what are the ethics of applying for a job that a friend wants?

A reader writes:

You’ve said before that no one can “steal” a job. But what about when you apply for an opening that you only know about because a colleague told you that he applied for it?

I just finished a graduate program. I was older than most of my classmates by 10+ years. With a several-year absence from the workforce before the program, I’m being considered for roles more junior than my last one. I am willing to take a step back in order to work again. But a few months ago I didn’t expect I’d be going after the same jobs as younger classmates. Though there are many with my degree, I chose to specialize in a narrow area, so I would be competing against classmates I knew well except that I am a December graduate. Most are spring graduates, so almost everyone I know is employed now. It’s not a field where jobs open up at any particular time of year.

A school friend who graduated in May has not found work and has been frustrated. He told me about finally getting a phone interview, and said the company will tell him if he’ll move on based on how the other interviews go. I looked at the listing to see what I could suggest to him. This job really calls for more experience than he has, but it’s a good match for me. I really only looked at it to give him some resume suggestions. The job calls for a lot of the skills I developed over my career, which are likely for someone with a degree in Vanilla Teapots, but aren’t typically associated with our degree in Chocolate Teapots. Training others on using vanilla teapots is also a big part of the job, and I have lots of training experience too (ironically, including teaching him how to make a basic one, but also in paid positions). I imagine it comes across in an interview that his only experience with vanilla teapots is for a class project. It’s not my degree, but I designed, created, and managed vanilla teapots for my jobs. That’s not something I can say to him, of course. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get an interview, but this Chocolate/Vanilla Teapots combo position sounds like it’s a fit for me right now.

I applied for it today and am feeling guilty, but probably not quite bad enough that I’ll decline an interview if offered. I would feel slightly better if he had been turned down outright, but he is being put on hold until they see if they have better candidates, so my applying could mean that he gets bumped from the in-person interviews. And worse, it probably wouldn’t be my first choice job as I have an interview coming up for one I think I’d like better, but who knows if I’ll get that. I’m unemployed too with loans coming due and I also really need the work.

How do you handle it when you find out about something this way? I really do admire his confidence and drive, and I don’t want to be disrespectful of someone who has been a school friend and might be a colleague someday in our small industry. We don’t socialize but are still friendly enough to share news.

Ooof. It’s true that you can’t steal a job from someone, but it’s also true that this probably isn’t going to feel great to him.

In particular, the fact that the company told him they’re waiting to see if someone better comes along makes it more likely that he’ll feel like your application (if it results in you getting an interview, while he doesn’t) did indeed bump him out of consideration. That’s of course how all hiring works, even if they hadn’t spelled it out for him quite like that; a stronger candidate can always bump someone else out of contention. But it’s still going to sting.

He also might feel like you only knew about the job because he told you about it and think that you therefore should have considered it off-limits. That’s not entirely reasonable — you’re both in need of work, and you’re in the same field, and there’s a finite number of job openings — but it’s also not entirely unreasonable for him to feel like there’s something kind of unseemly about it anyway.

But here’s the thing: It’s going to feel a lot more underhanded if you don’t tell him now and then you get offered and accept the job and need to tell him then. Because of that, I think the best thing you can do is come clean now, or at least at the point that you get an interview. It’s going to be awkward, but it’s better to say “Hey, I feel awkward about this, but I want to let you know that I threw my hat in the ring for the X job” than to have to say later on “Um, that job that you’ve been hoping to hear about? I’ve been secretly talking with them for the last month, and now they’ve offered it to me.”

Of course, no matter when you tell him, he might be bitter, resentful, or even think you screwed him over, and there might not be anything that you can do about that if so. But it’ll be a more principled stand — and more likely to get you a better outcome — if you’re honest with him now than if you wait. Telling him now says “I know this isn’t great, but as new grads in this field, we are competing for the same jobs” (which he might take issue with, but reasonable people could at least argue it either way), whereas waiting says “I hid this from you as long as I could because I felt like I was doing something shady” (and that makes it shady).

{ 176 comments… read them below }

  1. AMG*

    A work friend and I applied to the same job after I old her about the position. She expressed reservations about applying, but I encouraged her to do it. Who can say what role we are supposed to play in another’s life? Maybe telling her about the job was the reason I was aware of it in the first place. Anyway, neither of us got the position, although I got farther in the process than she did. We both work at different companies altogether now but we are still friends.

    My point is, I second the advice to go for the position and be up front about it. Good luck!

    1. GreenTeaPot*

      I applied for and was offered a job a friend encouraged me to apply for after the initial search failed. When I took the job, which made me her supervisor, she turned on me, made my first month miserable and then resigned. It did not occur to me until later that she never expected me to get an offer. I learned a lesson the hard way; I would never do this again.

  2. Roscoe*

    This may not be popular, but I think you are super shady for doing that. It really comes down to how much you consider this person a friend. Even if its not a friend, a possible networking contact for the future. As much as it may suck to hear it, if this happened to me, not only would I stop being friends with this person, but any future professional things that may come my way about them, I would not help with. I’d also be VERY vocal about how shady you were in doing this. Its like leaving a job with less than 2 weeks notice. You can do it. You will be looked down on and may be burning bridges because of it. Sometimes it is the best thing for you, and you choose to do it anyway, and thats a risk you are willing to take. However, I see screwing over your company a bit different than screwing over someone you consider a friend.

    I know the dating analogy comes up on here a lot, so lets look at it that way. I go on a few dates with a girl I’m really into. She is a bit more unsure because she is looking for a guy with a couple qualities I don’t have. I kind of vent to my friend for advice, and he all of a sudden sends her a message asking her out because he feels like he is more of what she is looking for. That may be true, but it makes it no less of a shady thing to do to someone.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I disagree with the applicability of the dating analogy here. Yes, there’s an unwritten rule that you don’t go after someone your friend is into, but the logic behind that is that there are a million people out there. Surely you can find another person to be interested in. The same is not true for jobs.

      Look, it’s not the best thing in the world. But, given what sounds like a specialized field and a narrow pool of job opportunities, I think it’s inevitable. I agree with Alison on this: Be upfront about it. Be a bit apologetic about it. But in the end, accept that you may need to do what’s best in your professional interests. If your friend is reasonable, he’ll understand that too.

      1. Adam*

        Yeah I don’t think dating applies in this sense either. Most people have to work to some degree in order to take care of themselves, whereas dating isn’t a life necessity. And if the options in their field are as limited as it sounds it doesn’t seem fair to deny someone the opportunity on the grounds of you got there first. Plus, whether or not the hiring organization will even be interested in either of you is not entirely in your hands either.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Yeah, if the pool really is that small, it probably won’t be the first time they’re up for the same job. So it behooves them to figure out how they’re going to handle this and stay friends/professional network connections.

        Kind of like skating a competition against someone in your skating club. Oof.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yeah, while I’m on the fence about the part where she only knew about it because of him, the truth is they will most likely be running into the same job openings and competing against each other. And even if one does learn of a job the first time from a friend, who’s to say a day or two later a recruiter might not contact you about same job? Or an email lands in your inbox from Indeed or whatever. Are you supposed to say “no I cannot apply, sorry, because I know someone who did”? A couple years ago my BF was laid off with a bunch of other people and several of them were competing for the same jobs and interviewing at the same places and they’d meet up for a beer and exchange their stories- and sometimes laugh about it. If one wasn’t the best fit for him, he also would tell his friend hey you should apply here and vice versa. A few of them ended up getting jobs at the same place even. Just sayin, everyone needs to eat.

    2. MJH*

      Yeah, I feel like it’s super shady, too. Maybe if the LW had asked first, but now LW has probably burned a bridge with this friend. Maybe she doesn’t care! But I don’t think she can be hurt/surprised if dude decides he’s no longer interested in being friends.

      In an ideal world, everyone could just talk openly and there’d be lots of “well, you’re better for the role” and healthy boundaries and conversations. But in reality I don’t think it’s going to play out like that.

      1. Amber T*

        I think the shadiness comes not from applying to the same job, but for not being up front about it. I think the right response should have been “Hey, here are these pointers you asked me to give you. I wanted to let you know that I applied for the same job too.” I don’t think there needs to be an explanation of “I have more experience in vanilla teapots” or even the generic “I think I’m the better fit.” A reasonable person would realize that the company in questions extends an offer to the most qualified person (hopefully). A reasonable person won’t be mad that you have more experience necessary for the job. But a reasonable person can also be mad that you kind of went behind their backs when you should have been honest from the start.

        1. Artemesia*

          If there is any ambiguity about her knowing about the job, this is the best approach. Obviously she didn’t say it at the time — which would have been the right move and fast on her feet — if she can plausibly say ‘I felt funny telling you but I was applying for that job too and just hadn’t gotten the paperwork in yet.’

    3. Shell*

      Saying this is like dating is a stretch. A job (and money to pay the bills) ranks far higher on the ladder of necessity and survival than a date/partner. I’m not saying the lack of the latter doesn’t suck for some people, but a job keeps the lights on, y’know?

      I think OP’s friend will probably be hurt, and it’s likely that they won’t share any professional news/tips with the OP in the future (I will admit to not always being forthcoming about opportunities either to people I know. It depends on who I’m talking to at the moment). That’s always a risk with hyper-competitive fields, which sounds like it applies in this case. But if the friend now considers the bridge burned and the earth salted, I think that’s an overreaction.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Agreed, because if the OP gets the job instead, burning the bridge could lose the friend a valuable networking resource if he wants to work at that company. Something else could come up later and the OP could recommend him or something.

        1. Rebecca*

          Exactly. Perhaps 5-10 people from my grad program apply to every job in our narrow field, and I’m generally thrilled when a friend gets a job, even if I also applied – it means I have a new contact at that organization, and it also means that the friend is NOT going to be competing with me for the next job opening that comes along!

          1. Doriana Gray*

            I’m generally thrilled when a friend gets a job, even if I also applied – it means I have a new contact at that organization, and it also means that the friend is NOT going to be competing with me for the next job opening that comes along!

            That’s a great perspective to have.

          2. Felicia*

            I always looked at it that way too, and figure the more people I know who have jobs at places in my field, the better.

    4. LQ*

      I’m going to say if you are using the dating analogy here I wouldn’t want to be with that person who was only kind of into me but wanted someone else and was hunting for them. I don’t think there is a One True Love, but I do want the person I’m with to want to be with me. Would I be thrilled if my friend and that person fell in love and were happy together for a long time? Not at first maybe, but I’d be glad I hadn’t been stuck in a relationship with someone who didn’t really want to be with me. And I’d be glad my friend was happy. I’m not sure this analogy works here.

