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Out of college I joined a large, well-known software company's consulting arm. I've gained lots of experience with some of the company's products but would like to start doing more development work rather than implementation work (traveling less would be nice, too!). The company has some product development positions that I think I could be a good fit for, but I'm unsure of how to bring it up with my manager.

After a bit Googling, there are many conflicted answers on how best to handle transferring departments.

When should I tell my current manager that I am interested in pursuing other positions in the company? Before or after applying?

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What is exactly the difference between development and implementation? –  Andrea Oct 19 '12 at 6:40
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Usually, in my experience, the Implementation team are those that go out on site to install/configure the software/system, whereas the development team are the programmers that actually program the applications –  Crollster Oct 19 '12 at 8:19
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@Crollster "go out on site to install/configure the software/system" - isn't that called "deployment" ? –  Adam Dyga Oct 19 '12 at 10:21
    
What do you mean by "after applying". Is it "after applying but before getting the new job (yet)" or "after applying and getting the new job"? –  Adam Dyga Oct 19 '12 at 10:22
    
@Adam Dyga, At an older company I worked for, we called "go out on site to install/configure the software/system" implementation and had a "Implementation Team". (Their title was "Implementation Specialist") Not sure why you are attacking Crollster. –  ROFLwTIME Oct 19 '12 at 16:27
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migrated from programmers.stackexchange.com Oct 19 '12 at 10:26

This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

7 Answers

It depends on your manager's personality and your relationship with him/her. If he is a caring, open person and you have a relaxed, honest relationship with him, it is better to talk about your plans up front - (s)he may even be able to help you find a new role. At the other extreme, if (s)he is more authoritarian, close-minded and sees members of his/her team as subordinates rather than colleagues, you are probably better off postponing your discussion until you already have your new place secured.

Most of the cases are somewhere between these two extremes, and only you can judge where your case falls to.

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I mostly agree with this answer, however I would add, that whenever you plan to move (to another department, or to another subsidiary or branch, or to another company altogether) your first priority is you. You do this for a better life / job for you. So think of you first and evaluate the variants and try to find out which one has the lowest risk for you. This may not be the same with the lowest risk for the company or for your manager. If the lowest risk version for you is not the same with your managers, he well work against you and you will fail or suffer in you attempt to move. –  Patkos Csaba Oct 19 '12 at 8:33
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@PatkosCsaba, I don't see any disagreement between our opinions. –  Péter Török Oct 19 '12 at 9:58
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It also depends on the relationship between your boss and the other manager. If they get along and respect each other then a recommendations could be a postivie thing. Otherwise, telling your boss in advance, even if he wants to help you, could be a disastrous move. This is especially true of corporate managers who like to play a game called "Pass the trash" where they recommend their worst employees highly to someone else in order to get rid of them. If your boss is known for playing this game, the very worst step you can take is get a recommendation from him. –  HLGEM Oct 19 '12 at 13:23
    
Your boss will unquestionably be contacted about your transfer before a place is 'secured'. This means that following this advice will result in your boss finding out about the transfer by formal communication from HR. That's not the way you want this to go down. Absolutely talk to them first. –  DJClayworth Oct 19 '12 at 16:01
    
@DJClayworth, not necessarily. It depends on the relationship of the two (present and future) managers, the company culture, ... –  Péter Török Oct 19 '12 at 16:36
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Unless your company is deeply dysfunctional, the boss of your new job will contact your old boss before they make your new job definite. Therefore if you wait until you have a new job before telling your current boss, what will really happen is that they will find out from your new boss or from HR. This is not what you want to happen. It will certainly annoy your current boss much more than if you had told them yourself.

This is the way it should work:

  1. First talk to your current boss about why you are not happy in your current work. It may be that they can do something about it without having to transfer you. This applies unless your current boss is terrible, or the reason you want to leave is to escape your current boss. If your boss knows at this point (and they should) then the rest of this point is probably irrelevant.
  2. Let's assume you can't talk to your curent boss. When you find a job posted that you like the look of, approach the person advertizing it informally. Make it clear that you are just exploring, and you don't want your current boss involved. Talk to the new boss to find out if there is any reason why you would be ineligible for the new job. See what they think of you. Make sure the job is what you thought it was. They won't be able to definitely offer a job at this stage.
  3. If you still like the job, and they like you, formally apply for it. At this stage you have to tell your boss what you have done. Be nice to them. You will probably need their permission for the transfer.
  4. The rest should be easy.
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In the large companies this is not an uncommon for employees to want to transfer. Sometimes it is to switch job titles, sometimes to switch projects, and sometimes to switch work locations. In many cases this process is started without the current management knowing.

