I secretly applied for a job my friend wanted.

Advice on manners and morals.
Dec. 31 2009 6:59 AM

Unfriendly Competition

I secretly applied for a job my pal really wants, and now she won't forgive me.

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Dear Prudence,
A good friend and I are students in an advanced degree program, the completion of which is a prerequisite for getting a job in our field—I'm about to finish, and she's somewhat behind me. I'm away from school doing research and have started applying for jobs. The problem is my friend wants a job with a particular organization, although she's not currently in a position to apply for it. She has said that if I get a job there, she will not be able to, because our credentials are so similar. She's also said she doesn't think I'd be happy there. Because of her objections, I did not tell my friend I applied to work at the organization. Now I've made it to a first-round interview. I was so excited about the news that I posted it on my Facebook page before realizing that I should have told her first. I e-mailed her, explaining that I'd applied and that I hoped to see her when I got back to school. She wrote back that she had discovered the whole thing from my Facebook page and that she didn't want to see me. I am devastated. Was I wrong to apply? Should I cancel my interview? Is there any way to fix this?

—Job-Stealing Friend

Dear Job-Stealing,
The solution here seems to be for your friend to contact the human resources department of her dream organization and tell them that while she's not actually applying for a job, she doesn't want anyone else to, either—especially any of her friends!—and they should just hold the slot until she's good and ready. Sure, you understand that your friend feels irrationally jealous and betrayed, but if you two are pursuing careers in a fairly narrow specialty, you may find yourselves competing for choice spots. You can send her another e-mail reiterating your apology for not giving her a heads up, but saying you can't apologize about the application. Explain that if the situation were reversed, and she was getting out of school first, you'd expect her to apply for every great job available, even the ones you covet. Say that getting launched in this economy may be tough, but you're confident that there will be enough opportunities for you both to thrive. Add that her friendship means a great deal to you, and you hope to remain friends and supportive colleagues. Then it's up to her to decide whether to throw away your friendship. On another issue, I understand social networking is erasing any notion that some things are best kept private. But you should know not to post anything on Facebook that you don't want everyone to see on Facebook. It seems like a poor idea to advertise to your 500 closest friends that you've made the first cut for a job interview, and not just because of the situation with your friend. For one thing, you've just increased the chances that someone at the organization gets wind of your blabbing and decides you lack the discretion to be a good fit.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am 23 years old and recently lost my mother to cancer. It has been a difficult time, but I have managed to get through it without succumbing to grief or despair. While all of my friends have tried to be supportive, I have noticed that people my age have a hard time listening or knowing what to do when I talk about my mom. When I say things like, "Oh, my mom loved baking those cookies" or "My mom and dad met at a pizza place," my comments are met with silence and a look of pity from the person to whom I am speaking. I know they feel awkward and don't know what to say, but I need to be able to talk about my mom because it helps me remember her and be at peace with the situation. I want to be able to continue as we would any conversation about parents, as opposed to it turning into a pity party. How can I get this point across to my friends?

—Accepting My Loss

Dear Accepting,
I'm sorry for your loss, and you're clearly doing a remarkable job of coping at a young age with such a big blow. You're right, younger people in particular may not ever have had to deal with death, so they have no idea how to behave naturally around the subject. And people in general often feel it's better not to mention someone who has died—as if the silence will really mean the grief-stricken person won't think about his or her loved one. You can help your friends and yourself by explaining to them what you've explained so well here. The next time you mention your mother and are confronted with an awkward silence and sorrowful looks, you can say, "I hope it doesn't make you uncomfortable if I talk about my mom. It feels good to think about her. And it might sound odd, but bringing her up actually helps me accept that she's gone." This doesn't mean some of your friends won't still be uncomfortable, but that's OK, because you'll be more comfortable. And don't let the pitying looks get to you. It's perfectly natural for your friends' faces to reflect that they're sad on your behalf, but as you lead the way, the looks will fade in time.