        1. Apollo Warbucks*

          This happened to me with a woman me and a friend knew. I hung out with her a few times and I really thought she was interested in me, but my friend was more her type and he liked her too.

          I wasn’t happy when he told me but that wasn’t because theyd done anything wrong, being rejected sucks any how it happens. My friend said nothing had to happen if it was gooing to cause a problem between me and him but it’s not my place to veto their relationship and it was on me to deal with the rejection, which I think is similar to what the OP’s friend will have to do if they get passed over for the job.

          1. LQ*

            I think it is perfectly reasonable to mope and watch bad tv for a weekend, whatever your balm for rejection sucks and it feels crappy, of course. But it is strange to me to get upset and cancel all contact with the other people over it. Sounds like you handled it well. Rejection does suck. But hopefully we can still be adults about it at the end of the day.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I was just thinking that I’m the type to react differently to the dating analogy, as well. The situation Roscoe describes is something I’d admittedly find weird, too (only hearing your friend raving about someone and from that description deciding you’d be a perfect match for that person you apparently don’t know and then just writing to them), but in general, if Ferdinand tells his friend Clarabella he’s interested in Juliet and then Clarabella meets Juliet and they totally hit it off, I don’t think they should feel obligated to not date just because Ferdinand knew Juliet first and introduced the two.

        I mean, I get the awkwardness and any uncomfortable and hurt feelings around it but I wouldn’t call it shady or mean or an absolute no-go or something.

        1. Roscoe*

          Well the problem is in your example, Clarabella isn’t totally into Juliet. Its just that they think they are a better fit and don’t want to be alone. But if someone else came along, Clarabella would drop Juliet.

          1. Myrin*

            Ah, you’re right, fair enough. I think that’s kind of the point where the dating analogy fails, though, as other people below (Koko and Sunflower especially) talk about much better than I could. And with the OP’s update, the “not super interested” seems to be a moot point now anyway as she says the phone interview elevated her interst in the company.

      2. INTP*

        Yeah, exactly. I would not expect a friend to sacrifice years of happiness because I was initially uncomfortable because I had a brief relationship with the same person that never had a shot at working.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          THIS. However, I am very shocked at how many people my age and older who do not feel this same way and still believe someone they briefly “hooked up with” when they were 21 is still off limits to their buddies.

      3. Karowen*

        This is exactly how I feel about the situation. I always hated the conceit of calling dibs on a person like they don’t have a say in it. If I had a friend that had an unrequited crush on a dude and then I met the guy and we had mutual feelings, I wouldn’t let my friend hold me back from happiness. I’d give the friend a heads up, but that’s all they deserve.

        It especially bothers me because it makes it seem like a binary system – the guy is going to go out with me or with you, no one else. The company is going to hire me or you, there are no other candidates. Me dating the guy or being hired doesn’t mean that that I made you miss out on the position, it means that you missed out on the position because of your own merits or lack thereof (and vice versa).

    5. Roscoe*

      Let me be clear. Applying for the same job as someone isn’t shady. If its such a specialized position, my guess is that its bound to happen anyway. Applying for the job for the sole reason that someone asked you for help is or confided in you about their difficulty in landing something is. Applying for a job you really don’t even want makes it even more shady. Then justifying it to yourself because in your opinion you are more qualified is the icing on the cake for me. If this was your dream job or something, I would probably be more on your side. But the way I see it, with friends like you, I wouldn’t need enemies.

      1. Shell*

        But the OP didn’t apply for the job solely because the friend confided in the OP. This isn’t a spite application. Yeah, okay, the job isn’t a dream job, but it is a job, and OP says they need a job. Lots of people apply to jobs that they’re not 10000% enthused about because of survival necessities.

        I’m someone who plays cards close to my chest. I don’t always divulge job opportunities I’m interested in either (so karmatically speaking, there are probably job opportunities I missed out on because my friends didn’t confide in me. That’s fair). I will absolutely understand if the friend doesn’t pass on professional advice and opportunities here on out. But playing this as a moral failing and that “with friends like [OP], I wouldn’t need enemies” seems like an absurd overreaction.

        1. Adam*

          Also I think it’s important to remember that this is about business. Job candidates have to learn that it’s just business and not personal when an organization ultimately isn’t interested in them. I think some of that applies on the side of the job candidates as well. Competition exists because it’s inevitable. If you stay in a field long enough, especially if it’s a specific one, you are going to know a lot of people and being in the running for the same job is probably going to come up here or there. It’s not personal. It’s just the nature of things.

        2. The Other Dawn*

          Agreed. The letter doesn’t sound to me like he only applied because the classmate asked for help. He applied because it sounded like a good fit for his skills and knowledge. It might not be a the top of his list, but he needs a job and should have several irons in the fire at once in order to land a job.

          1. Shell*

            And besides, if we’re going to critique OP on the “dream job” aspect or lack thereof, the friend didn’t say anything about their enthusiasm for the job in question either. In fact, all we know is that the friend had no leads after several months and this was the first possible bite since then. It may very well be that this job isn’t a dream job for the friend either, but they have bills to pay too.

            I fully agree that the friend will probably be hurt, but I’m really not understanding the moral outrage here.

        3. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

          No, I did not apply just to take the job he wanted. It just looked like a good fit for my skills, though a little less interesting than the one I already had an interview scheduled for. I’d say that I’m equally interested in them after this phone interview. From what I know, I like one company better and the other job better. One has better benefits and the other is in a better location, etc. But this one is no longer a clear second choice as it was just from its description. It’s now on equal footing with the other, and if I were to get offers from both just from the information I have today, I would really have to weigh them seriously. Fortunately I will find out more about each when I interview in person. Of course like everyone I’m just hoping I’ll get an offer from something that seems like a good fit, whether it’s one of these or something else.

          1. AnotherHRPro*

            I have gone up against friends for jobs several times in my career. As others have said, this is bound to happen if you have friends at a similar career level and in a similar field. The trick is to be upfront about it. OP, just talk to your friend about this. You don’t want them finding out that you applied because you end up starting to work there!

            Honestly, if I’m not going to get a job I think I want, I would prefer that a friend got it vs. a complete stranger. In one case a friend got what I thought was my “dream job”. I was completely happy for her and ended up finding a job that was a better fit for me. We keep in touch and have both advanced and done well in our respective companies.

      2. Green*

        “Dream jobs” at the application stage are often a mirage, but when you’re a graduate with loans coming due you need a job, any job.

      3. Doriana Gray*

        Applying for a job you really don’t even want makes it even more shady.

        This was the only problem I had with this scenario. I mean, I get applying for multiple jobs at once because the job OP does want may not be offered to her for whatever reason, so it’s reasonable to have a backup, but yeah…if the backup is something that you know your friend really wants, and he was told that he may not get called for an in-person interview if someone better qualified comes along (which you appear to be), that’s a little insensitive on your part, OP. I agree with Alison’s advice that you just need to cop to applying now and get it over with. I’m not sure how close you and this person are, but you definitely don’t want someone in your admittedly small field holding a grudge about the way things went down and then smearing your name once he gets a job – it can cause problems for you later depending on where this guy ends up and who he ends up knowing.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Frankly, if a company told me that, I would have moved on already. It sounds like a hint.

          If you want to go back to the dating analogy, it smacks of “I really like you but I’m not sure I want a relationship right now.”

          1. Doriana Gray*

            Yup. But some people aren’t experienced enough to know when they’re getting the brush off.

            I feel bad for the friend and the OP really. This is a tough situation. I’m so glad my friends and I all want different things in life so won’t ever be competing for the same jobs.

      4. Koko*

        This seems really overly harsh to OP. You’re essentially saying you would treat OP the way as that LW’s coworker who was bitter about her getting the promotion he wanted. She took a job that he felt he had some arbitrary “dibs” on and that because they were colleagues she shouldn’t have competed against him.

        This is an area where it’s not like dating at all, mostly because as others have said, there’s a much different connotation to taking an OK job because you need to pay than bills than there is to dating someone you don’t have strong feelings for because you’re tired of being single. And honestly – even if it were dating, I might expect a close friend to stay away from someone I’d expressed serious interest in or gone on a few dates with. I wouldn’t expect a coworker to do so. OP says she and the former classmate don’t socialize together. It’s a bit much to expect everyone who comes in contact with you, no matter how tangentially, to stay away from every job/person you announced that you find attractive.

        1. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

          It wasn’t that I didn’t want it. It was that it wasn’t quite as appealing as one I already had an interview scheduled for, one that on a pretty slow timetable and this one seems to be on a much faster one (I knew they contacted him quickly after he applied and his phone interview was within days). Part of the guilt was thinking it wasn’t as good as something already on my calendar, but which might not materialize. But now that I have had the phone interview, this one has moved up in the ranking and I’m not sure which I’d want if both were offered. I’d have to weigh job duties (which are a bit different though they are in the same field), the two companies, benefits, and location, and I don’t have all of that information at this point. But from the phone interview I can say that this one has become pretty appealing, more than it was from just the written description.

          1. AnotherHRPro*

            Landing a job is typically a numbers game and you never know if you will like the job until you get into the interviewing process. Do not feel bad about applying to your friends “dream job”. This could be a great fit for you and could have been a horrible fit for your friend. Or, most likely, a complete stranger could end up getting the job over your friend if you apply or not.

            Just let your friend know that when you looked at the posting you were intrigued and put your application in as well. I would not say anything about how you think you better match the qualifications as that really does not matter.

    6. Sunflower*

      Not that I agree with the dating analogy but to stick with it- the friend never said he was really into the job/girl. He just said he hasn’t gotten any bites lately and now he is. However, the thing that really makes a difference here is that you don’t NEED to be with a girl. But you need a job and so does OP.

      1. Adam*

        And if we’re really going to hammer the dating analogy on this one, the girl/job ultimately gets to decide who they really want, not either of you and maybe neither of you.

    7. Bwmn*

      Where I feel the dating analogy fails is in the same respect that you can’t necessarily call dibs on a person you’re dating anymore so than a friend can.

      Though the very specific presented analogy is shady – if you’ve gone on a few casual dates with someone ten years older than you and then they ultimately have a preference to have a long term relationship with a friend of yours who is also ten years older than you…. I think that’s a better example. I think this is why AAM’s advice is for the OP to be open about applying as well. The OP is an entirely different applicant than a much younger classmate – something that may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on the nature of the position and hiring entity. To perceive this as “you stole a job from me” – it’s ok to have that reaction at first, but it’s ridiculous to hold this up as being shady long term.

