Your Career Q&A: Moving On Up

By Martin Yate Dec 22, 2015
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This week’s Your Career Q&A column deals with the sometimes-thorny issue of how to go about applying for a new job within your company. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I’ve applied for a job opening within my current department that I’m a great fit for, but I don’t think my boss wants me to change jobs since there isn’t anyone who can replace me internally. I’ve had the same job for eight years and I’m ready for a change. But a week after I applied, the job description for the open post changed to include “master’s degree preferred”—which is a degree that I don’t have. Should I talk to my boss about it, even though I know she wants me to stay put?

Elissa, Roanoke, Va.

You have proven yourself a competent, reliable and valuable employee over eight years, so there is nothing wrong with wanting a change. But to achieve your goals more easily, let’s look at the politics of professional growth.

By applying for another job within the same department without your boss knowing about it, you may cause him or her embarrassment with management. On top of this, the department head is faced with replacing a reliable known quantity (you and your job performance) with someone unknown, while leaving your boss in the lurch.

When you have a good working relationship with your boss, it’s always sensible to have an ongoing conversation about how to deepen and broaden your skill sets. I think the first step here is to talk to your boss about the situation, and you might consider opening with an apology for moving forward without the two of you discussing it first.

Explain why you want a change and ask for support in your quest for professional growth. At the same time, you should address who might replace you or how a replacement would be found, making clear the role you would be willing to play in helping a newbie get settled in.

You owe it to yourself to pursue what’s best for your life and career, and if at the same time you can enlist the support of your manager by showing that you are committed to helping with the replacement process, that can make this sort of change easier to accomplish.

This also plays into another consideration: The people who achieve the greatest professional success tend to be people who work well with others and feel themselves to be part of a special team. How does this pan out over the years? For your boss to move up, she needs to have a replacement lined up to make her promotion possible without leaving behind a vacuum created by her absence. By building a supportive relationship with your manager, you can help fill the vacuum that would result with your own ascent. This is part of managing up, and it’s partly why the people at the top of their professions all seem to know each other.

Martin Yate is a New York Times best-selling author and has worked as a Silicon Valley headhunter, director of HR at a publicly traded technology company, and director of training and development at a multinational employment services franchisor. His company, Knock ’em Dead, delivers professional resume and coaching services.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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