Two career paths diverged in a company, and I -
January 20, 2012 10:00 AM   Subscribe

I’m seeking new opportunities at my company, and two very different departments have expressed interest. Neither department knows I’m talking to the other. Need some advice on navigating this…

(Specifics of the company have been genericized for privacy reasons.)

I work at Factory X, which has two main products: widgets and doodads. The two products are nothing alike and their departments usually don’t mix; they’re even on separate floors. I work on the widget floor and don’t know anyone in doodads.

I’ve been a widget inspector at Factory X for several years, and I’m ready to move on. The typical career path for widget inspectors is narrow and doesn’t appeal to me. However, my boss has noticed I have some aptitude for widget development. We've been talking for some time about moving me to a widget developer role, but there are no openings and no budget to add another position. That's unlikely to change anytime soon.

Discouraged by this, I started looking elsewhere. I saw an internal opening for a doodad designer position, so I submitted an application – I’ve been interested in doodads for some time, but I have only tangentially relevant experience. They’re considering me. My boss knows I’m interested in doodads, but doesn’t know I’ve applied for this opening.

Both of these jobs greatly appeal to me, and I’d be thrilled to take either. I’d prefer the widget developer position: I already know the team, I know more about widget development than doodad design, and it would be a smoother transition for myself and my current team. But I’m not sure that the widget developer position will ever materialize, and I don’t want to wait around for a nonexistent promotion, especially if it means passing up the opportunity in doodads. If I move to doodads, I doubt I’ll be able to come back to widgets.

If neither of these positions pan out - which is a definite possibility - I’m likely to leave the company within six months. However, the roles I'm being considered for would be hard for me to find outside of the company.

I’ve never been in this scenario before, and I’m not sure what to do. Was it bad form to apply for an internal position behind my current boss’s back, especially when he’s been trying to get me into a different position? When do I tell my boss? If I get the offer in doodad design, can/should/how do I use it to negotiate a widget developer position? Or should I just accept the offer and make the transition? The last thing I want to do is burn bridges.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total)
Is there anyone in HR you trust? If so, that person can help you negotiate the ins and outs of who needs to know what when.

As far as jumping from widget to doodads, I'd do it -unless you have good reason to believe the culture and tone of the doodad world would drive you nuts. Gaining another skill is a plus.

I am not suggesting you strong-arm your boss, but it's possible that if Widgets thinks they will loose you to Doodads, they'll finally be able to create a better position for you. So don't think of hoping for The doodads job as burning a bridge to widgets.

I've moved from one group to another with no I'll feelings from anyone, but I work for a giant organization that expects people to leave their comfort zone every couple of years.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:28 AM on January 20, 2012

A lot of this depends on the corporate environment. I've generally worked at small shops and been friendly with management. In those places, it would be considered semi-bad form to seek opportunities across the hall without letting my current manager know. Sometimes, just letting them know that you're looking at other internal opportunities will be enough to shake loose the budget to keep you.

In a larger company, where there's more shuffling for position and people are a little more interchangeable, I don't think it's unusual to make shifts such as you describe.

In a broader sense: if you're worth keeping, most smart companies know that it would be better for you to be working on a different floor than for a different company. I'd suggest taking the doodad role if offered if that's what is best for your personal growth.
posted by flipper at 10:30 AM on January 20, 2012

If it were me, I'd be honest with my boss about the situation- athough this of course depends on the relationship that you have with that person. Good bosses that I've worked for in the past have typically looked out for their group, department and company, in that order. And it's often in the company's best interest to keep you around somewhere if you're a good employee, so even if your current boss can't keep you in widgets, he may still help you get into doodads.

It's generally considered bad form to poach employees from within the company without a courtesy 'heads up' between the managers, so unless doodads and widgets are really that isolated from each other, I'd plan on this getting back around. Even if it doesn't and you get the job, are you willing to risk making your old boss upset?

In general, I'd say changing roles within the company = honesty is the best policy (but if your boss is the spiteful type, then yeah, it may warrant being a bit more clandestine.)
posted by Dr. ShadowMask at 10:31 AM on January 20, 2012

I would definitely suggest being open with your boss about this. I was in a similar position with my employer a few years ago, albeit with a less supportive boss. I told her before I applied for the new position in a different department, but I knew I had to do that because that's how the culture of my organization works, and the first thing they would do would be to ask her for a reference. She was reasonably supportive, gave me a recommendation and I got the job.

Honestly, if you are going to formally apply for this other position, you should give your boss the heads up first, because it will become a situation of "if you don't tell him, someone else will," and it's much better if you're the one to do that. If you tell him early, it gives him the opportunity to help you get the other job, which will actually probably make him feel better about the situation. Make sure he knows that you like working for him, appreciate his mentorship, and would love to work with him as a developer at some point if that's possible.
posted by lunasol at 10:48 AM on January 20, 2012

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