    8. boop*

      Negative feelings are legitimate and all, but refusing all contact with someone over this doesn’t sound like a reasonable or even typical response. Do we really want to base all choices on the possibility that everyone we meet is going to react really immaturely to everything? Is it even much of a loss at that point?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Well to be fair, sometimes people do need to lick their wounds, but there are mature ways to deal with it. It’s perfectly fine to excuse yourself for a little bit while you go have a good cry (literally or figuratively). Then you wipe your tears and brush yourself off and say, “OP I’m glad you got the job [if that happens]. If something opens up there that you think I’d be a good fit for, I hope you’ll keep me in mind.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Well, this is true. But OP’s friend has the freedom to make the call of his choice. He could chose to back away from OP. Framing it as “my friend was immature” may or may not take the sting out of losing a friendship.

        Tell the truth, OP. Keep in mind that the ball is in your friend’s court as to whether this friendship continues or not. And file it under lessons learned. We all have one of those files. Decide not to let a situation similar to this ever happen again. I will say that situations like this have taught me about courage, specifically having the courage/foresight/words to make a plan with a person of what to do when something like this happens.

    9. MissDisplaced*

      Eh. I’m not sure I would call this “shady,” as the company didn’t already move forward with the process.
      “The company will tell him if he’ll move on based on how the other interviews go.” I mean, it was certainly not a slam-dunk on his part by any means and they’re likely looking at him as something of a last resort. I think most people would view this as a no-go (although he may be feeling more hopeful than the situation really is).

      However, I do think if this person is a friend, you should tell them you also applied for the job.

    10. snuck*

      The dating analogy is actually spot on.

      So you like the girl, she’s a bit unsure, but you convince her to give you a shot, and convince her to be in a relationship with you, even though she has second thoughts… she takes the job… and it winds up being a disaster… and she then resigns (or is fired) and moves on to another role/relationship.

      No one wins.

      Right person for the right job. Don’t think just because you can schmooze a girl into dating you it’s going to work out… if you have to put so much effort into dating someone that it’s hard work then it’s a lot like lying to get a job… and suggests that it’s not a good fit.

  3. Adam*

    I’m not sure how I’d feel in this situation, but I’m kinda thinking that if the open positions in your field are pretty limited then you will end up competing for jobs with people you know whether you like it or not. I don’t feel like anyone necessarily has “dibs” on an open job especially when it’s entirely possible they won’t be selected anyway, and if you need to work you need to work.

    I wouldn’t hide the fact that you’re applying from this person, but I don’t have any great suggestions as to how to disclose it other than what Alison said.

  4. Laura*

    I helped a friend put together a competitive application for a job I was also applying for. We both got interviews and are both waiting to hear how it goes. Will it sting if he gets the job? Yes. Will I feel good about how I handled the situation anyway? Yes.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      I once was actually sitting in the waiting room with a very close friend as we were being interviewed for the same job. We sat there and talked when we were both waiting for meetings. It actually unnerved the interviewees a little but we were both totally fine with it. We had dinner together that night, debriefed our interviews and wished each other luck. She got the job and we are still good friends.

  5. Vanishing Girl*

    Wow, I’m in a similar situation except that my friend only announced on facebook that she was going to apply. (We are also in a specialized field with few jobs and lots of competition, and she hasn’t had luck getting employment in the field since graduating. So it was kind of a “I’m trying, but I doubt anything will come of it” sort of post.) We’re not very close, but went to grad school together.

    I looked at the listing and it looked like a great fit for me, so I commented saying I was applying as well and good luck. It turns out it is a good fit, and am a finalist for the position, waiting for an answer. I’m not sure if she got an interview, but I haven’t heard her mention it. (Maybe she took me off her more personal filter after that.) I haven’t said anything, because I like to stay quiet until I accept an offer. I wonder now if I should have told her I got an interview or not.

      1. Vanishing Girl*

        Thanks! I hadn’t even thought about it until I saw this post.

        I should say that when I told her I applied she didn’t say anything snide, so she probably wouldn’t get mad anyway. We both commented that we’d both be a good fit and wished each other good luck. Probably nothing to worry about.

    1. jc*

      My mom was just in this scenario. She applied for a new job and told her coworker friend about it. Friend asked if it would be OK if she also applied for the job, mom says its fine. They both end up as finalists and mom’s friend ends up with the job. It really was no big deal. Everyone was up front about everything and everyone acted like adults. And they are still friends.

      1. Vanishing Girl*

        Good! That is what I’m hoping will happen here. If she gets it, awesome as she’s been struggling and she really would be a good fit. If I get it, awesome too. I think we’re mature enough to wish each other well, no matter what happens.

  6. Artemesia*

    Any chance of implying that you were also considering the job or has that ship totally sailed? In fields with few openings I would think he would expect you to be searching the same sources and applying for the same jobs.

    I’d be enraged if I were he, but I wouldn’t have much of a leg to stand on. I have always worked in a field with virtually no jobs. My first was a high school teaching job in a field with way too many applicants. I was offered a job where I student taught but was getting married and we didn’t know where my fiance was going to go to grad school so I told them that. The very day my fiance learned he didn’t get into that college in Boston and so would be going to local university, I was sitting in a class when the person behind me whom I knew slightly told her friend how excited she was because she expected to hear from Prestigious local school district that afternoon about the job. I literally got up and left the class and called the principal. I had intended to do it the next day. He said ‘Oh I am glad you called as we were going to offer that job this afternoon, can you come in this afternoon.’

    I did. They offered me the job on the spot after the interview. The acquaintance learned to keep such things under her hat.

    Your colleague erred in sharing this kind of information with someone he is in competition with. Your choice is obviously to proceed and lose a friend and perhaps not get it or back out and probably neither of you get it. I am not sure about Alison’s advice here as there are no really great choices. Perhaps you apply and are interviewed but don’t get the job or choose to take the other; he might not know. No good options that are friendship preserving or reputation preserving.

    1. thunderbird*

      Eh I am not so sure that it is an error to share this kind of information. I too work in a small field with a lot of competition and was unemployed for quite some time. I had one friend in particular, we would always discuss openings and we even bounced cover letters and resume tweaking off each other. I was much more polished in my writing so I offered him a lot of suggestions early on as he was still developing this skill, and as Laura stated above, I absolutely feel good about helping him with his applications. We are now both employed, neither of us in our ideal positions, but we continue to be great friends and send each other openings or share industry connections. It is tough because work can be tied to so many things, your financial stability, mental health/wellbeing, life satisfaction, etc. so I can understand not wanting to increase the competition when all of that is on the line, but employers are also seeking the best fit for the position and company and we all have different things to offer. With all that in mind I don’t think friendships or reputations require preservation, but that’s just my take.

    2. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

      Artemesia, no chance. I told him I was happy he got his first phone interview and when he texted with his disappointment about the “we’ll let you know later if we want to bring you in,” I said I’d look at the description to see if there was anything I could suggest to play up his experience with projects in the event that he did get it, and to make sure on his resume he was listing his accomplishments in school to fit the kind of jobs he was looking at. Then when I looked at it and saw that they wanted 2-3 years of experience and the list of particular skills, I thought, “Oh, no. No way to pass that off.” I did give him a couple of appropriate suggestions that were not exaggerations but truly would highlight things I knew he did. I do want him to succeed, and I’m not looking for true entry-level jobs. The classmates I expect I’m competing with are ones who have a few years of work experience either before school or because they were part-time students will full-time professional jobs, not ones who went straight full-time bachelor’s to full-time master’s. I haven’t applied for anything that is asking for less than a master’s plus at least 2-3 years of experience. Of course I can’t say who any hiring manager actually has in their interviewing pool and maybe someone is interviewing me along with candidates looking for first jobs.

  7. jhhj*

    I think you need to say what Alison said, and bear in mind that this might end the friendship — applying for the same job is expected, applying for a job that you only found out about because your friend asked for help with their application is different. (You probably won’t be asked for help anymore, either from this person or from their friends, though I don’t think it’s a salt the earth thing.)

    What you probably should have done is warn the friend before applying — not ask for permission, just let them know you are also applying.

  8. Gwen*

    Yikes. That’s tough. In your position, I wouldn’t want to miss the chance for a job that would be suited to me just because someone else applied to it first (especially if I thought I had a better chance at it/that they weren’t an especially strong candidate), but in your friends’ I would definitely feel hurt/betrayed that you’d sniped a job from under me (unfair though that may be). Honestly, this is why I tend not to show my hand and only talk about things I’m trying for if there are multiple positions. I may miss out on helpful advice, but I also avoid the awkwardness of being upset with a friend who was looking out for their own best interest. (I will never forget convincing a friend to come to auditions for the local production of A Christmas Carol with me when I was in high school…I was not cast, and she ended up with a part in the much-coveted ballet sequence!)

    1. Sara*

      I feel the same way – if I were the OP, I wouldn’t want to miss out on an opportunity, but if I were in the friend’s shoes I’d definitely be a little peeved about the extra competition. But I think that bad feelings (from whatever position I was in) would be fleeting, since ultimately so much of this situation is out of the candidates’ hands; all either the OP or the OP’s friend can do is put their best foot forward.

  9. cody's dad*

    I’ve been in a similar position with a former coworker and good friend. We ended up (without verbalizing it) not discussing positions we applied for until one of is got an interview and then we wld support one another. Yes there were times we applied for the same job and only one got called in to interview but that’s just the way it goes.

    Of course in this case the “friend” comfided in the OP AFTER the interview knowing the employer was still looking. I think I’d be a bit miffed yet at the same time the employer basically said he wasn’t the best fit but a possibility for an in person interview. Sometimes its best not share this type of info with people who are seeking the same type of employment as at the end of the day they are your competitors. Reminds me of a close friend from undergrad. Until she landed a job she NEVER told me anything as our credentials and gpa’s were super close and we both knew we wld be tough competition for a job if we went up against one another so the job search was pretty much off the table for discussion. It did feel a little weird at first.

