As if interviewing isn’t awkward enough, imagine what it’s like to run through the typical 20 questions with a good friend.
She asks, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”—because she has to. You answer with your pre-rehearsed response—because you have to. Both of you know that the real answer is: “On a beach somewhere with a butler serving fois gras every hour on the hour.” It’s not easy.
But, it’s not uncommon. After you’ve been in your industry for a while, you’ve probably gathered a group of work-related pals—and there’s a good possibility that you’ll not only work among them someday, you’ll interview for a position with them.
It’s a tough situation, but don’t just throw your arms in the air and look for a more anonymous job opportunity. Instead, follow these rules and use the situation to your advantage.
1. Keep it Professional
One of the major difficulties in interviewing with a friend is the fact that you need to force yourself to be extra professional. It’s hard not to take liberties that you wouldn’t take with a stranger—cracking jokes, using less-than-professional language, asking about how the rest of Friday night went at Happy Hour.
Don’t do this. No matter what you may or may not know about the interviewer’s personal life, be respectful, attentive, and courteous. Show up on time, dress the part, and keep the chit-chat workplace friendly. Even if the interviewer, who’s in a far easier seat than you, steers off into gossip land, bring it back. You’re there to land a job, not discuss what Suzie did over the weekend. Plus, you don’t know who else might be listening in.
2. Talk the Interview Talk
In addition to keeping things professional, you should at some point actually discuss the position for which you’re interviewing. Of course, depending on your closeness to the interviewer, he or she may already be clear on what you have to offer, but it’s still a good idea to put everything on the record.
This part can be tricky—you want to find a middle ground that remains in friendly territory, but that gets to the meat of the interview without making it stiff or awkward. I’ve found that the best way to go about this to make a gentle shift in tone. Get the friendly banter about the weather and the sale at Bloomingdale’s out of the way, then get down to business. It may even make sense to say out loud, “I guess now we should talk about why I’m really here!” You’re not being rude, you’re just changing the topic to the reason why you’re sitting there in a suit with your resume on your lap.
Then, as you would with a complete stranger, talk about your experience, your strengths, your accomplishments, and why you feel you would be an asset to the company. You can weave in things like, “As I think you know,” or “As I’m sure you remember from our old stomping grounds,” but otherwise, do what you’d do in every other interview: Sell yourself.
3. Discuss Your Working Relationship
At some point during the interview process—before, after, or in some cases, even during—you should talk about whether or not your friendship will affect your professional relationship (and vice versa). Again, this is a tricky topic to get into— but it absolutely must be discussed if your outside relationship with this person is of any value to you.
Whether you’re bringing it up in the interview or not, a good way to broach the topic is to jump back into friendly mode. Starting the discussion with, “Maybe we should talk about how this will affect our outside relationship if I get the job” is both direct and exhibits concern for the possible situation.
If you feel there’s something that may cause an interruption in your friendship, you should clarify it openly and honestly. For example, if you’re going to be a good friend’s subordinate, you need to talk about what that truly means. Can you separate your office and out-of-office lives? Will you be treated differently than other employees? It’s much easier to get these conversations out of the way now.
4. Follow Up As Always
It doesn’t matter how close you are with the interviewer, you should still follow up with the obligatory “thank you” note. And stay far away from private jokes, gossipy comments, or even too-friendly language (“Hope I get the job—wink wink!”). Although the note may be specifically for the person you know, you never know who may get his or her hands on it, and that would be bad news for both of you.
5. Accept the Outcome
If you get the job—awesome. If you don’t, accept it graciously and move on. While knowing someone at the job really does play in your favor, your friend doesn’t always have the final say. Unless you’re BFF with the CEO, you can’t shoot the messenger—he or she was doing his or her job in interviewing you, just as you were doing your job in being interviewed.
So,don’t hold grudges, blame your friend, or let it put a wedge in your relationship. No friendship, even a budding one, is worth throwing away over an interview.