Pros and cons of making in internal job change
June 14, 2021 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Seeking help about making a job change inside the same company.

I'm a full-time Gadget Admin for a healthcare organization after ~4 years (not a contractor or consultant). In the last month or so, I have absolutely hit the wall in terms of work. I can't express how much I just do. not. care. about any of it. Lack of good top-down strategy has always been a problem, but it just seems overwhelmingly magnified now, and so many problems are really infuriating because they are the fault of poor leadership and lack of foresight and governance over Gadget systems, and defining correct roles/responsibilities for the Gadget staff. (I suppose some may spin this as job security, but I just cannot make myself care.)

However, every now and then, I am asked to help support the Widget Department. It used to come up a lot, and I'd happily jump in since I LOVE that work. I'm actually better than anyone in that department, but it's just not the work I was hired for. They all acknowledge my skill level, and my Widget work always gets massive raves, but again, the Gadget Department is my real job. And it's non-stop work. I never get to work in Widgets anymore because of all the Gadget fires that constantly need put out due to the aforementioned lack of direction etc. and my heart and soul are burned out beyond recognition.

I long for the days where I would hop over to Widgets and dive in, and time would fly by and I'd end the day happy and energized from being in that "flow" state all day long. I was always able to offload my Gadget stress because there was a decent amount of Widget work that gave my soul happiness, and offset the other. But those days are long gone. It's all stress all the time now, with no end in sight.

There's a scenario in which I reach out to the Widget management (who I am on good terms with) to see if a transfer of some kind might be possible. I really believe that a change like that will save my sanity. I would be leaving the Gadget dept. in the lurch, in some ways. But the Widget group is about to launch a major project and I know they would be thrilled to have me. It would mean they would not have to look for an outside hire in an area where there are not many skilled people currently. The Gadget team would be able to offload what I do to others much more easily than the Widget folks would be able to hire someone with my skill set.

If I don't make an internal move, I think I'll have to change jobs, which I don't want to do because, well, $pandemic. The benefits here are good and I can work from home. I'd not expect a raise or anything. I just want to laterally shift to become a full-time Widgeter.

Mefites, have any of you successfully pulled this off? What are the pitfalls and protocols for internal moves like this? How is it best accomplished? Tell me your stories and share your wisdom. Input from manager-types would be great, to get that perspective.
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Since this is an internal switch, you may not be able to do this without involving your old team at some level - but start the discussion with the Widgets team and see how they suggest you proceed. Maybe manager-to-manager would be the better opening gambit in this situation, but Widgets manager may know that better than you.

Be prepared to make the transfer a gradual one, to avoid leaving Gadgets in the lurch. For example: you may work part time for Widgets and part-time for Gadgets for a couple of weeks (20/20 x 2), then 30 Widgets / 10 Gadgets for a week or two. After that point, you would go to Widgets full-time. This gives Gadgets time to find someone to backfill your role, keeps the teams on good terms.

Have your resume polished, though, because Gadgets boss-people may get angry that you're leaving them and they won't let you go without a fight. At that point, you'd pretty much have to start looking for a new job (or stay and go crazy.)
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 10:44 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did this just prior to the pandemic, and for similar reasons as you mention here. I was DONE, all caps, with my previous role, I wanted a change, and I knew there was a team I liked that had some openings in the works. I can't speak to your culture but, from my POV, there is no downside to at least checking it out. I approached the manager of the team I wanted to join as you suggest here, and it sort of went from there. My previous boss was a bit of a block and made the transition stretch out, but we got there eventually. Some companies even have a process laid out for pursuing an internal transfer - if your company isn't super small and has a clear HR department, sometimes it works to go that way too, but I'd start with the manager you mention and frame it up as an exploratory conversation about how to make a move toward widget department long term.

One thing to be prepared for is a drawn out transition between your old and new job. It was a bit challenging for my previous team in the immediate term, and it took some wrangling to get people to stop coming to me for help and looping me in on active projects. That's a natural side effect of continuing to be at the same company - people will hit you up for your institutional knowledge and you may even keep some work in the interim until they replace you. Its generally best to at least be accommodating of some of that for a few weeks as a courtesy. Eventually I had to more firmly back away, but by that point I think everyone felt I had done more than enough to ease the hardship for everyone.

The one thing I will add is, for me, while it was helpful in the short term to move over and certain elements of my new role and immediate team are better, it wasn't a silver bullet. I'm a year and a half in and now I have new issues that look a lot like my old issues, because ultimately I work at the same place, and the culture problems I have been contending with go a lot deeper than my manager or my day to day work. If your issues are very clearly contained to your unit, your outcomes may be different. I'd just be aware of that going in. Either way, I'd do it the same way again even if it just bought me a bit more time to figure out what my big move will be, and you can always look for new jobs and pursue this at once. Change in any direction is good here, especially if you know your current situation is unlikely to evolve.
posted by amycup at 10:57 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I recently did something similar in my own company. I found that the #1 bargaining chip, the only thing that was able to grease the wheels after months (years) of hemming and hawing when I told them at every performance review that I wanted to branch out, was point-blank telling them that I was thinking of leaving and was actively interviewing for Widget jobs elsewhere (YMMV on this; I happen to have a job where it would be very inconvenient for me to be fired on the spot. Others might want to have an actual offer in hand before attempting.) Then I reached out above my front-line management to the manager of Gadgets&Widgets and laid out the situation.