  10. INTP*

    I’m not sure if there’s a way to do this without pissing off the classmate and potentially breaking your relationship with him. However, I also don’t think it is wrong. First, I don’t think he has a shot at the job anyways. In my recruiting experience I never, ever saw a manager hire the candidates they wanted to keep on the hook because they were okay, but still wanted to keep looking for better candidates. If they won’t even make the investment to bring him in for an onsite interview without seeing what else is out there, they don’t want him. (To invoke the semi-relevant dating analogy, its like how someone might not outright reject you because they want you as a back-up option, but if they’re actively looking for other people too, they are NOT going to fall in love with you.)

    Second, this is something that will affect your life for years to come. It’s not just a matter of sacrificing one interview or job application. Not going after this position would mean sacrificing all the future opportunities that might come from your experience in this job, all so a classmate you might not even be in touch with a few years from now won’t have hurt feelings. I understand if the classmate didn’t trust you anymore and was too upset to be friendly with you, especially if he doesn’t realize the company is probably leading him on, but it’s a degree of sacrifice that you aren’t obligated to make imo.

    1. JMegan*

      I agree. I don’t think there’s any way to do it without upsetting the classmate, but on the other hand that’s not necessarily a good reason to avoid applying. It’s not an easy decision, but that’s the way life goes sometimes, and it’s not a bad thing to look out for your own interests over someone else’s.

      1. I@W*


        Well said! It’s unfortunate that the company is being kind of wishy-washy with your colleague.
        Plus, he doesn’t have the work experience to know that he’s being strung along by this company (and still looking for half a year isn’t helping his situation, I realize).

        On the other hand, like everyone else here says, even though he’ll be upset, you need to do what’s best for you.

        1. Retail Lifer*

          Agreed. The job market is so tough right now. Apologize to the classmate, but do what you need to do.

    2. teclatrans*

      Yes, *this* is the relevant dating analogy — employer is not that into the friend, but is keeping him on the hook so they won’t feel lonely. Or, er, something.

  11. Mean Something*

    It doesn’t sound like this person is the kind of friend for whom you ought to consider restricting your own opportunities. If the situation were reversed, would you be hurt or offended that he applied for a job with which you were already in process? As someone with more experience in the work world, you’d probably recognize that, as Alison said, you are in fact competing for the same jobs, even if it’s not always this blatant. You don’t have to “protect” him from your candidacy, for many reasons, and it could come across as condescending to suggest it.

    Alison is always reminding people to let the job go in your mind once you’ve done your best. He might in fact be the right fit, get the job, and excel in it; you might be the right fit, get the job, and excel in it; an entirely different person might get the job; simply interviewing at this company might lead to opportunities in the future for either one of you. Frame it in a practical, collegial way for your friend: give him the resume advice if you have any; tell him “In case they’re continuing to look, I’m applying”; sit and brainstorm with him about next steps for you both.

    Good luck! I’ve been in a highly competitive field, and it can feel as if only the people you know are your competition. Don’t backstab, but don’t over-personalize the search, either.

  12. Polly*

    I don’t think what the LW did is necessarily wrong, but I agree it was shady. I’m not clear how close these friends actually are, but I would expect that if your friend finds out about this, their relationship will be damaged, perhaps beyond repair. To me this just shows that the LW values their job / money over their personal relationships which is not a value system I respect.

    1. Roscoe*

      Thats a perfect way to put it. IF thats where your values lie, that is perfectly fine. But I don’t want a friend like that.

    2. VintageLydia*

      It’s easy to say you value friendship over money or a job when you already have the latter. They’re both unemployed and they both are better off applying for every job they can in their field. This probably isn’t the first time they applied for the same job and if they continue to work in this field, it won’t be the last. The OP’s friend might be upset. Then again, he might not be. They both got bills coming due, though, and that trumps good feelings every time.

      1. LQ*

        I totally agree with this. Eating and keeping a roof over my head might actually trump a friend who would get upset that I was trying to do that. We aren’t talking about a $5 meal that both can afford easily. We are talking about a job which is a pretty big deal to most people.

    3. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I just don’t see it as black and white as that. I value friendships highly, but would I forgo applying for a job that my friend might not even get, that is a good fit for me, just because of friendship? No. I’d have an honest conversation with my friend, and hope that the friendship I value is strong enough to understand why I threw my hat in the ring. Friendship works both ways.

    4. SandrineSmiles (France)*

      Err, sorry, but unless my friend is super rich and buys me a house, of course I will apply for a job even if my friend applies.

      You know, things like rent, food, loans and transportation don’t pay for themselves by magic.

    5. Shell*

      If the OP’s friend/colleague truly holds this against OP, in the “burn bridges and salt the earth” way (and not just “I’m upset but I’ll get over it” way), I think the friend is just as responsible for the damaging of the friendship as the OP, if not more. It’s basically pitting the loyalty of friendship against necessities of survival, which is unfair and rather lacks empathy, particularly as 1) jobs are still pretty hard to find and 2) the friend is also having a hard time finding jobs so they should understand the realities of “bills won’t pay themselves.”

      Friendship should go both ways. I’d find the lack of understanding from the friend pretty troubling in regards to the friendship.

      1. Mean Something*

        Agreed. A cooling of the warmth is understandable, but you should think long and hard before you pursue a grudge against a colleague in a small and competitive field.

  13. Mean Something*

    Having been in a graduate program in a highly competitive field (academia–hundreds of applicants for every position, and most people will not find a full-time, tenure-track position), I think we might need a word that is not “friend” for someone with whom you go through a program. People become collegial and friendly even if they do not socialize together, as in this situation. They also trade a lot of information, gossip, and speculation about getting employed in the field. Then they all compete for a handful of positions across the country. How is it helpful to invoke the privileges and obligations of real friendship in this situation?

    Looking back, I’m impressed that so many people in my graduate program have remained so friendly and collegial, even as some of us entered other career tracks. The key, I think, was in recognizing that the situation was the enemy, not the other graduate students, all of whom had bills and loans to pay.

    1. JMegan*

      This is a great way to look at it. If the person were your BFF since you were six, who stood up for you at your wedding and stayed up all night crying with you when your cat died, you might make a different calculation. But it sounds like this person is more of a colleague – someone who you know, and even like, in a particular set of circumstances, but once those circumstances are over, the relationship will have more or less run its course.

      And in that case, to Polly and Roscoe’s point above, I think it’s perfectly appropriate to value the job (opportunity) over the relationship. Not all relationships are of equal value, just as not all jobs are of equal value. In this case, it sounds like we have a high-value job opportunity, and a low(ish) value relationship, which suggests to me that the OP should go ahead with it.

      Definitely be transparent as Alison suggests, and acknowledge the awkwardness of it all, but don’t put the other person’s possible disappointment ahead of your career.

    2. Christian Troy*

      I agree with you. I’m not sure I would call this common, but in my program, it was not uncommon for faculty to forward job listings that they knew another student had applied to or interviewed for. I guess that is kind of sketchy, but I also kind of feel like if you aren’t the strongest candidate, you aren’t the strongest candidate. It happened to me before and obviously I was unhappy initially but that’s life. If they wanted to offer me the position, they would have.

    3. Ann*

      The key, I think, was in recognizing that the situation was the enemy, not the other graduate students, all of whom had bills and loans to pay.


    4. BRR*

      This is all great. First, in a smaller field the jobs aren’t unknown.

      Second, really evaluate your relationships. My husband hopes to be a professor and is close with many classmates. But from what I have observed, there are some who are friends and some who are professional acquaintances. If some were getting married would they invite us? would we want to go? Some yes. Some no.

    5. Roscoe*

      Maybe thats my issue. I don’t use the term “friend” loosely. I’m very good FRIENDS with quite a few people I went to grad school with, as in we hang out all the time, have traveled together, etc. There were also acquaintances and classmates that I had there, that while I’d connect with them on linkedin, wouldn’t call them friends. So when you say that you talked to a friend about a job, then you went and applied for it anyway, that to me is something I’d consider shady.

      If you said, I heard about this opportunity because a classmate of mine mentioned it, that would be different.

      I absolutely think the nature of the relationship matters.

      1. Adam*

        I’m thinking that’s precisely what happened. Some people are very easygoing with their use of words like “friend” and so to them a friend is anyone they don’t dislike. But when you are on friendly terms with someone from school or work but pretty much only know them in that context “colleague” is a much more appropriate term. By all means you can help each other out respectfully and network, but you don’t owe each other veto power on your personal/business decisions.

      2. Not a Real Giraffe*

        Ah, this clarifies a lot for me. “Friend” is a term I use loosely. I’m imagining the “friend” in this scenario is a classmate whom the OP has gotten to know, not the OP’s BFF/best man/etc. Certainly the situation is different if this is your closest friend, but I still think having a conversation about it instead of just writing the opportunity off is your best bet.

        1. TL -*

          Honestly, a tenure-track job in academia… I’d compete against my best friend for that if I thought I had a shot.
          It depends on the industry, but in academia, that could be the difference between getting a job and switching fields.

      3. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

        This is a good point. I intentionally said “school friend” to try to separate him from social friends, but I suppose that wasn’t distinct enough. While we were in school we did not hang out socially except when all of the students in our cohort had a happy hour, nor do we hang out now. Were I sending out wedding invitations, he would not make the cut. I did make friends in the larger grad program (outside of my narrow specialty so no chance of competing for stealing their jobs too) and I see them outside of school, including the approaching wedding of one. Ones I worked closely with and might text now and again I call school friends, a little closer than just a classmate I’d never think about contacting again now that we’ve graduated unless there were a compelling reason.

    6. Adam*

      +1 Competition is what it is and since we can’t magically conjure the exact perfect job for everyone that means everybody is going to get rejected at some point and there may not be enough good jobs to go around. Limiting yourself based on who you know (and I agree that this sounds like a low investment relationship to begin with) is only going to hurt yourself in the long run.

    7. College Career Counselor*

      I’d go with “cohort” for the word. You’re in the same group/program, but you’re not working together (hence “colleague” is out). You’re all studying/training for the same field, and if there are limited opportunities, you’re in competition with each other for them. You may not be outright competitors, but that still applies to some degree.

  14. Master Bean Counter*

    If I were in the friends position I would totally understand my more qualified friend getting the position. I might be a little upset if they got the job after I basically told them about it. But I also know that if it wasn’t the friend it would be another, more qualified candidate. That’s just how life goes. I’d probably insist my friend by me dinner after getting the job as a referral reward.

    That said I have been the person who looks like they snaked a job out from under somebody. I applied for the same position as my sister-in-law. I had the degree they were asking for (BS) and more experience. She had a associates degree and some semi-relevant experience. She was never interviewed. I found out she applied the day after I was called for an interview. She was saying how she applied and was hoping to hear something soon. I kept my mouth shut. Mostly because this was in a small town and I told nobody nothing until it was a 100% guarantee.
    I know she was upset when I got the job. But she did handle it very graciously. But I don’t think she ever really got over it.

