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The question:

I have been employed by the same company for the past five years and I am considering looking for a new position in my field, corporate wellness. I was thinking about contacting some of our current clients to see whether they had any positions available. I see this as a great way to find a new position as I work directly with these companies, know the individuals involved in their wellness area, and I feel confident that some would love to have me on their team. However, I am not 100-per-cent sure if this is a professional way to go about it. I wouldn't want to upset my current employer as they have treated me really well but I am ready to move on. If you can provide some advice as to how I might best approach this, it would be really appreciated.

The answer:

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In the eyes of an employer, one of the greatest assets a job seeker can have is a great reference from your current or former employer. It assures companies that, based on your track record, you will "do right" by their organization, too.

So, as you plan your next career move, think about what you have to do to ensure your relations with your current employer remain positive as you part ways.

Consider, too, how you will appear to your current clients if you approach them about a job from your current position. Secretly poaching client lists to get a better job for yourself would be a faux pas. Many companies set up non-compete agreements with employees to protect themselves accordingly.

Having said that, smart employers today know that employees don't sign up with them for life, and that movement within their sector is inevitable. Ultimately, you need to be loyal to yourself.

According to Cornelius von Baeyer, principal at Workplace Ethics Consultancy and former chair of the Ethics Practitioners' Association of Canada, there are two possible routes you can consider.

"Ideally, you would let your current employer know that you are looking for a new challenge, but this would depend in part on the type of relation you have with him or her," Mr. von Baeyer explained. "See the situation from your current employer's point of view – for example, have you worked on preparing someone to replace you when you leave?"

Progressive companies will prefer that you are open and honest with them. Some may even go so far as to give you their blessing to approach your target clients, and put in a good word for you. If they are aware that you are looking for other opportunities, they can also build in adequate time to find a replacement, and have you train him or her before you leave.

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If that approach is not an option, Mr. von Baeyer suggests changing the environment, and thereby the way in which you approach target clients. "Let it be known to others that a change for you may be in order – through a social gathering of professionals, or through a professional organization," said Mr. von Baeyer.

Get the word out, without linking it to your current company directly.

As your career evolves, and you move from one job to another, just remember that your reputation always follows you. In today's transparent and socially wired world, you don't want to burn any bridges.

Julie Labrie is the president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto.

Have a question about careers, labour law or management? Send it to our panel of experts: careerquestion@globeandmail.com Your name and address will be kept confidential.

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