Tread carefully when asking client about job opportunity

Dear Joan:
I have a sensitive problem that I hope you can help me with. I have been a sales rep for a company for over four years. I like my job and I've done quite well here. The problem is that I'd like to work for my client's company.

I have a marketing degree and experience related to this company's business. I've called Human Resources and I was told they don't have an opening, so I'm considering talking to my customer about the possibility of working there.

I've called on this customer for years and we have a pretty good trusting relationship built up and I think I could trust him. He has worked there for more than 15 years and he knows a lot of people.

Do you think I'd be making a big mistake talking to him?

The problem is that you can't predict your client's response. He could be delighted that you want to work for his company and he might try to help you find a job there. Or, he could be upset that you're using him to find a job and he could tell your boss.

No matter what he says, chances are he'll be worried about three things: 1. There is something wrong at your company that is making you want to leave. 2. You are more interested in job-hunting than you are in serving your customers. 3. You will leave your job and he'll have to start over with another sales rep. If you decide to talk to him, you will have to calm his fears about these three things.

First, let's decide if you can trust him. For instance, in past conversations, has he revealed things about others that he should have kept confidential? Has he been straightforward with you? Does he have a righteous, narrow or superior attitude? (If he does, he's more likely to blow the whistle on you.)

Second, is he the kind of person who actively helps his employees and co-workers to get ahead? Has he demonstrated that he can be tactful and political when he needs to be?

If he seems like an honest person who has been open-minded and straight with you, yet political enough to know when to keep his mouth shut, I'd say he is a good risk.

If you decide to approach him, do it outside of the office. Don't use his customer service time to talk about your career. Take him out to lunch and let the conversation wander to family, friends, hobbies...and careers. For instance, "Tell me about your career. How did you get to this job?"

During your conversation about careers, test the water with a tepid comment something like this: "Oh, I like my job and the company very much and I've done very well... but like everybody else, I wonder what my next step should be...I'd like to use my degree and my (company-related) experience.

In fact, I admire your company. Do you think a company like yours would have a need for someone with my background?"

Listen very carefully to his response. If he isn't encouraging, don't push it. If he seems enthusiastic, and asks you several questions about your background, it will be a good sign that he would consider helping you. Assure him that you aren't job-hunting - merely interested in exploring options.

If he seems genuinely interested in helping you, ask him how he would suggest you pursue it. Since there isn't a job available, perhaps he would be willing to keep his ears open for you.

Be careful not to dwell on this subject for too long. If you do, he will suspect that you really are job-hunting in earnest.

Most people get jobs through people they know. If you are careful with this insider, he may be your ticket to your next job.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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