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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

November 21, 2014

My friend told me about a job he is interviewing for and is excited about. It sounds like the perfect job for me and I want to apply too. Do you think this would be ok?

Julie Q. Brush

Given that you heard about this new opportunity through your friend – particularly in the context of his own excitement, interest and interviewing, it would be best for you to step aside and allow your friend compete for the opportunity without you in the mix. Even if this “sounds” like the perfect job for you, there is a huge downside potential if you pursue it. First and foremost, you could risk losing your friendship. To go behind your friend’s back and apply for the position yourself would be inconsiderate and undermine your friendship. It’s kind of like dating your friend’s ex without his knowledge. It just ain’t cool.

In addition, you also risk tainting your reputation by how others in the community might react if word gets out about this. And make no bones about it, it will get out. Those hearing this story won’t hate you, but they’ll remember. And the memories won’t be positive ones. Do you know that quote about it taking a lifetime to build a good reputation, but only a minute to lose it? Well…

If you are still adamant or think your friend won’t mind, the best approach is to first speak directly with him about it. Let your friend know of your interest and ask whether he is comfortable having you apply. Perhaps your friend won’t care (“May the best man win!”)…. or maybe his reaction will be negative (“You louse, how dare you!”). Either way, you’ll have your answer. And if your friend does give you his blessing, your application for the position will have more virtue and integrity going into the process.

Another option is to wait until your friend completes the interview process and then speak with him about your interest. If your buddy is rejected, you can discuss whether he would be ok if you applied for the job. In either of these scenarios, it is important to talk to your friend before taking any further action. Being upfront and honest about what you want is the healthy way to approach this type of situation.

I understand that “perfect” opportunities don’t come around often. So while it might feel like this is your only shot at career bliss, the reality is that this position isn’t perfect. No position is. There will be many more wonderful opportunities that will arise for you in the future. So I recommend that you sit on the sidelines for this one and cheer your friend on. But if you feel compelled to get in the game, have a mature conversation about your feelings with your friend first and see what unfolds from there. You and your friendship will be the better for it.

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Lass Evans, VP, Deputy General Counsel, Fortune 500 Company

I completely agree with Julie on this one. If your friend is interviewing for a position that he or she really wants, it's in bad form to apply for the same position behind his/her back. But as John Buckley stated, it's a different story if your friend is referring the job to you with the intent of your consideration for the position.

John Buckley, General Counsel / Chief Compliance Officer, Power Plant Management Services, LLC

As usual Julie, I agree with your response entirely. I would offer this additional perspective form my own experience, which is from the perspective of the friend, rather than the questioner. I had a recruiter contact me about a position. It sounded great, but as I listened to the description, I realized my friend Jeff was probably a better fit than me. I told the recruiter I was interested, but I also told her about my friend and, after checking with him, suggested she contact him as well. We ended up both interviewing for the position, which confirmed that I was a viable candidate. He got the job, confirming my original assessment that he was the better candidate. If a good friend of mine becomes aware of a job I am perfect for, I'm thinking they may not step aside, but I expect they would at least invite me to apply. If they weren't such a good friend, and they wanted the job opportunity for themselves, I don't think they would mention it, particularly not in such gushy detail, out of fear that I would apply. It may be that in the questioner's case it's the "perfect job" for the questioner, but the questioner is not the "perfect candidate" for the job. It seems apparent to me that the friend didn't suggest the questioner as a candidate, but also didn't hesitate to share details about the job. Maybe after the hiring process is over, a heart to heart with the friend focused on how the questioner could be a better candidate for such a job in the future might be illuminating to the questioner on areas he/she needs to bolster.

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