    1. Roscoe*

      I think your situation is different because you had already applied when you found out she had. You didn’t apply after she told you about it.

    2. Anna*

      Yea, but it’s probably because you didn’t just say “Oh yea, I applied for that too.” It could’ve been as easy as that just saying it her. You kinda brought it upon yourself that she thought that.

    3. Chriama*

      Yeah, it she probably thought you’d applied after hearing about it from her. I wouldn’t get over that either, not from family. I get it might have felt awkward to say anything but honestly that probably had the best chance of preserving your relationship.

  15. GeekChic*

    Yikes. If I looked at a job listing specifically to help someone else out with their application, I’d consider that job off limits for me.

    Especially since it sounds like you are actively job-hunting, but it doesn’t sound like you’re thinking of it as a first choice, or as if your fellow applicants necessarily knows you’d be applying for this kind of thing. I think what I’d take away from this is that maybe it’s worth searching a bit more broadly for other places your prior experience would make you a good candidate *from now on*, rather than that you should get a late application in for this specific role.

    You looked into this listing to help a younger, less experienced colleague out – if this comes up again, I’d ask if it’d be cool for me to apply as well before doing it. And if I were you right now, I’d maybe ask and silently withdraw my application if he was fussed about me applying too.

    1. Marian the Librarian*

      “Yikes. If I looked at a job listing specifically to help someone else out with their application, I’d consider that job off limits for me.”

      I had a hard time coming up with exactly why I was uncomfortable with this situation, but you hit the nail on the head. If it were a friend, OP could discuss the situation openly with them and the friend would probably be understanding that they were each applying for the same position. If it were a colleague that is a peer, it would be understood that they would be competing for the same roles. But in this situation, a colleague with less experience asked OP to be in a sort of mentor role, and instead of being a mentor OP has done something that could have a negative impact on OP’s colleague’s job search.

      If I reached out to someone for help in my job search and I found out later that my “mentor” had applied for the same job AND had found out about it from me rather than applying before agreeing to help me, I would feel betrayed and I definitely wouldn’t ask that person for help again. I’d probably also hold it against them in the future if I ever came across them in a professional context.

      OP, I absolutely agree that rather than applying for this role (though it sounds like you’ve already spoken to the employer from your comments), you might want to broaden your job search. I don’t know if I’d encourage you to withdraw your application at this point, but if/when your colleague finds out what happened, I’d be ready to accept hurt feelings on their end and to offer a sincere apology. Again, not because you’re colleagues or friends competing for the same role, but because you offered to help someone less experienced but undermined them without being upfront about your intentions to apply for the same role.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The concept of protecting a vulnerable person. A person comes to you asking for advice. When you use their information to your own advantage then you are starting into an area that could be a breach of trust. Notice I said, “could be”.

      OP, your answer may play out on two levels here. On the whole, we see that people are saying, it’s okay but just go and tell your friend the truth. So let’s assume that society says, “no ethical problem here”.

      But on an individual level, it could be that for you and your own conscience, you ultimately decide that the talking points here are not persuasive to you and no, it’s not okay in your own personal life. I know I have my own version of that. Everyone around me says “do x” and I. just. can’t. do. it. And x is not a preachy thing, it’s my own quiet decision that I keep to myself.

      OTH, you could decide that even though you do agree that it’s ethical, but it’s just plain too hard to work through situations like this and you decide to do things differently from now on.

      So you can go several different ways with this.

      I am a fairly conservative person, so this may/may not resonate with you. When I hit an ethics question, my answer usually involves being as transparent as possible. This comes from times when I was not so transparent and, gosh, that was so hard and so complex. I don’t want to live that way any more. Overall I find that people are AMAZING, I can tell them what is going on or mention a concern and that candor does not bother most people, they just work with it.

  16. Sunflower*

    Hmm I have had very different experience with this. I would ask yourself if you could have found this job easily on your own. I guess it would depend on your city and industry but I have a close friend in the same field and I know we often applied to the same jobs- I was going to apply to the job she has now but I missed the deadline. We both do the majority of our searching and applying online so we naturally found the same jobs and applied to them. I’m in a large city in marketing and I’m pretty sure I’m competing with a lot of people I know as I spent hours sorting through jobs and applying or throwing them out. I don’t mean this to come off wrong but is there a reason you didn’t find this job on your own? I guess since I use Linkedin and Indeed plus get alerts on many other websites/company pages it’s pretty rare someone sends me a posting that I haven’t already seen.

    Unless you are the only two candidates, there are so many other factors that go into this that I think it will end up being pretty rare that your application would be the thing that knocked him off. And if it was and you turned down the job, they would either go back to him or they’d go to people who were more qualified than him in the first place.

    I totally agree that you should be upfront with your friend about also applying but also realize this might be something that is going to happen a lot. If your field is specialized enough and job opportunities are that rare, this is going to become par for the course. Personally I stopped discussing job opportunities with my close friend until the process had ended. I only sent job postings if I had ruled the position out for myself and I’m pretty sure she did the same thing.

    1. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

      Yes, I could have found this on my own, but I didn’t and there’s no way around it now. This is a well-known company in our area and a first-line place you’d think of in our field. He applied for it the day it was posted and was offered the phone interview the same day, and also told me this same day. 24 hours later, he had the phone interview where he was told that they would let him know if they would bring him in dependent on other interviews. Unfortunately I did not have the guile to say, “Oh, I saw that today and applied for it too!” mostly because I didn’t expect we’d be going for the same job, and instead said I was pleased for him (day 1) and I’d look at the description to help him (day 2). Then I saw it and discovered it was more appropriate for my level of skills and experience, not his.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Seriously tell him now. You didn’t say it day 1 or day 2. Say it on day 5. Still better than day 25. “Wanted to let you know I took another look at that position and applied for it. Figured I’d throw my hat in the ring.” He may curse you under his breath, but honestly if it’s that niche a field and this is a well-known company, he should not be surprised.

      2. snuck*

        If it’s a popular/expected employer that makes it easier… it’s not like it’s a tiny niche role that was only advertised in a local paper 20km away…. His applying for it on day 1 doesn’t mean you wouldn’t find it … the first dog to pee on a tree doesn’t own the tree, they just think they do!

        I think all is fair in love, war and unemployment… within reason. The reason part is “would I have found this myself in my search under normal conditions?”. It sounds like you would have.

        So long as you are transparent, so long as you are open and truthful… “Joe there’s a good chance I could be applying for this and other jobs the same as you, just so you know okay? I’m happy to help you – I really am, but please understand we’re both applying for jobs in the same niche industry.” Do this in future before helping anyone. Then they can decide whether to have you help or not.

        And… if he’s knocked out of an in face interview it’s because there’s probably several better candidates, not just you… If he’s knocked out it is because he was the bottom of the list when someone better came in.

  17. uhmealeah*

    I fully agree with bringing it up asap using something along the lines of what was suggested. I also think it’s worth thanking your friend for mentioning the position and letting them know that you’ll pass along any positions you see to them.

    When you’re applying for jobs, it’s always a good idea to throw your name in the hat. When I’m applying for a position, I encourage my colleagues to apply as well. The decision about who to hire isn’t up to me, it’s up to the person doing the hiring. It shouldn’t be a contest involving feelings. I’d rather “compete” against candidates I know are great and be happy for a friend when they score.

    If you want to think of it like dating, think of it like going to a speed dating event with a group of friends. You all might talk to the same person, but who they decide to go home with (err…exchange numbers with?) is ultimately up to them.

  18. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

    Not that it changes the relational part of it, but –

    I’ve had the phone interview since I sent in the question, and am moving on to the in-person. This is not an entry level position after all. The hiring manager asked very through questions and I felt like I needed to have every bit of my experience in my former field plus everything I learned in the course of getting my new degree (which does not impress the hiring manager; she has the same one). It doesn’t change the fact that I found out about the job from my classmate, but it’s hard for me to imagine that he was in the running after his phone interview rather than that he was getting the gentle letdown.

    I still feel bad about it. From the feedback, I should have told him right away. I knew he’d take it badly and it didn’t seem worth telling him since I didn’t know if I’d even get a phone interview, thinking they might have stopped taking resumes by then. I haven’t called him yet. I’m not defending myself, just sharing that my read on the position being a fit for me and not for him was confirmed by the phone interview. I guess I need to talk to him tonight.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I don’t feel as though you did anything wrong, other than to not being upfront about it. You applied because you felt like it would be a good fit for you and you need a job. Period.

    2. Laurel Gray*

      Hey OP, thanks for the update. I have to ask – do you believe you would have ever stumbled across this job posting via whatever way you were looking at or receiving job postings, if your classmate had not mentioned the position and company?

      1. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

        cross-posted from reply above to Sunflower:

        Yes, I could have found this on my own, but I didn’t and there’s no way around it now. This is a well-known company in our area and a first-line place you’d think of in our field. He applied for it the day it was posted and was offered the phone interview the same day, and also told me this same day. 24 hours later, he had the phone interview where he was told that they would let him know if they would bring him in dependent on other interviews. Unfortunately I did not have the guile to say, “Oh, I saw that today and applied for it too!” mostly because I didn’t expect we’d be going for the same job, and instead said I was pleased for him (day 1) and I’d look at the description to help him (day 2). Then I saw it and discovered it was more appropriate for my level of skills and experience, not his.

        1. Harriet*

          From someone also within a specialised, tight-knit field, I think this extra information makes it (almost) a non-issue. You’d have found the job by yourself, or someone else would have told you, soon enough anyway. I found out about my current job when a friend who had also applied told me about it and said it would be a good fit for me (a similar vanilla / chocolate teapot analogy – chocolate is standard in our world, but I was really interested in vanilla which this job turned out to be focused on). It is also super common for me to see people I know at interviews etc, or to know the people doing the interviewing. In our field it is just expected, and being friendly and collegial gets you much further than blowing up about this sort of thing.

          Your friend who applied might well feel stung, that’s human nature, but I would give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he will be a grown up about it.

    3. JMegan*

      Just tell him. It doesn’t sound like he would have gotten the job even if you hadn’t applied, so there’s that. And he’s going to find out sooner or later anyway, so I expect he’d probably rather hear it from you than from someone else.

