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Career Advice

One-to-One: My manager is blocking me from applying for another job


Hello there,

Your advice on the following would be truly appreciated.

I am working for a big company in a specific department (and for a certain brand) for almost 10 years now. I have grown within the company and gained a lot of experience / expertise in this sector. I really like my job, my team, my boss but I need a change.

Last week, I saw an internal job posting about a position in a different sector of the company. I dared to discuss it with my manager since this was an opportunity to follow my desired career path and move internally in a different position (and also change brand category).

However, her response was ambiguous: “I am totally supportive, but the upper management has aspirations for you and your present post. I’m afraid that if you apply for the other job and don’t succeed, then they’ll be left with the impression that you are not happy with us and your desire to “change” may cost you a future opportunity”.

Should I feel guilty that I expressed this desire for change? Shouldn’t companies support internal movements, even if this means that they will be forced to find a replacement? And, finally, do you think my managers will be biased when it comes to future opportunities if I do apply for the job?

Thanks in advance.


Moonshot answers:

I will start with the most important point, which is that there is only one right, natural way to respond to your manager:

‘Can you be more specific about these aspirations for me and my position? Are they specific plans, timeline so that I can take them into consideration?’

You have every right to know and her answer to that will help you understand whether there is any truth in her saying and will give you more information regarding the decision you have to take.


Never feel guilty for ambition

But, as you raise the issue from many perspectives and the question touches upon a number of topics, I would also like to say that:

You should NEVER feel guilty for wanting something and especially not in the business environment: people have jobs in order to earn money and careers in order to grow, develop, learn more skills. And more skills qualify for higher salaries and higher positions. This is the business world and that is why you are there; your wish for a better job should never be overruled by someone else’s convenience or opinion.


Your career, your responsibility

Having said that, the responsibility for growing your career and making the right choices lays solely with you and unfortunately no one else has an obligation to help. No matter how good a company or a manager is, they have their own agenda, their own priorities and -even if we assume their moral integrity- their responsibility to take care of a bigger part of the business is more important to them than the career path of every single employee. So I am afraid, low chances of getting help from them.

Now, regarding internal movements specifically, in theory companies support employees’ career development and it is to the company’s benefit to try maintaining great talent in their racks by encouraging internal mobility – But the unfortunate truth is that this rarely happens in practice:


Managers have complex agendas

Managers are rarely happy to lose good people and this is actually the reason why several big companies have changed their internal mobility policy so that employees do not have to inform their manager when applying for another internal job, unless they reach the final selection stage.

So, no one else can make this decision for you, but these are the parameters that I would like you to consider:

You should not expect or emotionally need your manager’s approval in order to apply for another job. It is though to your best interest to work on getting her cooperation (especially now that you have told her already):

  • Make clear both to her and her superiors that she is not the reason why you want to move (managers are more scared of that than you can imagine);
  • Be firm about the fact that you want to climb the ladder and pursue higher positions and not that you just ‘want a change’ or that ‘you desire another career path’ (your manager had a point there that this can sound like a rejection or an insult to your current team).
  • Find out what the company’s policy is for these cases: if you are allowed to, apply for the job without telling your manager and update her only if there is a specific reason for doing so (aka they made you a offer you want to accept). Explain to HR and to the interviewers that you do not wish to harm your current position, if nothing comes out of this situation and ask them to warn you if they plan to ask your manager for feedback, so that you can plan accordingly.

Now, finally, as to whether this will cost you a future opportunity within your department. There are of course no guarantees in life and noone can predict the future, but I highly doubt it – in my experience the most common outcome is the opposite:

  • People leave positions, even the company altogether, in order to come back later at a higher level, because in most cases this is easier than climbing the ladder internally (for many reasons).
  • People who seat quietly in their positions and wait to be rewarded based on promises, rarely achieve so.
  • Your manager is fully aware that retaliation is something that it is heavily frowned upon in companies and something easily traceable – I would be extremely surprised if the ‘upper management’ agreed with that statement, or whether they care about your feelings at all.
  • Last but not least, how can you be certain that both or either your manager or the upper management will still be there when the time for ‘the future opportunity’ comes?


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