I got an email the other day from someone feeling frustrated by their current job. “My boss won’t let me transfer,” they told me.” And I don’t know what to do.”
I connected right away, because the same thing once happened to me. In fact, it was one of the turning points in my career. A time when I let my emotions take over. But oh the lessons I learned!
“Boss won’t let me transfer” story
In the beginning
My second job out of grad school, I got a job doing financial analysis for a major record company. The first job (in a bank) was boring as heck. And I couldn’t wait to get to something more interesting.
Then someone I knew from school told me about the record company opening in their finance department. I jumped at the chance to get my foot in the door — and get paid. Best of all, it was a well-known company with lots of room to grow.
Sure, this particular job wasn’t the most exciting. But it was my way to use actual “transferable” finance experience to get into the music business. And a way to connect to others who could eventually help me move to more interesting career opportunities.
And then 10 months later
Having done my best in the job I had, I was ready to move on. My plan was to take my earned “goodwill” and search for a new job in the same company. And I found one. A great one!
I had a chance to move from finance to marketing and work as a product manager for our Paris office. A dream job. But the finance VP didn’t want to let me leave before my year was up.
In fact, he made a new rule saying no one could transfer until they worked in a job for TWO years. If I wanted to stay with the company, I’d have to do the same boring job for another year plus.
So, after throwing a few apoplectic fits, I quit. Without another job. This is NOT the way I’d suggest you handle things. But I was young and had a lot to learn about corporate politics, smart career growth, and reality.
NOTE: What I learned afterward
The one thing I couldn’t know was that the VP of marketing and VP of finance had recently broken up. And there was no way he, the finance VP, was going to let me go to HER, the marketing VP.
Turns out that none of it was really about me. But it sure felt all about me at the time. Lesson learned? There’s often more going on behind the scenes than you know!
How to handle boss transfer issue
Jumping ship (especially without a life raft), isn’t always the smartest move. Before making any rash career moves — or taking it too personally — it pays to look at the situation objectively.
Some reasons boss won’t let you transfer
- You’re too valuable to the department.
- Boss is a power-mad bully.
- Hiring & training a new replacement takes too long.
- There are political reasons you’ll never know about.
- You haven’t been with the company long enough yet.
- Boss doesn’t like you & won’t support your growth.
- Your boss may think / know you’re not right for the new position.
Things you might try to help
If it’s only about the boss and his or her need to control 100%, there may not be much you can do. Even if the other department really wants you, a determined boss can stop you from transferring. Or at least try hard to do so.
But, rather than rushing out the door with or without a new job, there might be some things worth trying first. As I learned, what feels oh so urgent in the moment, might be worth waiting for. And strategically planning for.
- Even somewhat controlling bosses can be won over, especially if they are part of your decision. It pays to include them in your thinking and offer to train the new person fully. Make sure they know it’s not about THEM, but your own career development.
- If the answer is no, keep the conversation open with your boss and try again in the future. Yes, you missed this one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t network in the meantime. And create a stronger support foundation for your next step.
- Meanwhile you build the best reputation you can where you are. And keep building connections and skills that fit your next career move.
What about going to HR?
In my post Why Is HR So Useless When You’re Being Bullied? I gave you some reasons why HR might not be your best ally. But when it comes to transfers within the company, if the company policy allows it, they may be a real asset.
At least, it’s worth speaking with them about the transfer. Tell them why this fits into your career development path within the company. They may have some insight into the situation — and know ways to help.
While there are no guarantees they won’t be on your boss’s side, it’s worth weighing your risk vs potential reward. Just factor in the type of boss you have and how likely they are to respond negatively.
And whatever you do, don’t bad mouth your boss — that can get around to him as well as other possible bosses. Just ask for help / guidance.
In case you do need to leave
All that said, you may decide you are not going to keep working for the same boss who won’t let you transfer. Maybe there’s reason to hang around and keep trying, but maybe it is time to leave.
If so, brush up your resume and LinkedIn profile so they point to where you want to go NEXT. And start networking!
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