How to approach applying for a job at a company owned by a friend?

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A friend of mine is the CEO of his own small business. We’re not very close friends, but we know each other well enough to have visited each other’s houses for dinner and drinks a few times.

His business is advertising a role which interests me. I have suitable skills for this role but limited experience, so it’s likely to get better candidates than I – at least on paper. It is reporting to one of his subordinates, and I have no idea how much (if any) input my friend might have into the recruiting process.

I would like to apply for this job but I don’t want to cause problems for my friend, nor to have our friendship unduly influence the recruiting process. I have not yet spoken to my friend about it because doing so would certainly result in the latter outcome.

They work in quite a small office. There is a strong chance that, were I to manage to get to the interview stage anonymously, my friend would see me when I arrived. But I also know he’s out of the office a lot.

How should I proceed? I am happy to consider that “not proceeding” may be the best course of action here, especially given that I may well not get the job.

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7 Answers

  1. Of course it will. But that’s not in and of itself a problem.1 You know this person well enough to consider him a friend so it would be very strange not to give him a heads-up, especially because he’s actually the owner and it’s a small business. Just tell him that you saw the ad and think that you could potentially be a good candidate, even if you aren’t a perfect match experience-wise. Just be direct, honest and make it easy for him to say no. There are legitimate reasons not to hire friends, even if there are a few levels between you, your friend might simply prefer not to mix business with personal relationships, or they may as you suspect prefer a more experienced profile.

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  2. I think you should apply for the role first and decide next steps based on how they take it next. I am assuming your buddy CEO will not screen through online applications and will not know you have applied.

    So if his team-members decline your online application itself, then there is nothing for you to think! If they do call you for an interview, then you know that it is based on your merits and not because of your connections and you can feel good about it.

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  3. Some good answers here, let me add:

    I would definitely NOT apply and then try to avoid having your friend see you when you show up for the interview, like trying to schedule an interview when he’s out of town. Surely if you get the job, he’s going to find out sooner or later, and at that point it will be far more awkward than it would be if you told him up front.

    I’ve had two times I’ve gotten involved in new business start-ups by friends, and both times it ended badly. Not horrible, we were screaming at each other, friendship ruined forever badly, but things didn’t work out, I wanted out of this deal but now it’s awkward badly. Any time something like this comes up, I find myself thinking, If this doesn’t work out for whatever reason, is it going to ruin our friendship? And do I value the job or whatever the deal is more than I value the friendship?

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