can I apply for the job my friend asked me to connect him to?

A reader writes:

I just got a networking call from a friend and former colleague about a job that he’s interested in. He thought I might have some insight into the company and/or know some of the people who will be involved in the hire. I didn’t have a lot of information to give him, but said I would send an email of introduction and inquiry to one of the key people involved, with whom we’re both acquainted but who I know slightly better. (Yes, this is within a relatively small universe.)

It turns out, I hadn’t known the position was open, but am quite interested in it myself! Would it be completely obnoxious to apply? Should I tell this friend if I decide to do so?

Obviously, I’ll follow through on the introductory email in a non-sandbagging way.

I think you’re perfectly entitled to apply yourself, but you should tell your friend that you’re doing so. Not only is being transparent the right thing to do, but you’ll spare yourself all sorts of potential awkward ramifications of not telling, like getting the job and having to tell him then, by which point it’ll be clear that you kept it from him earlier, or him getting the job and hearing after he starts that you applied too. Tell him now; it’s the decent and straightforward thing to do.

You don’t need to make it a big Thing. Just say something like, “Hey, I’m thinking about throwing my hat in the ring for this too.” And then bcc him on the email that you send to your contacts about him so that he sees with his own eyes that you were generous about doing it, despite your own interest in the position.

{ 19 comments… read them below }

  1. A Bit Bitter*

    I’ve been in a similar situation (but on the other side of it)…except I wasn’t asking my colleague/friend for an introduction, I used him as one of my references (with his permission of coarse). I had gone through the interview process to the point of providing references. My friend asked me all about the interviews (including what I asked for salary), applied himself and then informed me he was going to interview as well. I wasn’t too happy, is that over-sensitive of me?? Had he told me his plans to apply when I asked to use him as a reference, I wouldn’t of minded (or shared all of the details of my interview).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think this is a little different. Your friend wasn’t straightforward with you and it sounds like he even milked you for information without telling you why he was doing it. I do think that’s unethical, because of the lack of transparency.

  2. Very Bitter*

    I’ve also been on the other side of it. I showed one of my friends an opening I applied for; we had had an ongoing discussion about how unhappy I was with my job and I wanted to solicit her opinion about the opening to see if would get me in the direction I wanted to go in. She also applied (told me about it afterwards) and since she had more years of experience than I did, she got the job. (We both interviewed. I went second. Awkward.)

    I was hopping mad but kept it to myself. Within a year, she starts complaining about how she shouldn’t have moved, her old job was better, etc., etc. A bit of schadenfreude helped in the long run but, needless to say, I don’t share anything of importance with her anymore. We’re acquaintances now and I specifically will not throw any business or networking opportunities her way.

    Moral of the story: if you can’t be bothered to dig up job leads on your own, it’s obnoxious to use someone else’s work. You still want to go for the job? Consider a bridge burned.

    1. ThomasT*

      How do you know she wouldn’t have found the opening without you mentioning it to her? How do you know you would’ve gotten, and liked, the job if she didn’t get it?

      1. ImpassionedPlatypi*

        Thomas, I think the point Bitter was trying to make is that it is frustrating and annoying for someone to step in and take an opportunity away from you when you’re the one who showed them the opportunity in the first place. I imagine that if Bitter’s friend found the job opening on her own, Bitter wouldn’t have been as upset. I also imagine that if Bitter’s friend had said something to her about applying before doing so, Bitter might not have been as upset. It’s not the fact that Bitter’s friend applied, it’s that Bitter’s friend didn’t check with her first since Bitter is the one who found the opening in the first place.

      2. Very Bitter*

        She wasn’t looking to move and was not looking at job listings at all. It was a job listed on Monster so if she had been looking at all, it would have popped up straightaway.

        I think Impassioned Platypi correctly clarified what I was feeling. It’s difficult when someone you turn to for advice and counsel suddenly becomes competition for the same job. There was a chance the company would have declined to make me an offer and in that case I would have been more than happy to put the company and my friend in contact with no bad feelings on my end.

      3. Very Bitter*

        Also, what hurt more is that I was having a hard time at the company I was working for and desperately wanted a change and she knew this.

  3. Nathan A.*

    I’ve never had friends that had the same career goals as myself, so I don’t have any personal experience to pull from regarding this matter.

    However, if one of my close friends decided he would be a great fit for a position I were applying to, I would openly encourage him/her to apply. If for some reason I get the position or vice-versa, it would create a new networking opportunity. Some of my friends and I might even make it into a healthy competition – if you’re gonna apply to jobs, might as well have fun with it.

    Secondly, it could create the opportunity for an inside reference in the future. If my friend gets the job, I have a better chance of getting into the company because I have a good friend I can pull on as a solid reference.

  4. Amanda*

    i’m going to go against popular opinion and say don’t do that, it makes you a total douchebag and could possibly cause problems in your friendship. he came to you asking for help, not to suggest you apply.

  5. Sevenmack*

    The answer depends on what you value more: The friendship or the job opportunity. And that’s a value the OP should really consider. My friendships are more-important to me than potential job opportunities in general; so if one of my pals was applying for a job that sounded appealing to me, I’d step aside. There will always be jobs; that’s the world. But good friends? They are few and far between. Choose carefully.

  6. Rachel - Former HR Blogger*

    From an HR perspective…I have had people undercut their friends and colleagues before to get jobs and not tell the person they are undercutting, it makes me seriously question their values.

  7. Annonymous*

    This might sound kind of harsh, but if a friend applies for a job and beats you for it, you were clearly not the best candidate for the job. There’s also no guarantee that if your friend hadn’t applied, you would have automatically gotten the job. If you’re awesome and qualified and perfect for the job and the culture, you have a really good chance of being hired. If you’re reaching and the job doesn’t really fit your strengths, then it makes sense that the job would go to someone else — be they friend or stranger.

  8. Jamie*

    For me it would depend on the formula of how good the friend and how great the opportunity.

    For mediocre opportunity I was curious about – no – I wouldn’t bother. For a seemingly perfect fit, the friendship would have to rise to the level where I would give a kidney or money if they needed it…and I have very few relationships that rise to that level…for me to not throw my hat in the ring.

    In total agreement about being transparent and letting them know – which is why I wouldn’t do it unless it seemed like a rare opportunity – but those don’t come along everyday.

  9. Original Poster*

    Thanks for your sage advice, AAM et al. The specific question at hand has been rendered moot, since it turns out the position is P/T (which critical detail was left out of the online posting), which doesn’t work for me, but may well work for my friend. Learned this by writing a note to my contact extolling my friend’s virtues and asking about the salary range and hours.

  10. Riz*

    This question proves to me again that there is no such thing as a work “friend”. When it comes to money “friendship” goes to the wayside EVERY single time.

  11. Joe*

    (I know this particular one is a moot point now, but for anyone else in this situation, here are my thoughts.)

    Assuming that it’s a friendship you would like to keep, I would actually take a middle road here: Talk to the friend, tell them that you’re interested (and why, so they understand your level of interest), and ask them if it would be OK if you also applied. A reasonable person would not object, for the various reasons mentioned above, and would respect you more for it. The flip side is that by doing this, you’re committing to respecting their wishes, so if they are unwilling to allow it, you have to abide by that, or you’ll cause even worse strife than if you hadn’t asked at all.

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