rather than yanking him aside into a locked office for a super awkward conversation.

1. Do I absolutely have to tell him myself first? If so, when? I figure I have leeway as long as the application is still in HR, but once I get to the point of being asked to interview, well...
2. If so, what do I say over e-mail?
3. How do I handle this in general? I guess the only thing I don't have to worry about is hiding my "interview outfit" that day...
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The "don't say anything without an offer" thing is different when you're doing a lateral transfer within an organization. I'd just send an email with a subject of "A Heads-up" and a couple sentences like "Hey, I just wanted to let you know that since GroupA work has been slow I've been talking to Group B about a position they have open." Adjust for tone and detail.
posted by rhizome at 12:26 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Yes. He will find out that you applied and it will be better to hear it from you first. Even if it's a large organization you're still applying for a job within the same organization that you currently work for.
2. You described the situation clearly in your post. It sounds like your strengths make you a better asset to Group B than Group A so you'll also be providing greater value to the organization that you work for. You're applying for a position in Group B that will offer you more opportunities in the future. Make it clear that you're not unhappy with your current position but that you see an opportunity for growth in the new position (if that's not true, maybe you can make it seem like it is)
3. I think you should be open about this opportunity with your peers, especially if they ask about it. I wouldn't flaunt it but I would be open about it if asked.
posted by golden at 12:33 PM on April 22, 2011

It's likely that he'll find out before you get a formal offer or notification. By likely, I mean you can bet the house on it.

Tell him. Don't be self conscious. You might even consider asking him about it, as if you were asking for advice. Maybe even ask for a recommendation.
posted by Xoebe at 12:36 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Tell the boss A - looking to move within an organisation is completely different to moving outside one. There is a good chance that people will mention this to boss A assuming they are aware. They will be a lot more upset about that than they would be if you solved their potential problem of too large team for them by moving across. Boss A may very well be asked about your performance and how suitable they think you'd be for the other role, quite possibly informally, and you have nothing to gain by not telling them and a lot to lose by pissing them off.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:38 PM on April 22, 2011

1. YES. That part up their in caps is exactly right, as awkward as it is. And it is super awkward. But every possible "bad turn" you list that you imagine it might take if you don't get the job will increase in possibility if you don't tell him first. Telling him is a professional courtesy but there is almost no way he won't find out if you get an interview* and if you don't let him know first, you could really be screwing yourself if he's the type who would see this as "going behind his back", which is much more likely if he is the last to know.

*- It sounds like to me, based on my life experience, that if you've done the work already and you get along with Boss B, you will almost definitely be asked to interview -- if only as a professional courtesy.

As for this making you seem more expendable, maybe but I doubt it. I think it makes you look less like you're the type of person who isn't interested in taking the easy path of busy work and more like the person who wants to add value to the organization. These are very good things to show a new boss.

2. In the email, let him know that you want to give him a heads up because you don't want it to seem like this is something you are doing because you want out of what you are doing now, just that it seems like a good opportunity because (a) you've done it already and (b) other stuff has been slow for you (though you really don't need to stress this -- as it's something he seems to already know; if you bring it up, do so from the angle"why this seems like a good thing for the organization (allocating you as a resource better) rather than a "I'm unhappy with things currently".) You've stated it clearly in this post (much more so than I am doing now) so this doesn't seem like it will be a problem for you. Again, I think this can be more about building a bridge than burning one -- that you're looking out for yourself, but also the good of the organization. If he's having trouble finding work for you to do,

3. It is possible that others, not just your boss, will find out about it. I'd be honest if asked but not volunteer it -- just because it really isn't anybody's concern but yours until a decision is made. But as you are still doing Job A, even if it is just busy work, continue to do it with the best damn attitude ever. You don't want to seem like you're unhappy where you are at in case it doesn't work out, but it's an opportunity you want to try out.

Good luck. This is the type of situation people avoid because they are afraid of the awkwardness but it's also the type of awkwardness people muddle through if they want to get more out of their career.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:41 PM on April 22, 2011

If your office is like my office, he already knows. Yes, tell him. It may be awkward, and not very fun, but the awkwardness will be an order of magnitude larger later if you don't fess up. Lateral moves are common and makes you look good to HR. Boss A may or may not have his feelings hurt, but it's best for you and him to tell him as soon as possible.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:33 PM on April 22, 2011

When I applied for a couple of quasi-lateral moves in an old company, I just treated it as it only can be good news! (!!)

"Boss A,

Just thought I should let you know, at the time you went on family leave, this position in Group B opened up. As you know I've been doing work to fill in for Group B and I've really enjoyed it, so applying for the position made perfect sense. Cross your fingers for me!

Hope your leave is going well (<>

In general, be brave and set the expectation that this move is going to be great! And Boss A should be excited and happy for you! It worked for me.

Break a leg!
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:42 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

In some organizations, you have to ask your current boss for permission to apply for an internal position. Really, just tell him. Be respectful and positive but firm.
posted by desuetude at 7:16 PM on April 22, 2011

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