Competing for a Job Against a Friend

by Sean Bryant on August 23, 2013

Job InterviewOne of the problems that comes along when you’re trying to find a job right out of college or when you’re competing for just a few jobs in an area is that you may wind up competing against your own friends. In some cases, the potential employer may be aware of the conflict. In fact, some employers have a reputation for asking an applicant who would be a better fit for the job: you or the friend.

Such a question and situation can be fraught with conflict. While there are no guarantees that you can navigate it without problems, you can minimize it by doing the following things.

Avoid Unethical Conduct

If you and your friend are competing for the same job, make sure that you aren’t doing anything unethical. Unethical conduct can be hard to measure. Recruiting measures vary significantly by the employer. However, the way that you act will make a big difference, and you will want to maintain your friendship even if it means that your name gets removed from the applicant tracking system. The most common unethical conduct includes talking behind your friend’s back or sharing things with the employer that your friend shared with you in confidence.

Remember that sharing confidential information or back stabbing works both ways. It can make a very bad impression on your potential employer. Most employers aren’t looking for the sharp minded back stabber. After all, the way that you conduct yourself before you get the job is likely to be a good indicator of how you’ll behave afterward. You never want to be labeled as a troublemaker.

Answer the Dreaded Question Cautiously

If the employer is aware of the conflict, then one of the interview questions that he may ask could be whether you recommend yourself or your friend. In that situation, you are caught between a rock and a hard place. It may seem self serving if you put yourself forward first. If you put your friend forward, then you run the risk of giving the job away.

Employers know that this question is almost impossible to answer. You can handle it in a couple different ways. The first is to try to use a little humor and jokingly say that it’s obvious who you would choose. The second is to list your strengths as well as your friend’s. You can also get around it by giving a generic answer along the lines of “well, we both have our strengths and our weaknesses.” If the employer keeps pushing you for an answer, you can close it off by saying that only he would know who would be best, but that both of you would do a good job in the business.

The one exception to this is if your friend is unqualified. You don’t want to lie. Lying can cause just as many problems as back stabbing. You need to make sure that you phrase the response as delicately as possible. The best way is to sandwich the criticisms with your friend’s strengths. You can say it tactfully, and you can also preface it with saying that you do not feel comfortable discussing it.

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Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant created in 2011 to help pass along his knowledge of finance and economics to others. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in economics he worked as a construction superintendent before jumping into the world of finance. Sean has worked on the trade desk for a commodities brokerage firm, he was a project manager for an investment research company and was a CDO analyst at a big bank. That being said he brings a good understanding of the finance field to the One Smart Dollar community. When not working Sean and his wife are avid world travelers. He enjoys spending time with his two kids and dog Charlie.

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  • Ugh that sounds terrible. Luckily I’ve never had to compete for a job with someone I know (well that I know of), but those are some good tips if it ever comes up!

  • I couldn’t imagine having to be in such a situation but your tips are really helpful!

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    That would be a tough situation to be in. I like your answer, Sean, about the question “Who would you hire, you or your friend” to just list strengths that both of you have and keep it positive. Great advice there.

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