What's your problem?

There is not the remotest chance of keeping your job application quiet, so don't even think about it.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Q: I work in the small world of architecture, where loyalty is prized. After five years at my present firm, I'm looking to move on. My dream job has come up at a rival practice, and I'm desperate to apply. However, the person I would have to send the application to is an extremely close friend of my current boss, and the two of them lunch at least once a month.

If my boss finds out I'm planning to defect, he will be furious, and if I don't get the job, my life here will be a misery. Can I apply for the job and plead for them to keep my application quiet? I'm worried I will seem paranoid or deceitful.

A: It's not often that I can give advice with absolute certainty, but I can here. There is not the remotest chance of your keeping such an application quiet, so you shouldn't even think about trying to.

From what you tell me, your current boss is a bit of a tyrant. He seems to be one of those obsessives who believe that if you're not totally with them, you're against them. My guess is that he would be totally unforgiving when he discovered that you'd gone behind his back; and the fact that you'd applied to one of his closest friends and rivals would drive him to new extremes of unreason.

Having established what not to do, I'm afraid I can't see a single risk-free course of action for you. Unless you decide to stay put, or apply for another job altogether, all you can do is tell him the truth. Your dream job has come up - and it's better than your present job in certain specific ways. Is there any chance of your taking on similar responsibilities (with equivalent reward) with him, in his company? Because that would be your ideal.

How your boss reacts to this suggestion will tell you a lot; and it may well be a lot of what you'd rather not hear. But you're confiding in him and flattering him, and he can't reasonably accuse you of disloyalty or deceit.

Q: I've just returned from a three-year posting to Singapore. Before I left, my employer promised that I'd be promoted on my return, and that I'd be staying in Britain for a while. However, the story has now changed and although I've been offered a promotion, it means spending three years in Tokyo. I feel cheated, and my wife, who's expecting our first child, is not pleased. Can I insist that my employer stick to the original promise of a UK-based promotion, or will the company mark me out as a troublemaker?

A: You've given me all the relevant facts about your problem, but I have very little sense of the feeling. For example, when you were told that the original promise of a stint in the UK wasn't going to be honoured, was your employer at all understanding and apologetic? Or were you simply told that, like or lump it, you were going to be despatched to Tokyo instead?

The difference between these two approaches is more than a question of manners. It strikes at the heart of your relationship with your company and just how highly your employer rates and values you.

From your understandable indignation, I sense that it's all been peremptory and insensitive. When you say 'the story has now changed', you even imply that they've chosen to forget their earlier commitment altogether and are pretending it never happened.

If that's the case, I don't like the sound of it at all. They seem to think they can renege on promises and push you about at will; and that - whatever the implications for yourself and your family - you'll put up with just about anything for the sake of the pay cheque.

So I very much doubt if there's much to be gained from your 'insisting' that the original deal be honoured. Instead, I suggest you make another serious attempt to talk this problem through with your immediate boss.

Your approach should be eminently reasonable; you should give him every chance to explain why such a change of plan was necessary and to show some real sympathy for your predicament. Unless he's a consummate liar, you'll be able to judge with some precision just how you rate in your company's eyes.

In the absence of any convincing reassurance, your choice will become brutally clear. If you are confident of finding an equally good job in the UK, you should start looking now. I very much hope you are, because although three years in Tokyo might prove to be less of an ordeal than you fear, the way you've been bounced into going there will rankle with both of you for a long time. With your first child on the way, a contented home life is more important now than ever.

Q: I've recently switched from doing in-house PR for the charity sector to a similar job for an international bank. Although my management and PR skills are pretty good, I'm shocked to realise how little I know about banking. I'm finding it hard to pick it up as I go along, but there is a culture here of not admitting to weaknesses or ignorance, so I'm terrified to tell anyone that what I really need is a crash course in banking. I can't carry on as I am. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Come clean immediately. In a few months' time it will be too late. Whatever the culture, you're still a newcomer. You won't be fired now for wanting to become more effective at your job. But you might be, this time next year, for making a crucial mistake as a result of basic banking ignorance.

- Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of both the Guardian Media Group and WPP.

Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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