Dear J.T. & Dale: I am in discussions with a prospective employer. They have asked for a letter from my current management or HR/legal department stating that there is no “conflict of interest” in me pursuing employment with them. That’s because they continuously get business from my current company. I don’t want to jeopardize my job, but I am very interested in bigger things with the other company. Advice? Do you know how to change jobs without burning bridges? – Sam
DALE: Ayyyy… this is one of those situations that’s like asking your best friend if it’s OK to date his ex-wife – even if he says it’s OK, it’s not OK.
Corporate example: Early in my career, I worked for a Fortune 500 company. One of our consultants and I became friendly, and we started talking about me working for him. He went to the head of my division and got permission to hire me. I started the new job, and all was fine – until the company president heard what had transpired and declared that the consultant would get no further assignments, ever, saying, “We can’t set a precedent that it’s acceptable for a supplier to cherry-pick our employees.” Thus did my new employer lose its biggest client, touching off a financial death spiral. The result? I had to hurriedly find another job.
J.T.: However, if you are determined to pursue the other company, tell them that you will ask your employer for the permission letter only AFTER you receive a written job offer. Tell them that they can make their offer contingent on you getting the permission letter, but get the offer in writing. That will mean one less risk.
DALE: Asking for a written offer will, I feel certain, put an end to the discussion. After all, the company you want to work for wants you to get a letter to cover them, and giving you a written offer is creating proof that they’re pursuing one of their client’s employees, thus uncovering them. It just isn’t worth the risk, on either side.
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