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The question

My industry is extremely small. Everyone knows everyone. I would like to apply for a job with a competing agency, but I’m afraid they’ll talk to my current employers and tell them that I’m thinking of leaving. What’s the best way to navigate switching jobs when I work in a small industry?

The first answer

Keira Torkko, chief people officer, Assent Inc., Ottawa

First, be sure to take care of yourself. You should review your employment agreement for any legal requirements that could affect your departure strategy. Get legal advice if you have questions, especially because the enforceability of non-compete clauses has undergone changes in the last few years.

There are a few other considerations to keep in mind depending on your current situation:

  • Can you connect with anyone who can provide you with insight into the competing agency? Insider intel can help you make a more informed decision before you choose to apply and/or make a switch.
  • Why are you considering leaving your current role and moving to another one? Is there something missing in your current role that you are looking to find elsewhere? If so, talk through these gaps with your manager. They may be able to close that gap for you. And if not, your organization won’t be blindsided when you make a change as you’ve already shared what is important to you.
  • Have you thought through worst-case scenarios? What would happen if they did call your current employer? It can open a further conversation about gaps in your current role and/or provide an opportunity for your employer to try to keep you. We often anticipate the worst, but job changes are a part of business. Anticipate what will happen and prepare accordingly.
  • Is the industry really as small as you think? You may have transferable skills that expand beyond a few agencies. And with remote work being much more common, the opportunities are broader. Use LinkedIn to help broaden your search.
The second answer

Jasmine Leong, people and culture lead, StoryTap, Vancouver

I can recognize that this is an extremely stressful position to be in. Firstly, I’d check your employment contract that you had signed prior to joining your current company. Do you have a non-compete that prevents you from applying for this company, because this seems to be a niche industry?

If you are cleared to proceed, I would recommend you network carefully. Is there someone on the hiring team or within the company you can reach out to in confidence to learn more about the role instead of just applying online? This way, you can build relationships through an informational interview first. I would suggest explaining that you are currently happy at your position and not actively looking for work, but a particular position really piqued your interest and you’re curious to learn more.

This strategy allows you to explain your current status more clearly, with your own words – and is much better than receiving your application and being able to jump to conclusions. As a byproduct, you will also have a better chance at proceeding to the next stages of the interview process, as they are already aware of your application.

Another way you can approach this is to inform your manager first about your potential job search. While this option may not be comfortable or available to everyone, this type of transparency is often valued and would be a great way to avoid potential conflicts down the road as you search for a new role. Good luck.

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