What to Do When You’re Applying to the Same Job as a Friend
Having a friend who shares your professional interests and aspirations can be awesome. You have someone who’ll study for the LSAT with you, someone who totally understands why you’re venting about your boss, and someone you’re actually excited to catch up with at industry events.
But it also means that there may come a time when you’re both applying for the same job. And how you handle things can impact your candidacy—and your friendship.
Read on for what you should (and shouldn’t) do based on your particular situation.
1. If It’s One of Multiple Positions
Multiple positions translates to multiple hires, so there’s a chance you’ll both land a job with the company (which would be pretty amazing!). As such, you may be tempted to prepare together—rehearsing your answers to interview questions, splitting up the company’s website, and comparing articles on market trends.
While it’s nice to genuinely wish each other well, studying together is not the way to go. Why? Because unlike a test for which there is a right answer, hiring managers don’t want the right answer, they want the best answer—individual to each candidate.
If you and your friend happen to give a similar answer here and there, that’s OK; but if all of your answers are carbon copies, there will be no reason to hire you both. The organization could pick one of you and then hire someone else for a fresh perspective. So, wish your pal well, but keep your interview answers to yourself—it just could make the difference in helping you both get hired.
2. If It’s an Internal Promotion
You just found out that you and your co-worker applied for the same promotion—now what?
If it’s down to you and your work BFF, things could get awkward—and quick. This is the person who you’d typically freak out with and celebrate with and who’s heard your impression of your boss at last year’s office holiday party.
An obvious, “Well, this is awkward” is usually a one-way ticket to ending a conversation, but in this case, it’s the way to go. Get out of the office, grab a cup of coffee, and break the ice with an honest, “This really sucks.” Then, make the commitment that you’ll both put your best foot forward, you’ll steer clear of comparing or discussing each other, and that when it’s all over, you’ll both be respectful and give each other a little space. (Yes, the evening you hear the news is too soon for the person who lost out to toast your promotion over margaritas.)
Staying in your lane (i.e., focusing solely on the impression you’re making) will serve you well regardless of whether you’re up against your work BFF or an office acquaintance. For starters, bad behavior will put a serious damper on your candidacy. References to your co-worker’s lack of qualifications will not seem like helpful insider info: It will make it clear that you’re not management material. So, be as professional as possible. Best-case scenario: You get the promotion. Other best-case scenario: Your new boss is totally impressed with how you handled things.
Of course, the worst-case scenario would be trying to sabotage your co-worker, who becomes your boss, and then gives you terrible projects for the next six months. (Don’t choose this option.)
3. If It’s the Dream Job
How important is this friendship to you? No, seriously.
I know that question seems harsh, but you need to be realistic. If some amazing, life-changing opportunity comes along and one of you gets it, the other friend will always be the girl who didn’t go to Paris.
This is one of many times in your career when you’ll have to consider your professional decisions in the context of your personal life—as opposed to in a vacuum. Just like you might forgo a killer opportunity that requires too much travel or too significant a pay cut for you to sustain other important parts of your life, or perhaps move on from a significant other who isn’t supportive of your career goals; you need to look at this opportunity in light of your personal relationships.
Ask yourself: If you got the job, but lost your friendship, would it be worth it? Also, if your friend got the job instead of you, would it affect your friendship?
If you and your friend are both applying to mass summer jobs and it really doesn’t matter who ends up at one firm and who ends up at another, there’s no need to have “the talk.” But if there’s one opening at an exciting startup, and one of you will be crushed if you lose out to the other, you need to be open and honest about your feelings.
It’s not uncommon to lose out on a job here and there, nor is it that uncommon to have the occasional falling out with a friend. But, before you sacrifice one for the other, make sure you’re honest with yourself—and each other.
Photo of men working courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She also covers topics specifically for working moms who want to excel in their careers. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author