First of all make sure you are allowed to switch. Some companies restrict movement for 6 months or a year if you just moved or were given a promotion.

If your annual review is coming up discuss it then. Don't say you want to switch parts of the company, but talk about options within his department, or within his bosses department. Talk about things that can happen in the next year or two.

Investigate how the company hires from within. Many companies have a career development site on their intranet. Most hiring mangers will not alert your current boss in the first few stages of the process.

Sometimes you can be matrixed to another part of the company for a project. Your current boss is still your boss, but for the duration of the project you support the new project. That can be viewed by the other organization as an audition. Eventually if they see your potential they will ask for you to make the switch. You can tell your current boss that helping the new project will help the company, increase profits, and impress the customer. To find these possibilities use your network of friends within the company to look for positions that may only exist for 6 months or so.

You don't have to tell your current boss that you applied. If the system is setup to allow bosses to fire employees that applied for internal positions the odds are that the organization will always have a lot of turnover, and not for the right reasons.

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Many companies have explicit HR policies regarding internal transfers. You may be required to notify your manager before officially applying for another position within your company. Check the HR policy manual first.

That said, even in companies with this policy a lot of people sort of unoffically look into open positions before "officially" applying (phone calls, lunches, etc.).

You do potentially run a risk when applying for other jobs; your boss may look upon this as a lack of commitment or even a slap in the face. In the worst case, if the transfers don't work out and you stay in your position you may face retaliation or simply be passed over for interesting projects. As other people have said it depends a lot on your relationship with your manager.

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Definitely before. Have a honest talk. If the manager is a nice person he will understand you and maybe even help with the transfer. Or convinces to stay ;)

EDIT due to downvotes and too-short-answer warning, I'll expand my answer but also stress that I'm talking about transferring within the same company, not about leaving the company.

Compare these two situations from manager's point of view:

1) You come to manager and have an open discussion. You explain why you want to change the position. The manager agrees or not, or maybe proposes some solution that makes you both happy (eg. you stay, but get more interesting tasks/payrise). I don't believe any reasonable manager would fire a valuable employee just because of such discussion (of course if it was friendly, not demanding).

2) You apply for another position behind his back. Taking into account that it is the same company, it's likely that he finds out. No matter if he is a nice guy or not, this is probably not going to make him happy. And you better be lucky and get the new position. But since it's the same company, don't expect he will spread good opinions about you.

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I'd say it primarily depends on two things:

1) Your relationship with your boss. How will they react to the news?

2) Your company's policies. Some companies require you to notify your boss.

In any event, there's a pretty good chance your boss is going to find out, so I would err on the side of letting him/her know unless you really think they will take it poorly.

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Your manager should be an important part of your career development. You should sit down with them and explain your goal, that you would like to get into more development instead of implementation, and reduce the amount of travel required. Together you should be able to find a career plan that works for you.

Going around or behind your manager will backfire. The manager will get a call from HR asking about you and in many companies can single handed prevent you from getting a position. So your best strategy is to include them in your planning. The manager likely knows the managers that you will be working under and can grease the wheels to get you there or can make sure the doors stay shut in your face.

Your manager is your boss but he is also there to make sure you succeed. When they help others grown in their careers it helps them grow in their own. If you have a manager that does not realize this it can be more difficult. But you should at least give your manager the chance to help you. If you find they are unwilling to let you go you may have to make a hard choice to leave the company you are with or stick it out. If you work for a large company your manager is likely to be moved in a few years anyway, since large companies tend to shake up their reporting trees to avoid going stale.

In short you are not stuck in your position but you will get much further in your career if you involve your manager in your planning than if you try and go around them.

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Comments removed. Please use comments to clarify and/or improve the post, not for extended discussion. –  Jim Mar 12 '13 at 15:48
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