askST Jobs: I want a transfer to another department in my firm. How should I tell my boss?

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askST Jobs: I want a transfer to another department in my firm. How should I tell my boss?

Tay Hong Yi

OCT 24, 2022

Manpower reporter Tay Hong Yi offers practical answers to candid questions in our series on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q. I want a transfer to another department in my company. How should I tell my boss?

A: First and foremost, find out your company’s protocol for an internal transfer, said Mr Paul Heng, NeXT Career Consulting Group’s managing director.

“Most organisations have established policies, so get the support of your current supervisor before you submit your interest to the department you wish to transfer to.

“This mitigates the risk of you upsetting stakeholders, such as by going behind your current boss and getting caught, the consequences of which may be drastic.”

Some bosses may take these overtures personally due to the perceived loss of face, he said.

Whether having the conversation officially or unofficially, being open and transparent about why you are thinking of transferring is crucial, said Ms Kirsty Hulston, regional director at recruitment firm Hays Singapore.

She cited some examples: “Perhaps it is a new challenge with an expanded scope, or it would provide the work-life balance or flexibility you are looking for.

“The organisation’s biggest priority is always to build a workforce that furthers its goals and ensures it is able to navigate the challenges tomorrow brings.

“Help your manager sell your case by explaining how your expertise could add value for the new team and the business in both the short and long term.”

Once you have informed your supervisor, think hard about how to showcase yourself to the hiring manager in your department of choice, said Mr Heng.

This includes thinking about skills, experience, knowledge and even contacts you have that your potential new department could need, he said, adding: “It is usually a case of highlighting (how you fit) what the new job requires, rather than (telling the hiring manager) ‘I want to go over, help me’.”

You need to also ensure your current supervisor will not be left in the lurch by identifying alternative arrangements, such as which colleagues can take over your current job, said Mr Heng.

“From a manager’s perspective, internal transfers can be hugely beneficial in terms of cost, time taken to reach productivity and assurance of cultural fit but could cause resource gaps... that will then need to be filled by hiring externally,” said Ms Hulston.

“Offering to train your replacement and making sure to detail how you intend to create a transition plan to properly hand over your work will go a long way towards building goodwill with your manager,” she added.

If a new hire is needed to take over from you, sitting in at interviews to help your boss suss out the most suitable candidate will also put you in good stead for the desired transfer, said Mr Heng.

He said those seeking a transfer should assure all parties, including the human resource (HR) department, that they intend to make the arrangement benefit everyone involved as well.

“Under all circumstances, the exigencies of the business must always prevail over personal career aspirations,” he added.

If the current boss does not approve of the transfer, even when alternative arrangements have been made and all other parties endorse it, Mr Heng said the employee should “fall back on the company’s policies or practices”.

“Is the current supervisor obliged to accede to the transfer request if all other stakeholders are agreeable? The employee could seek HR’s help to mediate but should not insist as a precedent will be set if the transfer happens because of this.

“The end result is likely to be lose-lose as the employee might decide to further his career in another organisation.”

Mr Heng added: “If all your efforts do not work out, take it in your stride. Be patient, wait for the next opportunity, or even look outside, but the key point is, do not burn bridges.”

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