Just the Job: How to stay focused on the prize despite the friendly rivalry

Q: My good friend and I are both competing for the same job. He has shown his hand publicly and is very keen to get it. I don’t mean to upset the apple cart – but I want the job too, simple as? (CR, email).

A: First off, he might be doing you a favour by forcing you to really consider if you want this job, or if it’s something you’re pursuing simply because it has appeared on the horizon, and you have a good chance of getting it. The complication of him also being in the running has given you pause to ask yourself if you are genuinely attracted to this job.

Let’s presume, though, that you really do want to land this one. Then you owe it to yourself to go for it and, to quote the late, lamented Páidí Ó Sé, “let everyone milk their own cows”. Although I am not au fait with the full circumstances here, I’d imagine you’ll let your friend know that you’re going for it and both of you will likely have to pull back from each other while the race is underway.

Tell him in a respectful, but firm, way. Don’t let him talk you out of it. If he throws the toys out of the pram, you’ve got to stay focused and not allow yourself to get drawn down a rabbit hole.

Chasing a job requires high levels of concentration. You must be single-minded in your pursuit of it. It involves talking to key people who can help you, figuring out what you need to highlight in your CV or application form, anticipating what they might throw at you in the interview preparing (but not learning off) your answers – in short, getting in the fabled zone.

Wondering about how this showdown might affect your friendship will sap your energy. If the friendship is strong enough, it should survive this – clashes like this happen all the time. You can have two people working closely with one another in the same company when the manager’s job comes up, and they are thrust into direct competition. It can make things uncomfortable for a while, but if everyone is mature, it needn’t ruin a relationship.

And if the friend can’t see why you are entitled – nay obliged, you owe it to yourself – to go for this role, maybe they’re not the friend you thought they were, but that’s a question for a whole arena.

Q: How do I make myself stand out in an interview without going over the top? (FD, email).

A: Forgive me for being glib, but I think you have little to worry about. People who are likely to go over the top don’t even stop to ask that question. The fact that you are wondering where the line is drawn suggests to me that you are highly unlikely to get the tone wrong.

Most people don’t go over the top. In fact, most people stay well below the line. Record yourself doing an answer. Over the years, I’ve noticed that good answers rarely run beyond four minutes. See if you’re coming in under that. If you’re running for eight, it’s time to take out the cleaver alright and have a chat with yourself.