      And is it also possible that you’re overthinking this a bit? It’s reasonable to think he might be disappointed, or even a bit annoyed, but do you have any indication that his reaction will be any stronger than that? I know other people on this thread have suggested that it would be a dealbreaker on a friendship for them, but do you have any reason to think it will be for him? If it is, well, that ship has sailed in any case. But there’s an equally good chance that it won’t be, and he will do nothing other than congratulate you and wish you well.

      Good luck, both with the conversation and the interview!

    4. BRR*

      Thank you for the update. I think you do need to let him know but don’t feel bad. If his chances at getting the job were significantly lowered by your application, he needs to understand he wasn’t a great candidate (which might take time). It sounds like the job was a stretch for him.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I thought it was the second I read that the company had told him they were waiting for someone better. That sounded like a very soft rejection to me, or at least, a I-think-you-should-probably-keep-looking hint.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          I don’t think they actually said that though. I took it as them telling him they still had other phone interviews to conduct and if they were interested in moving forward, he would hear from them.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Oh well yeah that would be slightly different. But as Alison so often advises, it’s best to proceed as if you are not going to / did not get the job and move on to the next application.

    5. Uni Admin*

      I would caution you against telling him the job wouldn’t be a good for him. Focus strictly on what the job is for *you* and leave your assessment of his skills/fit for the job out of it.

    6. Chriama*

      My concern with your phrasing here is that you seem to be justifying it to yourself by explaining how this wasn’t a good fit for your classmate and wasn’t entry level and yada yada. I think you need to stop that for 2 reasons:

      1) it isn’t morally wrong for you to apply to a job that seems to be a good fit for you. If you already had a job and this was your best friend who had been unemployed for 6 months and was about to lose his house then it would be unkind of you to throw your hat in the ring. But even then, the act of you applying for the job isn’t stealing food from his kids’ mouths. You need to give yourself permission to stop feeling unnecessarily guilty because that could have serious implications on your career and well being in the future.

      2) if this was a situation where it was unethical for you to apply for the job (see above with starving homeless best friend) you need to own that as well. It’s ok to decide that you’re looking out for #1, but don’t try to hide from the implications of your actions. I think trying to soothe your guilt by explaining why it was *ok* for you to do something wrong is as bad as holding on to unnecessary guilt, and put together I think it has the risk of skewing your moral compass. You feel guilty about everything and justify everything, and then it’s difficult to make appropriate moral decisions.

      Anyway, either way I wish you good luck with your job hunt and want to reiterate that you didn’t do anything wrong in this situation, whether or not he was qualified for the job.

      1. Marian the Librarian*

        I was about to chime in with something similar to this but you said it much more eloquently than I could have.

    7. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      OP, you feel badly because in your gut, you feel you’ve done something wrong.

      Everything else is rationalization to try to assuage the guilt.

      FWIW, I do find this shady. There’s no reason you couldn’t have talked to your colleague beforehand. He came to you to be mentored, and he may walk away betrayed. You may not blow his shot at getting into the industry, but you may blow your shot at having his trust again.

      You need to come clean, soon, without apologies or ratioanlizations. Admit you posted and got an interview. It will suck for him. He will feel how he will feel, but you don’t control his reaction. There’s no gentle way to tell this person who looked up to you that you applied to a job he wanted and asked you to help him get.

      This may come across as harsh; I don’t intend that. I just tend to be blunt to make sure I’m not misunderstood. You aren’t a bad person, but you’ve made a bad choice – you need to come clean with that. To move past your guilt, you need to let your colleague know what’s up.

      1. Marian the Librarian*

        I completely agree with most of this, and want to add specifically that you need to stay away from saying that your colleague didn’t have enough experience and wasn’t a good fit for the job, or that your experience fit the job perfectly. I do think that you should apologize, though. He came to you for help and you went behind his back instead of being honest that you were applying to the position now that you’d found out about it–I certainly think that situation warrants a sincere apology.

  19. azvlr*

    I didn’t exactly beat out an acquaintance for a job, but I have been in the situation of competing for jobs against people I went to school with. I suspect it’s not all that uncommon, especially in graduate programs. I was able to land a good job a few months before graduation (thanks, in part, to AAM!) A few of my classmates are still looking for work in our field.

    Partly out of guilt, partly because I enjoy “matchmaking”, and partly because I like to stay in touch with the job market, I have sent a few of the job leads that came my way to a few people. I have actually helped one of them get a job. I am on the fence about recommending one person because I don’t think they have the skills, passion or attitude for the job. Meeting with them for networking became very one-sided, so I had to back away from the relationship.

    If you get the job and he doesn’t, could you stay in this person’s network and continue to send the job leads? Wouldn’t you want them to do the same for you? Good luck to both of you in your job searches!

  20. Retail Lifer*

    It’s too late now, but in the future I’d stop talking about your job search with co-workers/classmates/friends that might go for the same job as you. At my previous job, two managers of other local stores in my company were trying to find a new job at the same time I was. I wouldn’t say we were all good friends, but we were good work friends who socialized outside of the job every so often. At first, the three of us discussed our job search, but we soon realized that we were probably going to be going after the same jobs. Yeah, there are a million retail management jobs out there, but there are a limited number that pay well, were in our part of town, didn’t have insane holiday hours, etc. We agreed to stop talking about our job search with each other until we each found a new job. We did wind up applying to some of the same places, but there was never more than one of us that got a call back from the same place. That would have been really awkward to know about at the time.

  21. Chriama*

    #1 I would say it’s not unethical for you to apply for this job. But you also need to think about your relationship with this classmate. Are you guys close? If I were him and this happened to me I would probably end the relationship. Again, not because you did anything wrong, but becuase we’re in competition and I lose more than I gain by associating with you. I also make a habit of keeping information like this close to my chest, so I probably wouldn’t have told you about it in the first place. I do think that if this happens in the future you should mention it as soon as possible – even lie by saying you saw this a little while ago and just applied yourself. I think it takes the sting out of the idea that they shot themselves in the foot by offering you this information if you make it seem like you already knew about it. But I think it’s also a lesson for this guy to keep his own cards close to his chest and it’s not a bad one to learn.

  22. LQ*

    I’m not looking right now (yay!) but when I was and I knew others who were as well I would often send along jobs to them, knowing they might apply to the same job I would. Even knowing sometimes they’d be more likely to get it. I don’t get the idea that you should secret away job leads like if you don’t tell people about them they won’t know and won’t apply and you’ll be the only one out there and will get it. Sharing job leads and having job leads shared with you in turn sort of seems to make sense, even more so in smaller fields. In a bigger field there are more options, and why wouldn’t I want the people I like and are think are good at what they do to be employed? Why wouldn’t I want them to think well of me next time we cross paths working together?

    Especially when I was working in and looking for work in nonprofits, I felt like I was so much better off to develop those relationships than to isolate myself.

    (And I am a human hating introvert who was looking for work in 2010-2012!)

    1. Mean Something*

      “Especially when I was working in and looking for work in nonprofits, I felt like I was so much better off to develop those relationships than to isolate myself”–yes, I agree with you!

  23. Uni Admin*

    I think you should be open about having applied. I once applied for a full time position somewhere and told one of my coworkers about it. She was a temp like me, so also looking for work, but I didn’t think anything about our conversation. Come to find out three weeks later, she actually got the job. I didn’t exactly begrudge her getting the job (ultimately she was more suited for it than me) but I definitely felt like she went behind my back and it soured our friendship.

  24. bridget*

    I think it feels icky because the friend gave the OP information she wouldn’t have otherwise had, probably because he trusted the OP to use that information for his benefit (advice), and not to his detriment (additional competition for a job he badly needs). I think that’s why it feels different than if the friend and OP had separately applied for the same job; there’s not an element that you used the trust inherent in a personal relationship for a business advantage. It’s fair to take an “every man for himself” attitude when it comes to jobs. But in personal relationships, it’s expected that to some extent, you’ll put your friend’s best interests before your own. The fact that the OP didn’t, in this situation, probably means that she will lose a friend (and I don’t think that’s unfair). It’s the price of looking out for your own best interest over that of others. Only the OP can decide whether it’s worth this trade off.

    I agree that if OP wants to stay in the running for this job, it’s better to come clean earlier.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I agree with you if it’s really true she wouldn’t have had that information otherwise. It’s unclear from the letter:
      I looked at the listing to see what I could suggest to him. This job really calls for more experience than he has, but it’s a good match for me. I really only looked at it to give him some resume suggestions.

      Is it a secret job board she doesn’t know about? Is it a listing on the company’s site that’s not cross-posted elsewhere? How is it that she would never have come across it without him pointing it out to her?

      1. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

        It’s the company’s own public job listings. I could have found it on my own and might have in a day or two. He found it the day it was up and told me immediately that he had applied and had gotten a phone interview offer the same day. It did not occur to me to say that I had applied for it too or wanted to apply to it too because I didn’t imagine we would be going after the same job, based on our vastly different work histories. It wasn’t until I saw the description that I realized it was appropriate for my skills and experience, which has now been confirmed by how thorough the hiring manager was with her questions about exactly what kind of vanilla teapots I made, how many vanilla teapots per quarter, and how large were the teams that I trained in making vanilla teapots (when we just graduated with a degree in chocolate teapots — that’s a baseline requirement to do the job so she just skimmed over that).

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          I’m sorry, but this doesn’t hold water.

          You could have looked for the listing, but you didn’t. You got it from him.

          You applied for the same listing he applied for – why would you think you would be vying for a different job when you applied for the same role?

          You didn’t know you wanted it till you saw the description – so you helped your colleague without ever looking at the posting, or you helped your friend despite believing he wasn’t qualified and you were a better fit?

          And it never occurred to you to say anything about posting about the job he hand-delivered to you, just because you “could” have found it on your own?

          Taking you at face value, you are more than “possibly” shady, IMO.

          1. thunderbird*

            This seems really out of touch. Not sure if you have been in the job market lately, but your assessment here does not hold water. When I was job hunting full time, I found I was most productive when I broke my weeks down into job searching the first half of the week and bookmarking positions, and then spending the rest of the week working on cover letters and applications. It is very possible to not see a new job posting the day it becomes available. Also the OP’s responses throughout the comments fill in the rest of the details you are making assumptions about. No need to be rude.

            1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              I’ve been in the job market, and I didn’t poach any posting from people I knew. Especially no one who asked for help in their own posting.

