How to Navigate an Internal Job Change

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Career Advancement. Everyone wants to work somewhere that will give them the opportunity for career advancement. We all want to work for a company that has a career trajectory that we can follow. We want the opportunity to learn and grow within the same company. Right?!

Let me set the scene: You’ve been at the same company in the same job for about 18 months. You’re good at your job, you like your co-workers, but you just don’t get excited about coming to work everyday anymore. You’ve hit a little bit of a plateau, if you will.

You can go a couple of different ways here. Some people will automatically start scouring the job boards, trolling recruiters on LinkedIn, and thinking about their next (more exciting) role with a new company.

Other people will complain to their work bestie, roll their eyes every time their boss asks for something, and ultimately grow to HATE their job in the next 6-12 months (more later on making sure this does NOT happen to you).

And yet other people will start poking around inside their current company for new and different opportunities. It can start with simply checking out the career page on your office intranet and seeing what departments are hiring. Then, you’re wandering through different parts of the office hoping to get a glimpse of what life would be like if you made a change. You befriend someone in that department that you meet grabbing coffee and start asking questions about what they do and how they like it. Before you know it – you’ve decided you want to apply for a different job in a different department.

This is what they meant by career advancement, right? You found another thing you’d be really good at and an opportunity to add something new to your resume – win/win! Then why do you feel a little bit anxious about telling anyone on your team and in your department about the possibility of you making a change? Why do you feel like you’re letting your manager and colleagues down?

The answer is two-fold, I’m guessing.

1 – You’re worried that your manager is going to be angry and take it personally that you’re looking for something new. And, whether you make a change or not – they’re going to use it against you.

2 – You’re worried that you’re not qualified for that other role or that there is another internal candidate with more experience and seniority that will be chosen over you. And, now that you’ve put it out there, everyone on your team thinks you’ve checked out and are actively looking for a new job.

So much for the excitement around career advancement, right?

Here’s the deal – it’s pretty infrequent that managers assume that their employees are going to work for them forever. It’s also likely that your manager has aspirations for a different role or opportunity within the organization, too. The most important thing for you here, is how you approach the situation with both your manager and the hiring manager in the other department.

In my experience – you should always, always, always tell your manager that you’re interested in an internal job change before you tell anyone else. You want to control the conversation and the opportunity to tell your story as to why this is the right move (and the right time) for you.

I recommend scheduling a quick 15 minute sit down with your manager (yes, this is an IN-PERSON conversation). Jot down a few notes, as you’re likely to be nervous about their response. Your notes should cover the job you’d like to apply for and why you think you’d be great at it. They also need to include (and I would lead with this) – how much you’ve loved working in this department, how much you’ve learned, and how grateful you are to work for a company that encourages internal growth.  

I would also ask your current manager how they think you should approach the hiring manager for the new role. There is likely a Human Resources procedure for this, but it’s possible that your manager has a closer relationship with your potential new manager than you do. They might know some of their preferences, nuances, and their goals. All valuable information to have when chatting them up, right?!

It’s important that you follow internal procedure to the letter. Chat with HR and fill out the appropriate paperwork/application. Be prepared to be asked for an updated copy of your resume. I probably should’ve led with this – but make sure you are eligible for a transfer. Some companies have different policies around how long you need to work in your current role and certain performance metrics you need to meet before you can make an internal change. You want to be sure you meet those as well!

After you’ve chatted with your manager and covered your bases with HR, you can seek out the hiring manager and let them know that you are applying for a role in their department. If possible, schedule a sit down with this person as well. Not for an interview, but as an opportunity to learn more about them, their vision for this role, and if they have any useful advice or ideas as you go through the internal interview process.

Regardless of whether or not you get the role, all job searching/interviewing/etiquette things still apply. Make sure you dress appropriately for the interview and follow up with and thank all people that you met with. If for some reason you get offered the job, but decide not to take it, you want to be gracious with the people who took time to help you. If you are not offered the job – you need to do the same. You never know when the next opportunity might open up or if someone saw something in you that might be useful in another role.

Overall, remember that it’s your career and that life is too short to spend all of your time in a role that you don’t love or doesn’t challenge you. Most companies would almost always prefer their best employees stay in-house versus leaving to work for someone else! After all, they are the ones that touted that career-advancement was a great benefit to working there, right?!