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Following a co-worker to another company

Rachel Zupek Farrell, Special to CareerBuilder

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Any employee knows that the people you work with can make or break a job. It's bittersweet when a co-worker or boss you like leaves for greener pastures. On the one hand, you're happy for her, but on the other, you don't want to lose her.

Maybe you don't have to.

"Great bosses are hard to find, and once you've landed a winner, you may be inclined to follow him to his next position. If your boss is inspiring, motivating, challenging -- and leading the way into a new and interesting opportunity that is as advantageous to you as it is to him -- it's definitely a move that you should consider," says Nicole Williams, career expert and author.

Following a boss or co-worker to another company has its benefits: You already know each other's working styles, and you don't have that learning curve that comes with working with someone new.

"The first weeks and months at a new company are critical for developing your reputation around your capacity for productivity and results. If you don't have to spend that time learning, you have the opportunity to make a tremendous impression and meaningful impact," Williams says.

But where there are advantages, there are also risks.

"The job that you're leaving is not likely to be happy about the double departure. You may be burning an important bridge," Williams says. "This also signals to your new company that if it doesn't work out for your boss, you may once again end up leaving with him. The other risks are tied to the fact that if your boss doesn't perform to expectations and fails in this new position, you are likely to be tarnished, as well. You may also find that other senior executives at the company won't invest in you."

We talked to four employees who followed their co-worker or boss to another company to see if they found it to be a good experience, if they regretted it and if they'd recommend it to a friend.

Here's what they told us:

"I've followed my bosses to other companies so many times, I notified my current manager [that] if there ever was a departure, the deal was, I come along. My boss calls me 'ME,' for model employee. He said he wants to have several more just like me. The first time this occurred it was an employer who was leaving to head up a new department and could only take one employee with him. The next time, the vice president [who] was leaving to go to a competitor, asked me to come and work on the new team. The third time it happened, I was out of the industry and a former boss asked me if I would come back and work with him at a new company. We developed trust, a strong work ethic and dependability. It seems even if the company, benefits, etc. were to change, I can trust that they will have my best interest at heart. I have never been treated like just another employee. I find myself having preferential, very favorable treatment and tons of flexibility. The perks have also been unimaginable. It's nice when your hard work and efforts pays off, you are rewarded and appreciated."
-- Chantay Bridges, senior real estate specialist, Clear Choice Realty & Associates

"I worked at a PR agency in downtown Minneapolis for five and half years and had a great experience there. One co-worker at my same level became an especially good friend and confidant. Three to four months after she left our company for a larger PR agency, she contacted me about an opening in her group and encouraged me to apply. After two interviews, they offered me the job. While I was still happy in my current position, this was a great opportunity to try a new challenge, work with my colleague and friend again and get a pay increase.

"At first, I had a hard time adjusting to my new workplace, but knowing a few people when I started helped. Plus, my friend who recruited me was so welcoming and helpful and continues to be. By encouraging me to apply and take this job, my friend pushed me out of my comfort zone and has helped me continue growing in my career.

I would never recommend following a co-worker or boss just because he or she is a close friend. The decision should be focused on what's the best career path for you and your family, where will you have growth opportunities and where will you be happy. My friend is not the only reason that I switched jobs, but she definitely played a part in my decision because besides being friends, we work seamlessly together. If everything aligns, that's great, but it should be a carefully considered decision."
-- Katie Fitzpatrick, Weber Shandwick

"It really is about who you know, and you can't typically find that 'big break' on your own. It's important to have someone you truly know and trust looking out for both you and your family's best interests. My friend and I followed each other through four Fortune 500 companies, in two industries, in two states, over 10 years. It's been a worthwhile experience for us."
-- Dan Purdy, president, Daring Business Strategies

"[I recruited two girls] from my previous company. The girls I recruited had incredibly strong work ethics and contagiously positive outlooks. They strengthen any team they work on. Plus, both had demonstrated the ability to adapt and the willingness and capability to learn new skills.

"Since they had both already directly reported to me, I knew that my management style works for them plus how to lead in order to bring out the best for them. For the girls, they know that I am committed to the growth of their careers. Now that we have worked together so long in different environments, we have developed a natural bond, and I am invested in their success. Both girls received promotions when they came to work for me again, because I knew their capabilities surpassed their practical work experience.

"I highly recommend recruiting previous co-workers. Hiring someone new is always a gamble. When you hire someone you've worked with before, you already have a good sense of their work ethic, abilities and culture fit possibilities. Plus, you likely would have already spent the time it takes to build up enough trust for a strong, honest and happy working relationship."
-- Kelsye Nelson, vice president of growth and outreach, Brown Paper Tickets

Rachel Zupek Farrell researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.

Last Updated: 01/11/2011 - 3:26 PM

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