              I’m not being rude; I’m being candid and there is a difference. I’ve read the thread – all of it – before posting. Could does not mean will. Maybe OP could have found it, maybe OP never would have found it. We’ll never know. Saying OP could have found it on her own is an illogical argument because we cannot go into the past to prove it. She never looked on her own but had it fall into her lap.

              I read the details as rationalizations and attempts to assuage guilt, no more, no less. You read it differently, fine.

              Personally, I don’t think that job hunting gives license to suspend one’s moral and ethical code. I find this highly unethical. If I were on the receiving end, I would be upset and feel betrayed, no doubt.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Unethical!? That’s pretty damn strong, and I disagree. This could have happened later and they’d still have to deal with it. Was she still supposed to let him have it because he called “dibs” on it?

                It’s business. You don’t own a listing. It’s not like claiming something as a kid–“I get to be Batman every time we play Justice League!” No, you don’t always get to be Batman. But if you want to, you need to speak up. So yeah, the OP needs to say something. Not saying something until you got hired would be kind of backhanded and sneaky, but I don’t think it’s unethical, especially if the listing is publicly available.

                Of course you would be upset–anybody would. But it’s a small field, they are going to be applying for many of the same jobs. They better learn how to deal with it now. If this job isn’t a great fit for either of them, or the company decides to hire their CEO’s monkey’s uncle’s nephew’s cousin, it won’t matter anyway.

                1. Roscoe*

                  I think the part that, for me, seems a bit hollow, is that OP says they didn’t realize they were applying for the same job. She knew what job she were helping him look for. She specifically went to the site to look at it to give him advice. Then she applied, interviewed, and never told him. That just doesn’t come across as being up front.

                  Plus, saying “I could have found it” doesn’t mean anything. Just because it was available, doesn’t mean the OP would have looked there. Were they looking at the company regularly before? You still got the information directly from information he gave. So again, its directly taking something that someone else led you to because they wanted it.

                  Maybe you don’t find “ethical” or “unethical” great words here, but since its in the title of the post, I think its fair game.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But I don’t think the OP did say that. She said that she originally assumed she wouldn’t be interested because they’re at different professional levels, but once she learned more about it, she realized that it was a good match for her. But she doesn’t say she didn’t realize they were applying for the same job.

                3. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                  I don’t think the colleague had dibs. As I mentioned before, there’s no reason OP couldn’t talk to colleague first before applying. I find that the honorable thing to do.

                  Posting behind the colleague’s back is unethical, IMO. Yes that is a strong word. OP went against professional behavior when she posted without telling colleague. OP’s actions go well beyond any behavior I would, do consider respectful in how she is handling this and justifying herself, and she is lying by omission to her colleague by saying nothing. Being business-related doesn’t release the OP from ethical code.

                  Lying and going behind someone’s back to poach an opportunity based on OP’s biased assessment of the colleague’s skills? I’ll stand by my statement.

                  As far as posting for the same job – if OP used the same listing, of course OP is vying for the same job, same role, perhaps same literal seat. Thinking that she would get bumped to consideration for a higher role that isn’t available is naive or disingenuous.

                  I’m currently up for promotion with 2 peers, one spot available. They asked if I would post and I said no, but changed my mind after thinking it over for a week. The first thing I did was told each peer – face to face – that had I thought about it, would post, and asked if that would cause any problems. I hadn’t even updated my resume yet. It is possible to have an invested stake still act ethically. OP could have had an open honest conversation and not be in this position had OP addressed this with the colleague in mind.

                4. Shell*

                  @Dr. Johnny Fever

                  Not-sarcastic question: what if your colleagues had said they had a problem with your decision to apply for the job, even though you had said you wouldn’t?

                  Admitting that you would go for the job after rethinking the matter is candid, but I think the “and would that cause any problems?” is against the spirit of that candidness. I find that rather disingenuous, really. What are the colleagues supposed to say, no? Even if they were thinking it? And if they did say it, would you retract your application solely because they’re upset about it?

                5. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                  @Shell – part of my consideration was their individual reasons why they thought I should post. I am newest to the team, and that is the potential problem. They were candid about their own postings.

                  After we all applied, one peer did ask how I’d feel with her as my leader. I answered honestly. I posed her the same question and she admitted she didn’t think I had enough experience on the team, but she could work with that.

                  My other peer has told me that if doesn’t get it, he hopes that my colleague or I will.

                  At this point, we’ve mutually agreed to let the process play out. We’ve also agreed that we won’t share progress with each other past this point – that seems weird.

                  As for the other part, would I reconsider if they weren’t supportive? It depends on the type of objection. For my 1st peer, she is right that I don’t have enough experience for that team; I have experience in the direction it’s headed. My 2nd peer likes his autonomy. For now, these are reconciliable – I can learn more and I can let him keep on doing his thing. Now, if I were a micromanager or if the role was really outside my abilities, I would consider withdrawing. After all, we still work together after all this is over. I wouldn’t want to try to lead people whom I know don’t believe in me as their leader.

                6. Shell*

                  @ Dr. Johnny Fever

                  …huh. I guess you and your colleagues are on a different level of candor, then. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I honestly can’t imagine anyone I’ve worked with previously would give me a 100% frank answer when questioned like that. I have competed against peers for a promotion before, too.

                  I’m not sure if was the general politeness thing, the “if X does get the position after I told her that she wouldn’t be good at it it may end up badly for me” caution, maybe none of us really knew what it was like to be a team lead, or maybe we even genuinely meant the positive words at the time but reality turned out otherwise…dunno. But I would expect that if I asked that kind of question, everyone would say “oh, I have no problems with it/you’d be great” whether they meant it or not. That’s what I meant by disingenuous. Looks like your experiences differ greatly from mine on this point. I would expect that kind of candor out of friends, but not colleagues.

                  And in the same vein, I can’t imagine anyone I know would back out of applying for a promotion based on the unsupportiveness of colleagues, even if they were honest enough to voice their unsupportiveness. I wouldn’t back out either (hence why I wouldn’t ask)–after all, a lot of skills can be learned, and if the promotions are so far out of my realm that I can’t/won’t learn it enough to do it skillfully I doubt I’d want to apply for it in the first place. But if I wanted to, I wouldn’t let unsupportive colleagues dissuade me.

                  Maybe I just know people who favour playing cards close to their chests like me. I figure if I was truly unqualified, I’ll let the powers that be make that decision. I wouldn’t want my colleagues to make that decision for me in advance if I decide to throw my hat into the ring.

                7. Dr. Johnny Fever*

                  @Shell – we take after our boss, who is open and candid with us. It’s a different and refreshing atmosphere and one of the reasons I enjoy my work. We don’t compete with each other. It’s much different from the back-biting world I was in before.

                  We know whoever gets the promotion will be our direct leader. From my thinking on why I would withdraw if given serious objection: let’s say that the job requires X, and my skills in Y do not translate. Additionally, part of the new role is to establish a governance process. Assume I stay in and get the job:

                  1) Jane, who doesn’t think I have enough experience, posts to another position as soon as she can.
                  2) Fergus sees the governance process, and me, as micro managing. He also leaves.
                  3) Multiple teams now have no central manager, and business contacts have no one to contact.

                  Now instead of backfilling one role, I have to backfill three. I become e the single source for all contact moving up and down. Any momentum I had to deliver is cut; I shift into a growth and learning mode until I hire and everyone gets up to speed. That’s a mighty tough test for a new manager.

                  Better for me to withdraw than to lose great performers and have the entire team suffer through a miserable transition. If I truly want that type of job, it doesn’t have to be that exact role. Other opportunities will come.

  25. Anonymous Educator*

    If you’re up front about it, I don’t see why that should damage your relationship with him. Did he go to grad school straight out of college/university? Has he never had full-time working experience?

    I think the only thing (apart from you waiting to get the job to tell him) that would make this a little shady would be if you were not likely to be able to find out about the job any other way.

    That said, if he’s a decent human being, he should be happy for you. Honestly, [h]e told me about finally getting a phone interview, and said the company will tell him if he’ll move on based on how the other interviews go doesn’t sound to me as if he has a real chance anyway. That’s a fairly standard line to give anyone you phone interview. If I got a phone interview somewhere and someone from my cohort said “Hey, I’m going to go ahead and apply for that position too,” I’d say, “Go for it!” and if we were really good friends, I might rib her with “And may the best person win!”

    He doesn’t have dibs on the position.

    People who are truly your friends (or well-wishing colleagues) don’t ever try to prevent you from applying to positions.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Did he go to grad school straight out of college/university? Has he never had full-time working experience?

      And by that I mean that he should know he isn’t necessarily in serious contention just because of a phone screen.

      1. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

        He went straight bachelor’s to master’s, no job experience beyond work study, internship, that kind of stuff. Volunteer work, school activities. Not career-type positions in any field. Since he has never interviewed before, I don’t think he would know what a standard gentle let-down line was.

        I could have found out as it was on the company’s website, and this is a large, well-known local company that all of us in our field know does what we do. But he found out first. He applied the day it was posted and told me immediately that he did. I did not say that I was going to because I did not think that we’d be going for the same job, based on our different levels of experience. I figured he was applying for an entry-level position, and then when I read the description, I realized it was not entry level. When I had my phone interview, I realized it was REALLY not entry level and the hiring manager really wants much more than the 2-3 years asked for in the job description. She sounded satisfied with my 10 years of experience because of exactly what I did in each of my previous jobs, but I felt like had my job been making vanilla sugar bowls or squared handles instead of rounded ones, I’d be out of the running. I don’t feel like she’s just being picky but that it’s a position where the person really does need to know their stuff as it is mid-level and not going to be highly supervised.

        1. Shell*

          Huh. I’m surprised the job description only asked for 2-3 years of experience then. 2-3 years of experience, while not rock-bottom, is still pretty close to entry level.

          1. AnotherHRPro*

            Sadly some job postings are not updated by hiring managers even though their expectations for the job has changed. I wish more managers took the time to write good posting.

    2. Roscoe*

      “People who are truly your friends (or well-wishing colleagues) don’t ever try to prevent you from applying to positions.”

      That doesn’t mean that its right to go behind their back and do it. Its very possible if OP was up front, they would have been a bit annoyed, but ok. But as they say, Its not the crime, its the cover up. Thats what would piss me off more.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Definitely. That’s why I think the OP has to be up front about it” “I took another look at that job posting, and I’m going for it” and not “Oh, yeah… that job for two months back… turns out I applied for it… and got it.”

