How to ask for a transfer at work and still be friends with your colleagues

Take these tips for a smoother transition at work.


When Andrea*, 29, a senior customer relations assistant for 10 years, found out about an opening for a public relations assistant, she jumped at the chance to apply for it. “I felt that working in a different department would allow me to better understand the business operations, and would be good for building my portfolio.”

She explains: “I talked to my supervisor before sounding out my general manager, and then I submitted my application and latest qualifications for the new position. Both my bosses were supportive and my general manager informed the HR department that he’d already approved my transfer.

“When the department I was transferring to needed help, my boss relieved me of my current duties so I could help out there. I managed the difficulty of juggling both roles with the support of my managers. The whole transfer process took about two months.”

Your Boss Can Help
As with what Andrea did, experts recommend you first broach your interest for an internal transfer with your boss to avoid creating unnecessary unpleasantness. Melissa Norman, managing director of recruitment consultancy Kelly Services Singapore and Malaysia, says: “No manager appreciates finding out by surprise that a direct employee has applied for another position within the company.”

Whatever your relationship with your boss, your formal request for a transfer should ideally be done after you’ve discussed your intentions with your direct supervisor. “Bypassing your boss shows disrespect and may give him the impression there is mistrust in your working relationship,” says Anthony Ung, country manager of Jobstreet. com Singapore, a job-search website. “This may create a rift between the both of you. The hiring manager may also get a bad impression of your maturity and professionalism. Either way, it might hurt your reputation within the organisation.”

As Andrea found out, her bosses were helpful in paving the way for a smooth transfer. “Your boss could be your sponsor or advocate for the new job,” points out Anthony. “Such moves often proceed smoother with support and recommendation from leaders within the company.” Melissa adds: “Your bosses can also help move your career in the direction you want when they know your plans.”

What If You Don’t Get Along With Your Boss?
If you want an internal transfer because you are unable to manage your boss’ personality or because you have a strained relationship with him, Melissa recommends you bring in your company’s HR department when discussing your plans with your immediate superior. “This ensures the conversation is unbiased and transparent, and that the feedback exchanged will be fair and non-judgmental,” she explains.

However, your reasons for applying for a transfer should still stem from a desire for professional development. “Always try to look at the whole process from a professional standpoint; don’t bring in any personal feelings about your bosses, or their behaviour, into the picture,” says Anthony.

Planning For A Transfer
When considering an internal transfer, think of it in terms of applying for a new job. Will your experiences and skills fit the role and job scope?

You will also need to examine how your experiences have shaped your career. From there, you can then work out how well you’ll fit into the new role. For someone who’s always had a specialised role, you may want to tell your boss or the hiring manager that you’d like to take on different or more responsibilities. Conversely, when transferring into a specialised role, you may want to explain how it’ll help you develop greater knowledge of your field.\

Convince your hiring manager of how your experience has prepared you for the role ahead. “Tell him what you want to gain from the transfer, as well as what the company will gain from selecting you for the role,” says Melissa.

Remember to research as much as you can about the new opening before talking to your supervisor. This way, you will know whether your current skills can be carried over or will be useful to the job you’re looking at. Furthermore, you should also suss out the environment of the new job and whether it’ll suit you.

Serene*, 33, who works in publishing, was in middle management in the same department for five years before asking for an internal transfer. She says: “I got to know people in the department I was looking at, and sought feedback from them about the working environment and the people there. By talking to people, I was convinced that I could easily adapt to the new job.”

Be Proactive
If internal positions are not immediately available, take matters into your own hands – plan where you want to be in the next two or three years, suggests Anthony. Talk to your immediate superior and your HR department to map out the necessary route. Find out the skills or experiences required for the transfer. “Explore available in-house training or seek approval to be included in learning and development or mentoring programmes. Most organisations want to retain their employees, and have these programmes to ensure a talent pipeline within the organisation, says Melissa.

You can also take on or volunteer for more projects and responsibilities to help you gain experience. But only take on as much as you can handle, warns Anthony. “Over-committing can backfire if you are unable to deliver.”

Don’t Burn Bridges
Once you decide to leave, remember you’re going to be working in the same company or even office building. Your reasons for wanting to move should never be used as a way of getting back at your boss or your colleagues, advises Anthony. He points out that in many companies, different departments are routinely required to work together. “Even if your new role has no connection with your previous department, you’ll never know when you will need to work together as a team.”

Besides, there is never a right or an appropriate time to request for a transfer. You shouldn’t ask too soon, though. Melissa recommends you stay in your position for at least a year, so you can demonstrate your competence and show that you can be successful in what you do – this is helpful in building your career portfolio and in proving your case to the hiring managers.

Perhaps the only right time to ask for an internal transfer is when you think there is an opportunity for you to further your career and grow as a professional, says Anthony. “Keep your eyes and ears open for positions that can provide you with more responsibilities or an area in which you are interested in pursuing.”

A Fresh Start... Or Not?

Transfers are not meant to help you start afresh or absolve you of a bad record. If you have a bad reputation in your company, fix it before asking for a transfer, recommends Anthony. “Otherwise, the hiring manager will be unlikely to consider you. Or worse, if you leave your department on bad terms, no one would want to support or work with you.”

What happens if you do transfer and the job doesn’t turn out to be what you wanted? Can you get your old job back? It is highly unlikely your previous position will remain vacant for long. Your HR department will look for your replacement once you bring up your intention to move. Anthony points out: “Most importantly, wanting to return to your previous position will hurt your reputation as you may be perceived as being unable to perform.”

If Your Request For A Transfer Is Unsuccessful
It’s important to remain professionally mature: don’t mope, complain or quit in bitter silence after an unsuccessful transfer attempt. It will not reflect well on you. Melissa says: “While you may feel unfairly treated and wonder why the successful candidate was chosen over you, your reaction to this speaks loudly of your professionalism.”

Your employer will also value your resilience when faced with disappointment or adversity. It shows you are capable of being a leader. Not being able to get the transfer doesn’t mean you are not valued by your company.

“Talk to the hiring manager as his feedback may help you work on your shortcomings so that when another opportunity arises, you will be ready to grab it,” advises Anthony.

Bernadette*, 35, an investment analyst, had been with her company for three years when she decided to apply for an opening overseas. “I didn’t make the cut with my first application. When I asked my hiring manager for feedback, he said it was because I didn’t have the expertise necessary to handle the demands of an entirely different clientele.

“It was disappointing, but having this information gave me something to aim for and spurred me on. So I started taking on challenging accounts, and two years later, when the same position opened up again, I was prepared. I had built a solid portfolio and client recommendations to back me up. And I managed to convince the hiring manager to take me on.”

This article was originally published in SImply Her February 2012.