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I know that most times when we think about switching jobs as the next step in our careers, we only consider moving to a new company. However, sometimes, we actually really like the organization we currently work at. It may be that our values align with theirs, we believe in the company mission, we like the culture, or we are simply waiting for our stock options to vest completely, but we would prefer to work in a different role or team in the organization. How can you make this move?
Personally, at two of the three companies I have ever worked at, I have switched roles internally. Sometimes, even switched teams and got new managers. The first company, I joined straight out of school as a social media associate; then, I saw the data science team and was intrigued by the field. So, I made the switch to being a data science intern and subsequently got promoted to junior data scientist. After some months, I switched to a technical product manager role, still at that company, although this was influenced by my manager then. After a few months of being a product manager, I wanted something different and took up a position at the next company. I joined as a data journalist and held that role for a few months before switching to a data scientist on the Engineering team, and finally moving teams and joining the Products team still as a data scientist. Making these moves internally was very instrumental in my career growth and they were one of the best decisions I have made work-wise.
This article was inspired a few weekends ago when I had a call with someone who started learning cloud engineering earlier this year. He currently works in digital marketing and was asking if he could pitch to the organization to switch to a cloud engineering role after he gets his certification.
Are you in a similar situation and think this is the next step for your career?
In this article, I will outline a few steps you can take when trying to make a role switch internally, be it within a startup or a bigger organization. It varies by company, role, and industry, but these tips are generic and could be tweaked to your specific case and applied successfully.
Eight steps to take in switching job roles internally
- Build relationships: Although this is something we should always do in the workplace, it is even more pertinent when you decide to take on a new role internally. One of the importance of these relationships is that they could help create awareness. You want as many people as necessary to know you’re looking for a new role internally, you also want them to attest to your skills, work ethic, and values, and they could also connect you to your next manager or team.
An important relationship that I think is helpful is having an internal sponsor. This article explains why having a sponsor at work is critical so I won’t dive into that further. A sponsor differs from a coach or mentor because while the latter is actively involved in your self-development and guides you, a sponsor is the one that mentions your name in rooms that matter–where key decisions are made. Your sponsor could also play the role of your mentor, but they don’t have to be.
- Identify the company’s need: As much as we desire to make an internal switch, we must align our desires with the company’s business needs. Start by identifying a need for the company that you could solve by filling the new role. It could be that you want to make the switch internally from software development to technical writing. You could take a look at the company’s documentation (if they have one), and see how it could be improved; or if they don’t have documentation yet, that is a need you have identified.
- Highlight how the change benefits the company: Now that you have identified the need, you need to clearly highlight how making this switch will be of benefit to the company or the new team. It could be that stepping into this new role could achieve a short-term goal like increasing the output of the new team, or even long-term goals, like setting up entirely new infrastructure to collect logs and this might take months to actualize. It helps to make sure that these benefits feel relevant to the decision-makers and align with their vision at the time.
- Draft a proposal: After identifying the need of the company or a specific team and how the new assignment could solve this need, the next step is to make a plan or proposal. If you desire to go the extra mile, you can actually come up with a simple Proof Of Concept (POC) outlining the need, and how the need could be met by you. If you have a relationship with a colleague in that area or that team, you can run this by them to get their thoughts, suggestions, and friendly feedback before approaching the manager. This is another example of where building relationships helps.
- Get the necessary skills: When you come up with the proposal or POC, or even from speaking to other colleagues, you might notice that you are lacking some of the necessary skills needed for the new role. You should come up with a plan to acquire these skills. You can either liaise with the manager to provide you with some necessary training to help you excel in the new role or you could take the necessary training yourself. The goal is to upskill to be the best-placed candidate for the role, even though the switch is internal. You want to put your best foot forward and actually deliver.
- Start working on smaller tasks: Another tip is to pick up additional tasks, preferably low-hanging (easy to complete and not very demanding), high-reward tasks, on the new team, or in the capacity of this new role you desire. If there is already someone or a team in that area or doing something similar, you can offer to help them with basic tasks too. Again, this is you going the extra mile, but it is helpful especially if you have some spare time. This is a good way to get a hang of what actually goes on in that role and gauge if you really enjoy it, before deciding to make the big move. It is also an avenue for you to show your skills in that area and will help you ramp up quickly in your new role if you do eventually make the switch.
- Collect data to show the impact so far: Assuming you were able to get some hands-on experience either by taking on additional tasks, testing out the POC, or supporting someone in a similar role, be sure to keep your receipts. Keep a well-detailed document or sheet of the impact of your recent work. How has it improved the company’s business in line with its goals, or helped improve team performance in any way?
- Convince your current manager: Changes can sometimes be difficult. No manager wants a reduced headcount, especially if you do very good work and are of value to the team. However, it is helpful to try and get your current manager on board in this transition phase. They could put in a good word for you, actually recommend you, or even just let you know of open opportunities. I think this step is easier if you work in a company or on a team that values honest regular communication and is actively invested in your personal goals as well.
Personally, I usually have regular 1-on-1 meetings with my managers, typically weekly, where we constantly talk about my goals, how my day-to-day tasks tie into that, what I could do more of, where I need improvements, etc. The progression of these meetings over time makes it easier for me to bring up switching roles internally. This is usually because this is not entirely new to them as they most likely are aware of tasks I am more inclined to at the time.
After switching, what next?
Now, you are probably in a new team or just holding a new role in the same team, and this comes with some responsibility. You should not expect to just ride on the wave of all the work you did in your previous role, however amazing. Be willing to put in the work in this new role too. It might be a bit challenging, especially if it was a huge transition for you or in a different specialization, and you might feel like a fraud sometimes, but remember that management hired you because they thought you could do it.
Be open to asking for help, ask questions, and be proactive in making connections with the people you work closely with now.
One worry that some people share is how to explain this switch in their careers. If in the future you are interviewing for a role in a new company and they ask about that internal switch, be genuine and honest. Tell your story, why you thought to make the internal role switch, how you did it, and the results afterward (hopefully, positive). Be prepared and know your numbers when presenting your impact. Also, don’t bash or downplay your previous role.
It is totally okay to outgrow a role, get bored, or just want something different or more challenging, however, the role was not entirely bad. It was good for a time and served its purpose. You learned some skills, gained applicable experience, and it was a stepping stone to your next role. Acknowledge that.
In this article, we have walked through what to do if you are considering exploring a new role in the same organization that you work at currently and what to do after getting into the new role. I hope this is helpful to someone who either feels stuck in their current role and desires a new challenge, or someone who wants to explore a slightly different career, or even step up to more responsibility.
If you are currently at this phase, I wish you success in making the switch. If there are any other career-related topics you would like me to write about, please suggest them as a comment below or send an email to me at contactaniekan at gmail dot com.
Thank you for reading.
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