It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job. Ticking the job description boxes is not the key to doing well. Rather, your career is defined the career moves you make and how well you time them.
Sometimes however, your colleagues and bosses have other ideas. Especially if they feel you will be hard to replace, or if they have mentored you and developed a strong relationship with you over time.
They know that if you are enticed by a generous alternative, you’ll set in motion a game of banking “musical chairs”, and they have no desire to be left looking for a seat at the end of it all, especially if you’re sitting pretty with a nice promotion and a pay rise at one of their competitors. Losing a key man or woman lowers team morale. And no manager in the City likes to look like the patsy that other firms poach talent from.
It is for this reason, I suspect, that I have seen several friends’ job moves torpedoed by their bosses since the beginning of the year. One, whom I’ll call Rahul, was a dedicated country coverage banker for a large bank. Rahul has spent eighteen hours a day for the last five years cultivating the developing world’s heavy-hitter oligarchs and corporates. He slept on planes and regularly visited three continents in a week. He’s known to be an Emerging Markets player and his reputation for street smarts (since doing business in Asia is often like bare-knuckle boxing with The Incredible Hulk) didn’t go unnoticed.
Quietly, over a number of months, one of his clients warmed him up to the idea of moving in-house and running his conglomerate’s operations on a day-to-day basis. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and Rahul duly agreed. The only thing he had left to do was break the bad news to his boss.
When the day came though, the head of Investment Banking was ready. She already knew Rahul intended to resign and was not going to allow that to happen, so she had, through a combination of threats (the bank was about to do a number of capital markets deals on very favourable terms for that client) and flattery, arranged for the offer to be withdrawn.
What should you do if your power move is stymied by a politically influential svengali at work, who needs you and uses their connections to torpedo your offer as soon as they find out you might be leaving?
Should you feel angry at your boss? Personally, my view is that this is all part of the game. You have to be ready to deal with disappointing situations. If this happens to you, I have three pieces of advice. And they are:
Project a positive image
You will have to return to work despite the fact that your colleagues will probably know the details of your humiliation. If anyone asks about it then be vague and refer to a “misunderstanding”. Make it look like a bluff which fell in your favour instead of a failed job move.
Draw up a contingency plan
Consider whether your job security has been compromised. The fact that you were ready to leave once may mean that you're going to be first to be fired if things go south. A manager’s support in fair weather might not count for much if circumstances worsen. Don’t stop actively looking for other jobs as you are already probably at risk.
Don’t allow the politics to get in the way of your day-to-day work
This would be the worst outcome and would legitimise any possible efforts to make you redundant in future.
The author has worked in assorted positions in the City of London.