Be quick to level with co-worker friend

Dear Joan:
I have worked for a large utility for the past five years. A co-worker took me under her wing when I joined the company and has been very helpful to me over the years. Now, we're friends.  Our boss is retiring and this resulted in a reorganization, with one of the outcomes being a new, department.

My friend applied for the department head job; I didn't even consider applying. Then I got a call from an influential friend in personnel who suggested I apply. So I did, but I didn't tell anyone.

My friend got an interview and came back and told me all the things they asked her. (I didn't expect to get called.) She left town on a vacation and to my surprise, I was called for an interview.

Now I don't know what to do. Should I tell her when she comes back or hope nothing will happen and she'll never know?

Tell her - fast. It's better to take your lumps now than later, when it could get much worse.

Let's take this situation apart and examine each possibility. If you don't get the job and she does, she'll probably be curious about who her competition was. That information will be accessible to her.
When she finds out you quietly applied without mentioning it, she will feel that you were sneaky. If you have to report to her as your new boss, she'll wonder if you can be trusted in the future.

A relationship change from peers to manager-employee can be tricky enough to transcend. The added distrust won't help and could even jeopardize your position.

If you do get the job, you're still in for trouble. Your new subordinate will be furious with you for using the information she gave you about the interview questions. She may feel this information gave you the edge over her particularly because she's more experienced and probably feels more qualified than you.

If could get worse. If she has many friends in her network, she may be irate enough to tell them about it. This could hurt you at a time when you need to respect and support of others. Establishing a new department will be tough enough without this cloud over your leadership.

If someone else gets the job, she may still find out. The new department head or one of the interviewers might mention something like, "I know both you and (blank) wanted the job, but I think you'll like Charlie. He's had years of experience doing this sort of thing."

You may as well hiss your pleasant relationship goodby. You may find your co-worker will become distant and hostile. Life could become miserable if she withholds information or shows her anger in other ways. Other co-workers might even distance themselves.

So how do you tell her?

Admit your mistake. Explain that you honestly didn't consider applying until a friend encouraged you. Don't tell her who the friend is or where he or she works because if you get the job, she may feel it was the result of pulled strings, not merit.

Explain that you probably should have told her you had applied at the time she came back from her interview. Tell her that you sincerely believed you would not be called for an interview at that point.

You may be able to remind her of your years of friendship and trust. If she can see this was an out-of-character error in judgment, the wound should heal quickly.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.