how can I network with a potential employer in front of my boss and coworkers?

A reader writes:

I’ve worked at a very small non-profit for nearly 2.5 years. It was my first “real” job out of college and I’ve learned a ton. I’m ready for a new challenge because I’ve realized that I will never move up within this organization – it’s simply too small and there’s nowhere to go!

I had a preliminary interview with an HR manager last week who said speaking with me was like “hitting a home run.” She forwarded my information to the hiring team, who will be in touch hopefully this week if they’re interested – first for another phone interview, then an in-person interview in another state. Good, right? The position would be a Project Manager at a much larger (national!) non-profit. Here’s where it gets tricky. Coincidentally, a Project Manager from this organization is visiting my current employer late this week to do a workshop with the youth we serve. I’ll be there, as will my coworkers, my boss and lots of other people involved in the process.

I feel like it would be beneficial to make a connection with the Project Manager while she is here – i.e. let her know I’ve applied for a job with the organization and made it through the first round of interviews. Is there any way to do this while not raising any of my coworkers’ eyebrows? No one knows I’m job hunting/planning to leave. If I am able to talk with the Project Manager, how could I make our conversation most beneficial?

I would send the project manager an email ahead of time, tell her that you work at ____, where she’ll be this week, and let her know that you’re in the interview process for a job with her organization and would love to speak with her if she has some time while she’s in the area. Be sure to say that your current employer does not know that you’re thinking of leaving, and tell her that you’d appreciate her discretion in that regard — but that if she has some time for coffee or lunch while she’s around, you’d love to get the chance to talk with her.  Do not bury the “they don’t know this yet” part — you want to make sure she doesn’t overlook that!

If you’re able to talk with her privately while she’s there, I’d ask her about the work she does and the culture of the organization. She has the same job title as the position you’re applying for; if she does the same work you’d be doing, this is a great opportunity to pump her with questions about what the work is like. (And be sure to make a good impression, as you can assume that she’ll relay her impressions back to her office.)  Good luck!

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    It's pretty ballsy to follow AAMs advice. If I was your boss I might fire you if I caught you soliciting jobs when you should be working. I would wonder how many other times I've paid you to job hunt. And, you might make the project mgr worry about the same thing. AAM should have pointed out that the only ethical way to do this would be to do it during your lunch or off the clock so to speak. The best thing you can do is show her how good you are at your current job.

  2. Ask a Manager*

    Hmmm, I might agree if she was asking for an hour meeting in her office. But I suggested she ask to meet for lunch or coffee, not in the office, so I think she's safe from the charge that she was doing it "on the clock."

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