After getting them on board, I then still had to wait until the Widgeteers had an opening on their team (luckily it happened quickly) and then I made the switch, with me supporting the Gadgeteers part-time for a couple weeks in the transition. (I then took a full week of vacation, in order to very pointedly cut off any further Gadget-related work, though I still take a question or two every now and then because it's good to have a reputation for being helpful)

To summarize, I think the things I had going for me were:
1. I was 100% prepared to leave if things went badly, though I very much wanted to stay (and expressed as much to the decision-makers)
2. I reached out to someone (manager of Gadgets&Widgets) who was invested in me staying with the overall organization instead of specifically Gadgets or Widgets
3. Both the Gadgets and Widgets teams were actively hiring (so Gs could quickly adjust to hiring one more candidate, and Ws had an open spot I could fill)
4. There was a period of transition where I was wrapping up Gadgets work while ramping up on Widgets, but I also engineered a clear cut-off in order for the Gadgets team to adjust to things without me.

Overall, it was a very good thing for me - definitely enough to shake me out of my rut in the short-term, and though there are new annoyances and issues with my new role as there is for any job, the fact that everyone was very mature and understanding through the whole process reflected well on my management, IMO, and gives me hope for staying and growing here in the long term. But it all had to start with me being ready to walk away.
posted by btfreek at 11:03 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]

The one red flag I see in your question is "I'm actually better than anyone in that department." That will almost certainly make it easier to get hired by the team, but think through how that will be on a full-time basis. It's one thing to parachute in and be the visiting rockstar, it's another thing on a full-time basis. Will you spend all your time mentoring other people or fixing their mistakes? Will you have anyone to mentor you or for you to look up to? It sounds great to be the highest performer in a department but there are definitely downsides. And then there's the potential that you won't be seen by others as the best - would you be ok with that?

If you do decide to explore this, I'd start with a discreet conversation with the team lead. Make sure they know to be discreet too. Find out who they're trying to hire and on what kind of timeline. As Tailkinker to-Ennien suggested, make a plan with them to broach this with your boss if they're interested in you. Maybe they go to your boss. Maybe you wait until they post it and you go to your boss.

Whatever you do, DO NOT apply without telling your current boss first, unless you have solid reason to believe your current boss might try to sabotage your chances. Telling your current boss is almost always the better route, as it allows them to be in the position of helping you instead of feeling blindsided. (This is the opposite of what you want to do if you're applying externally, of course)
posted by lunasol at 11:13 AM on June 14

I've done it. As a manager I've hired internal employees and lost some to other internal jobs. From the way you describe this it sounds like a no-brainer to pursue it.

A lot will depend on company size. At larger companies this is basically like taking a new job; they have an opening, you take it, and now your old job is the position that has it. There tend to be unwritten rules managers follow in this space, but confusingly they are not the same: some managers will get really defensive and even petty about transfers; some will be eager to see "their" employees move and advance in other areas of the org; some will never take a transfer if the current boss suggests they don't want to lose the employee; etc. In 80% of cases it's fine, but I have seen a small number blocked or delayed.

You definitely want to approach this by talking to the Widgeteers, as you plan to. I've never seen a company where these changes were handled centrally. You want the Widgeteers to say they want you and offer you a spot, and that's what will make everyone else stop procrastinating.

Two things:

- Assume your current management will find out you are looking, even if they don't say anything.

- Have realistic expectations. When you say things like you are "actually better than anyone in that department" and get "massive raves" everyone "acknowledges your skill," assume those things will change once you are working formally. Lots of reasons for this, some petty; but also e.g. now people probably come to you for Widget Tasks that you are specifically very good at, while once you transfer you may find a lot of your job is Widget Busy Work that everyone is equally mediocre at and unmotivated by.

In no way do these comments mean you shouldn't pursue a transfer.
posted by mark k at 11:33 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

I did internally transfer about a year ago, although not quite how you've described it in that my management encouraged me to go for it. My experience is similar to amycup, especially that last paragraph.

There are a couple of things that worry me about your question:

1. You are hinging a lot on being able to make this move, and I think you should be prepared for a couple of scenarios where either they don't want to hire you (for reasons that may not have anything to do with your work) or they aren't able to hire you immediately.

2. You will not be able to unload your Widget stress. There will be Widget stress. Think carefully about how you will manage that.
posted by sm1tten at 11:55 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

Does Widgets have any job openings you can apply for?

I won't tell you about my lateral move because it went as literally nightmare wrong as it could have possibly gone, but you have better odds if Widgets is literally hiring or restructuring or otherwise in need of another body now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:33 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

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