sssshhhhh ... be vewwy vewwy quiet ... I'm hunting jobs ...
July 14, 2012 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Small nonprofit job-search-filter: can a job application/interview be confidential if everyone knows everyone else?

I work for a great company that does a lot of good in the community. I am not satisfied with my role in the company, however, and don't see a whole lot of growth/change in my role over the medium term at least. A local nonprofit that my company partners with on some projects has an open position that is a good match and would have me feeling more like I'm doing meaningful work.

The problem: the acting director of the nonprofit serves on my current company's board of directors, and the president of my company serves on the nonprofit's board of directors. I work directly with my president on projects and have met the nonprofit's acting director on several occasions. The nonprofit has maybe a dozen staff so even if the acting director doesn't open the mail, whoever gets my resume is going to recognize my company name as my current employer.

Would it be crazy-foolish for me to apply for this job? Does the board of a small nonprofit get involved in hiring for non-executive staff? (The job is grants management/oversight/reporting.) Is there any way to apply for this job without my current company's president/my boss finding out?

I mean, after a conversation with them if it looks like a good match and we start talking details, I would be first in line to tell my president and give him as much notice as possible, etc. But I don't want anyone to know I'm applying for jobs unless I'm actually being offered jobs! Is that possible in this scenario, and if it is, how to go about it?
posted by headnsouth to Work & Money (11 answers total)
Response by poster: I should add that I don't know anyone on staff who I could call and talk with under the radar about the position and my qualifications. I would have to go the traditional resume route.
posted by headnsouth at 8:48 AM on July 14, 2012

Is there any way to apply for this job without my current company's president/my boss finding out?

Not that you can guarantee, no. You can talk directly with the ED at the nonprofit and explain your need for privacy on this, but there's no way to guarantee that. And if one or more board members is on the hiring/interviewing panel (as sometimes happens), or if they want to know who the finalists are, the cat will be out of the bag in a big way. And even if you ask for privacy, there's nothing stopping the ED from having a chat with the board member, you know?

I should add that I don't know anyone on staff who I could call and talk with under the radar about the position and my qualifications. I would have to go the traditional resume route.

You say you've met the acting ED a few times -- that is your staff contact.
posted by Forktine at 8:51 AM on July 14, 2012

To add to that: There's no way the ED can consider your candidacy without needing to think about the risk that hiring you will bring baggage with the board member who is your current boss. What if you were leaving on bad terms? Or hiring you would mean angering the board member? There's absolutely no way a competent ED would go forward with your candidacy without talking to the board member in question.

I'm definitely not saying don't apply -- but don't think that it can be done fully on the downlow. I'd start with a chat with the ED and take it from there.
posted by Forktine at 8:58 AM on July 14, 2012

Have you considered talking to the ED of the charity casually? Using a casual approach, express interest in the job genuinely. Ask what it would take for ED to take an employee from a company he supports to the charity. Make them understand that you would like to be considered and that you could help maintain relations after the fact, either way.

asking your company to sponsor a secondment to the non-profit for a couple of months (three to six max). That lets you do the job, providing innovation to both charity and business and allow you to possibly improve the quality of your employer.

You would still need to make an application. I would make it a point to not list the company you currently work for but describing "high-tech industry company" or whatever your area and describing duties and achievement as detailed as possible. They will learn about you online possibly, but they will have to wait to learn about the extent of your involvement at the interview. Maybe you will not even get an interview. Go for it.
posted by parmanparman at 9:28 AM on July 14, 2012

Response by poster: To clarify, though I have met the acting director a few times on projects that both organizations have been involved in, I do not "know" him, I don't encounter him in my day-to-day work, and it would be strange and unprofessional for me to contact him "casually" to talk to him on the QT about a job (forktine makes a good point about the director having an obligation to talk to my current president/his board member about potential conflicts). If I did have an interview with him, both of us would say "oh yes we met at ..." and reintroduce ourselves, but there isn't a real link between us now. There isn't anyone currently at the nonprofit who I consider to be in my network.
posted by headnsouth at 9:38 AM on July 14, 2012

I work at a small non-profit and am pretty familiar with the scenario you've described. My first instinct is to say - no, this is a bad idea. The only caveat is if your job is one that could be interpreted as "transitional" - if you are an assistant of any type - administrative, organizational, training, etc. Most non-profits realize that there are few opportunities for advancement unless you happen to work at one that is actively growing in some way, and having people move through those jobs as they advance is pretty much the norm. It also depends a LOT on the personalities and relationship of the 2 Executive Directors/Presidents - this is only something you can judge.

If you decide to try for the other job - don't try to keep it a secret. Go and speak to the director at the other org, and then - if it goes well, speak to yours. Tell them the position is too good to pass up, and that you have a desire to advance in your field. Reassure them that you will be as cooperative as possible to ease the transition when you go. If you get the job, you will be working with your old boss at least in some capacity, so don't poison the well. Should the new org decide not to hire you, be prepared to find another position, since your current org may find your replacement before you find another job.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:50 AM on July 14, 2012

I was composing my reply while you were posting your update. Despite not knowing the other ED well, I still think you should speak to him before pursuing the job based upon his position on the board of yours.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:52 AM on July 14, 2012

I'm afraid this probably won't help you much in the near-term, but have you mentioned to your company's president that you'd appreciate some kind of change in your day-to-day? Good managers will find some way to keep a good employee happy, and the president definitely has the wherewithal to make it happen for you. Even if s/he can't/doesn't, if another opportunity like this comes up, your departure won't be quite so out-of-the-blue.
posted by smirkette at 11:46 AM on July 14, 2012

If you trust your company not to be a jerk, then you should do this: Write the non-profit saying you're not actively job-hunting and you love your current organization, but the role looks really interesting and you'd like to talk with them to find out more about it. Include your CV. This is not really 'applying for a job' -- it's just an expression of potential interest.

Generally, you should behave as though your current boss were going to actually read your letter. With organizations this small, you need to assume everything is known to everyone, because it eventually may be. Do not say anything about wanting your candidacy to be confidential: the non-profit won't be able to honour that for you (which means they won't be able to pursue you), and they might think asking is shady.

It may or may not get back to your president. Hardly anybody would spill the beans if they're not interested in you as a candidate, and I'd guess about a third of hiring managers would talk with your president before bringing you in for an interview, depending how well they know him and what kind of relationship they have. Obviously the acting ED will not hire you until he speaks with your president about you, but that might not happen until very late in the process, until and unless he's pretty sure he wants you.

If it does get back to your president, you should be fine, unless he's a jerk. If this got back to me, I wouldn't blame or punish the person. I would probably think about why they were considering leaving, and I might talk with them about it -- but that's a good thing for you, not a bad thing. That assumes your president thinks you're good at your job and wants to keep you around. If he's borderline about you, this might tip him into writing you off. Not firing you, just sidelining you.
posted by Susan PG at 12:54 PM on July 14, 2012

I work at a small nonprofit. Do not do this. It will only bring drama, and this stuff never, ever gets kept quiet.
posted by corb at 9:58 PM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: Didn't do it. My role in the company changed rather suddenly and for the good, and I'm not going anywhere. Thanks for the feedback.
posted by headnsouth at 12:43 PM on October 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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