Having friends at work is a significant predictor of workplace happiness. But there are times when it can be a drawback as well—particularly when you and one of your friends are vying for the same promotion.
When you think about it, this situation is pretty likely at some point in your career, assuming you have friends who are in similar roles and at similar career stages. There are a limited number of spots higher on the ladder, after all. So chances are good that you’ll compete with friends for jobs several times over the course of your career. I’ve had this happen a number of times myself.
So how do you make this sort of situation less awkward? The fundamental principle here is simple: Be kind and supportive of your friends. But to make this happen, there are three specific things you need to do:
Talk it out
When you and a friend are both going for the same job, it has the potential to feel a bit weird. There’s an elephant in the room every time you talk. So, first and foremost, get it out in the open.
Start by saying that you have heard that both of you are being considered for the same position. Be supportive of your friend and let them know that if you aren’t the one who gets the job, you hope it is them.
The key thing to remember is that your friendship will likely last far longer than this particular job search. There is nothing to be gained by being highly competitive with your friend about this. If you get the position, you’ll want allies, and if your friend gets it, you’ll want to know people in high(er) places.
And if both of you are being considered for a position, then chances are you will have the chance to apply for promotions in the future even if you don’t get this one. So, don’t treat the job you’re vying for as if it is the only shot either of you will ever have to move up.
Say nice things
It isn’t enough just to have a conversation with your friend about the potential competition. You should also find ways to say nice things about your friend to people involved in the hiring. Even during the interview, you might want to mention times when you and your friend worked together to have a positive impact on a project.
It might seem strange to pump up a rival, but it has two benefits. For one thing, if your friend is the one who gets the job, you will have someone looking out for you in the future. More importantly, though, good leaders both share credit and take blame. If people on a hiring committee see you as someone who shares the credit for positive outcomes, that will actually reflect well on you. They will see you as someone who wants to develop the people you work with.
After the job search is over, reach back out to your friend. If you get the job, then find ways to involve your friend in new projects. Let them know that you are looking out for them.
If your friend gets the job, congratulate them and find a way to celebrate. You would want your colleagues to be happy for you, and you should do the same. It might sting to be passed over for a promotion, but at least they chose a good person for the job.
And if you both fail to get the job, then that sounds like a good reason to grab a drink or a cup of coffee and commiserate. And while you’re having a conversation about how each of you should have gotten the position, you can feel good that by being supportive throughout the whole process, you have maintained a friendship—which may very well be more valuable than the promotion itself.