  26. Marie C.*

    Slightly off-topic, but on the question of whether or not it’s possible to “steal” a job:

    I recently worked in the head of a department of a branch that was going to merge with another local branch of the same company. So it was common knowledge that either I or my counterpart in the other branch, Jane, would be out of a job. According to the company-wide merger policy, I should have been the one to retain my position, since I have two graduate degrees relevant to the position and Jane only has a bachelor’s in an unrelated field.

    However, right around the time when hiring decisions were being discussed, Jane mysteriously procured several negative anonymous letters about me. She presented them to Matilda, who was an upper-level adviser to the company executives, although not actually the hiring manager for my position. (Matilda is also a close personal friend of Jane’s.) Matilda told me that on the basis of the anonymous letters, she had decided that I was totally unsuited for my field, and gave this assessment to all the hiring managers in the entire company. Needless to say, I lost my job!

    In this instance, might I consider my job to have been “stolen?”

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Sabotaged, maybe. But I think the OP’s thing is different, especially if the OP tells the friend she applied. Because they still both might not get the job.

      Your story sounds like Matilda wanted Jane to get the job since they were buddies. I’d bet money she was in on that whole letter thing.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        Yeah, I’d put outright sabotage – which is what it sounds like Jane did, and possibly dishonest sabotage at that – in a whole different (and vastly shadier) moral category. I’m on the fence about OP’s situation, but what Jane and Matilda did is unambiguously shitty.

      2. Marie C.*

        I’m fairly sure that most, if not all, of the letters were fabricated. I worked in a service-oriented non-profit which involved overseeing a lot of volunteers, so it’s inevitable that some people are going to complain about some decisions you make some of the time.

        Still, the anonymous letters I was allowed to see all used the same verbiage, and it was much more technical verbiage than our normal clients or volunteers would have used. The letters were all also specifically asking for Jane to have my job, supposedly from people who never would have met Jane before. Also, there weren’t any specific complaints about specific instances in any of the letters—it was all very general, along the lines of “Marie just isn’t suited for this job. Her gifts lie elsewhere. Please do whatever you can to have Jane take over!”

      1. Marie C.*

        I did try that, but it didn’t work. The hiring manager was being brought in from a totally different branch to head up the new, merged branch, so he didn’t know any of the personalities involved. I think Matilda poisoned the well with him, though, because when I described the situation to him he basically rolled his eyes at me and insinuated that I was making up stories or exaggerating.

        I tried to talk to Matilda’s supervisor, Peggy, about this, but she didn’t answer my calls or emails for four months, by which point the new contracts were all but signed. When I was finally able to meet with her, Peggy said that she was good friends with both Jane and Matilda, and that she had always known them to be “wise and incredibly compassionate” people, so of course she was taking their judgement seriously. Peggy also said that it “didn’t matter if the letters are true or not, because if you were a better person nobody would have felt prompted to write in the first place.” Then Peggy told me that my being so upset about this was a sign that I needed psychological help. When I pointed out that this kind of negative recommendation could ruin my career, Peggy suggested that I look into getting a retail job. So, basically, no help there!

        HR said that ultimately, hiring decisions were totally up to the local branch hiring manager, so there was nothing they could do if the hiring manager decided to take Matilda’s recommendation.

        I can appreciate where the new branch manager would want to take Matilda’s recommendation to avoid rocking the boat in a delicate situation, but the real problem for me is that I’m now de facto blacklisted from this field, at least in my region of the country. A friend and colleague of mine suggested I look into hiring a lawyer and suing for defamation of character, but I’m reluctant to do that because: 1. I’ve been out of work several months and don’t have the money; 2. the quickest way to get REALLY blacklisted from this field is to sue a former employer; 3. I’m not sure there’s anything actually illegal about taking anonymous letters seriously.

        Anyway, I’m trying to keep my hopes up, and to be creative with looking for jobs in different but related fields. This website and the commentators have been a big help in my job search, by the way!

  27. VX34*

    Tell your colleague that, upon reviewing the job to make recommendations for them, you felt that the fit between yourself and the position were too strong not to merit applying yourself. Wish them luck, and say that you hope the best candidate gets the job.

    I think this would be different if you both worked for the same organization, they decided to seek an internal promotion, and then you thought you’d do the same. That’d be a lot murkier. But if both candidates are in search of a job, period…the stronger candidate should get it. If that’s the letter-writer, or his colleague, that’s how the chips fall.

    Having been a Rejected Candidate™ more times than I’d like to remember, I can say with confidence that whoever doesn’t get the job will always feel somewhat bitter, regardless of circumstances.

    It might sting the colleague if they lose out to the OP, but it’s going to sting unless they get it, period.

  28. AcidMeFlux*

    I’m a US citizen but have lived overseas for the last 25 years (since I was in my mid-30s.) I work in language teaching (where there is a ton of demand and a ton of jobs, but few good ones.) I understand the frustration of being in a niche situation, but to me, if the employer finds someone they like better….I just can’t argue with that. And I’ve been on both sides of the situation. Nowadays, there are a million ways to get information, so it’s not like OP steamed open an envelope personally delivered to her compatition. And in the end, it’s who the employer prefers.

  29. ThatGirl*

    I am a faculty member at an MLS program. Most of my students apply for the same jobs – it is a small job market here and most of my students have no desire to leave this area. That is just a fact of this job market at this given time . Many of them list me as a reference on their applications – so I often get a few phone calls at reference time (I always have to ask who I’m bein called about).

    That being said – the above sounds like a similar situation to what I’m used to. I think it would be shortsighted for any of your peer graduates to think that no one else has applied for a job in your market.

  30. AcademiaNut*

    I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong by applying for the job. It was publicly posted by a major employer, and as you said there’s a good chance you would have seen the posting and checked it out without him. The fact that your colleague saw it first does not mean he has dibs on it. Although, as other people have said, saying so at the time would have probably made things smoother.

    That doesn’t mean that he won’t be angry that you applied for it, though, even if it’s true that he isn’t really qualified for it, and was pretty much brushed off by the interviewer.

    Dating analogy wise, I’d say you don’t cut in on a friend who is in the process of chatting up someone, and you don’t go after their current partner. But the first person to meet a new arrival in town doesn’t get to scream “dibs!” and cut everyone else out. Job-wise, if he were pursuing an opportunity that hadn’t been posted publicly, tracking down the hiring manager to give them your resume would be shady, as would leaping in while he was in salary negotiations, offering to do it for cheaper.

  31. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

    I appreciate the advice I got here yesterday from Alison and the commenters to call my school friend. While the opinions varied on whether I am slightly shady, super shady, completely unethical, or just doing what’s best for my career and completely fine, I think it was unanimous that the right time to talk to him was days ago, and since I hadn’t done that, I should do it ASAP. So I picked up the phone last night even though we only ever communicate by text. I felt I owed him that based on both my own increasing feelings of guilt and your opinions that I needed to tell him.

    It went better than expected. He wasn’t upset and he didn’t think I had done anything wrong. I told him that when I read the job description, it seemed like a good match for me, and he agreed. He had let go of the idea that the hiring manager was going to bring him in (like Alison says to do). He was upset right after the phone interview when we texted because it was his first interview and he was feeling like if he couldn’t even get past a phone screen (he did understand that he was getting the polite brush-off), there was nothing out there for him. He had realized that this wasn’t an entry level position, and the 2 years experience, which he thought maybe he could get away with not having, in this case meant 5-10. So he thought I was a more appropriate candidate. I did not suggest that I was, he did. He wished me luck with my interview. I said that if I get it, or any of the other jobs for which I’m applying, I will be sure to pass his resume to any hiring manager who has a position open in anything the least bit related to our field. I felt like an ass for not telling him upfront. I do appreciate the advice to talk to him. I might have kept it inside and it was really bothering me, and would have continued to do so especially if he’d contacted me again with other application/interview prep questions. As I said, our cohort was really small and we worked on a couple of projects together so I did end up feeling a bit big sister-ish in school, though the fact that we’re in different stages of life means that we didn’t turn into social friends.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Glad to hear it worked out well. Offering to pass his résumé on to hiring managers was going a bit above and beyond, but that’s your offer, so as long as you’re willing to do it…

      1. Possibly Super Shady (OP)*

        If it’s an appropriate position, of course I will. If there’s something entry level, why wouldn’t I? I’ve gotten all three of my previous jobs because I knew someone working at the company who passed my resume along. One knew nothing about what I did, not enough to recommend my work, but could say, “hey, my friend is interested in working here, here’s her resume if you’re interested.” I think that’s the appropriate way to handle it if you don’t have supervisory or close working knowledge of someone’s work (and I know him as a project partner, but of course that’s different from being actual colleagues with someone).

    2. CM*

      That’s great, and mature of both you and your friend.

      FWIW, nobody handles everything perfectly in the moment. It can be fun to debate hypothetical situations on the Internet, and I think a lot of the comments saying you’re shady or unethical are approaching it in that light. Also, I think what you were concerned about wasn’t that you actually did something wrong — you applied for a publicly posted job for which you were qualified — but that you would potentially hurt your friend’s feelings. We can all argue about what the ideal scenario would have been. But I think that in real life, you did what any conscientious person would do. You thought about how your actions would affect your friendship, and tried to do the right thing even if it was a few days later than you would have liked. I’m glad it worked out.

  32. StrawberryCakes*

    Not sure if this matters anymore but I feel like it was the wrong thing for you to do. Firstly, you could easily apply for other places and secondly how would you feel if they did it to you. I feel like a good metaphor for this is an eye for an eye you’ll both be blind. People worry too much about careers and money, and this makes people so self righteous that basic human consideration dosent matter to anyone anymore. But knowing that this person applied for the job and then using it to get you where you what you want, wasn’t the right thing to do. I believe there is a reason for everything, you applying to this job and then getting will probably lead to this friend to find a job that he will love and treats him well, while you might be stuck with this job that you got over him and end up hating it. So always play far and treat people right if you expect the same in return.

  33. Diane*

    You all can say it’s okay to apply for a job your friend is applying for. But until it happens to you, you don’t know anything. I told a friend about an interview I had at a company and she turned around and applied for the same job. It just so happens that she ended up with the job and I didn’t. Well she can enjoy the job and money and perks that come with it. However, she just ended a 34 year friendship by doing what she did. Call it childish, say I have issues but what I don’t have are backstabbing friends because that is exactly what it amounts to. I would never have even thought about doing that to her because jobs are jobs but integrity is everything! Just because you can doesn’t mean you should!

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