Pursuing an internal transfer an investment bank can appear so complex and daunting that many people ultimately choose not to even bother pursuing the opportunity. Do not let this happen to you. Successfully executing an internal move can be a career game-changer: it can offer you the opportunity to work in another country, fasttrack a promotion, and at the very minimum, broaden your experience set.
If you're motivated by the right reasons and you execute carefully transfering internally is usually worth the risk.
Understand where you are going
Before you even consider attempting to pull off an internal move, do your homework on the prospective role. Whilst being discreet, ask as many questions as you possibly can to people actually on the team and to people working laterally with the team.
If, as is usually the case, the team is somewhat related to what you currently do, try to come up with a project that you can collaborate on. This will allow you to get closer to them and to demonstrate your value. If the move is international, try to find a reason to go to that country. Find out, as honestly as possible, what your new boss is like. The more you know the more informed your decision will be whether to pursue the internal opportunity at all. Understanding the structure and political backdrop will be important when it comes to interviewing for the role; knowing who else may want the role, or who might be threatened by you, will all help you navigate the process.
Demonstrate an interest
In a perfect world, you would speak to your boss about the opportunity and then ask for permission to apply for the role. However, in the real world, this can backfire very quickly, especially if there is no ultimate desire to hire you. That is why you need to ascertain if there is any interest in your candidacy. If the hiring manager has not approached you, you are left with two options. You can be brave and lay it all out on the table by speaking to them directly or more preferably you can try to get a confidant of theirs, whom they respect, to petition on your behalf.
There is no right option here; it is usually a matter of circumstance. I have seen many people successfully do both in my career. No one can speak more passionately about your qualities and fit for the role than yourself, but a certain level of distance can also help with manage existing relationships and sensitivities. If you go direct you run the risk that your boss finds out about your interest in moving before you speak to them. This could kill the move before it has even been considered (irrespective of fit).
Information lockdown is key. This is not a subject that you want widely discussed. The only people you actually want to be discussing this with are your current boss (in the early stages) and the hiring manager.
The less people who know the better. Seek counsel externally from friends and family and internally only from trusted mentors (ideally somewhat removed) whether a move is even feasible in their opinion.
Perfecting the timing of a transfer is a particular critical factor too. It has to be right from both perspectives. Be sure that there is concrete demand from the new team and if possible try to think about candidates to replace you.
Deliver the message
Even though it may be true, if you can avoid your boss knowing that you were proactively pursuing another role, it will be helpful. No boss wants to know that their employee was actively trying to leave them. Clearly there are circumstances when this cannot be avoided, e.g. your spouse is being transferred to another country.
You do not need to be deceitful. If you are able to get the prospective hiring manager to ask for formal permission from your boss to speak to you about the role, this will serve you well in the event that a deal falls through. This will also make it extremely difficult for a boss to deny you that opportunity. When speaking to your current boss about the role for the first time, also try to refrain from listing all the reasons why you think the move makes sense, but rather ask them openly what they think. Appear genuinely interested in their views. Hopefully they will give you a insightful an unbiased opinion.
Prepare to fail
In my experience many more internal transfers fail than are actually successful. This is why it is so critical to maintain a positive relationship within the current team/management structure, as well as ensuring that you are not letting your own standards of work slip - just in case you end up in the incumbent role for a prolonged period of time. Patience is critical. I have seen some internal moves happen almost over night, but I have seen most engineered over many months or even years.
Like many facets of banking, the more preparation and planning you put into this the better your chances of a positive outcome. Even if it's not successful, a well-executed plan will put you on the radar for future moves and will demonstrate the wider demand for your talents. Best of luck!
Peter Flower is the pseudonym of a senior banker in Europe
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