How to check the grass on both sides of the fence
September 23, 2011 7:24 AM   Subscribe

How do I approach a competitor about applying for a job without jeopardizing my current position?

I work in a small consulting company in a very specialized market. My practice has grown to the point where I am responsible for all work in a certain area of business. This area is at the boundary of our company's core competencies however, and I've recently come to the conclusion that I won't be able to grow it successfully unless I (a) change the way our company works, or (b) move to another company doing this work.

I have been working on (a) for about five years now, and while I've made some headway (mostly trying to reduce our administration costs so that I have a hope of being profitable on small orders) there is still a LONG way to go, and these successes have come at the cost of undue stress, and a strained (but not antagonistic) relationship with management.

Which leaves me toying around with (b). There are very few companies doing what I'm doing, and I believe that I would be valuable to one of them, but I can't know for sure without asking. Unfortunately, being such a small industry, I'm worried that an inquiry would get back to my company and either further damage my relationship with management, or be used by a competitor to discredit us. (that last worry is perhaps a bit egoistic). I want to be tentative about this because my current job pays very well, and has a short commute. There would be no sense moving if it involved a significant pay cut.

So here are my questions: How do I discreetly find out if a competitor would be willing to make me an offer? Should I send a private email? Should I make an effort to find the right person at a conference? Should I contract a headhunting firm to inquire on my behalf? Is it even possible to pull this off without screwing everything up? Should I stop wondering if the grass is greener and just figure out how to make the current job work? Any other suggestions?

Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Assuming the other companies are smallish firms too, I would just cold call the CEO and set up a lunch meeting. It's worked for me in the past. The CEO will be discreet, and there is nothing wrong with exploring your options, especially if your current employer is not supporting your efforts as they should.

Do you have any non-compete agreements that might cause an issue?
posted by COD at 7:45 AM on September 23, 2011

I'm in a similar situation. Almost everyone in my industry knows everyone else.

I have been discreetly reaching out to a few folks with whom I have a really strong relationship and letting them know that I'm starting to look at options. I am trying not to put anything in writing though. It's entirely too easy for people to just forward an email to others, whereas my speaking with them feels, somewhat, more secure.
posted by FlamingBore at 7:48 AM on September 23, 2011

The main concern here is going to be the terms of your employment contract.
posted by empath at 8:11 AM on September 23, 2011

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