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It's a small world after all - the politics of changing companies

Q. I want to work for my company's competitor, Company B. They are bigger, in a better location and have more resources than my current employer, Company A. Both of these companies operate in a niche industry and the presidents of Company A and B know each other well, and are actually friends.

I am a very good employee with a solid track record of success, and want to let Company B's president know that I'd like to work for them. But my company's president is so vengeful, that I'm afraid if I do, word will get back to Company A, my current employer, and I'm surely fired.

My question is - can I be fired for expressing my interest in working for a competitor? If so, is my only option to just take my chances that nobody will find out?

A. A few things come to mind immediately. The first is the Disney music to "It's a small world after all", and the second is a great quote "A secret is something only one person knows".

Next, what are your contractual obligations? Do you have a non-compete agreement? Have you signed any other types of employment documents? Non-disclosures? If you need to, consult an attorney before you make any moves.

There are ways to evaluate what the potential success of taking the kind of steps that would be needed to make this kind of move. First I would look at whether there has been any exchange of employees in the past. Has anyone made a move, either way between these 2 companies?

I doubt you are the first person who has compared opportunities. Perhaps no one has decided to take the risk, but if anyone has, and joined the competing firm, you know it can be done. If it hasn't been done successfully that you can see, you can make some inquiries within your own firm to see if any attempts have been made, and what the outcome was.

Retaining your current position will need a commitment to confidentiality. You might also try to have a similar conversation with a contingency or retained search firm who has done any work for the organization. You may also find out that there is some kind of presidential agreement about hands off policies regarding poaching each others employees.

If after your initial research you are still interested in exploring the possibility of jumping from Company A to B, know that your action, if discovered could be seen as disloyal. People have been separated from companies based on similar actions. Also take a look at what your next career step after Company B might be. If you do make a move, or if you are separated, and involved in a new job search, people will be looking at your track record, and the reasons for each job change.

Moving forward in the inquiry stage does not need to start at the presidential level - unless that is who you would report to. I'd suggest starting with a confidential, informal, off-site conversation with human resources. If you can generate an informal opportunity to be at an event or events where you and Company B president will be, without Company A present, or events with colleagues who would be very interested in seeing you have a conversation with Company B president, you can certainly express your extremely positive perception of their firm, their work, the opportunities they provide, and their growth strategy. If the president is duly impressed with what he knows or has heard about you, he may suggest another meeting. If not, you might say "Way off the record, I'd love to talk to you in greater detail. Would that be possible to arrange?" The response you get will let you know whether to back off, or continue to pursue the opportunity.

Stay very aware that every meeting you have generates risk for the security of your current position. Risk and reward often go hand in hand, but not always.

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