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No. 139 – My friend got tapped for a job that sounds perfect for me. Can I apply?

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24 January 2024

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: deciphering ambitions over friendship, managing up and explaining a history of job-hopping.

My friend got tapped for a job that sounds perfect for me. How can I apply for it without losing the friendship?

The answer to this question really depends on how much you value your friendship and how much you are prepared to put someone else before your own ambitions.

If your friend is applying for the job and keen to get it, it’s hard to see how you can apply for this particular job without damaging your friendship. First, being tapped on the shoulder to apply for a new role feels great, so your friend will undoubtedly be excited to have had their prior experience and work recognised. Celebrate this with them, and then be thrilled for them if they get the job. Second, if you only know about the job because your friend has told you, applying yourself is likely to lead to your friend feeling betrayed. This is their moment, not yours.

If your friend decides not to apply – or applies and doesn’t get the job (and the position is still vacant) – then I think you can talk to your friend and ask how they might feel if you were to apply for the role yourself.

My boss is driving me crazy. He’s lovely but lacks the technical, leadership and soft skills to do his job. It is annoying and insulting to hand-hold and do the work while receiving no credit or career development. I love my company and industry, and I am in a very technical field so can’t move into another team. What do I do?

From your description, it sounds like your boss has been brought in as a manager with general skills to lead a highly specialised, technical team. It may be that in a different context he would be more capable, but in this particular role he is struggling with the expectation to understand the technical demands. If you add to that the fact you said he lacks basic leadership skills, it sounds like your company has not set him up well to succeed. That is not only going to impact just you, but also your boss and his confidence.

You said your boss is lovely – does that mean you can talk openly with him about how you are experiencing his leadership style and the demands on your time to help him through the technical tasks? You list of a trifecta of challenges which cover most of his responsibilities; is there anything he is doing well? While it may feel annoying and insulting, it sounds like you could offer him some valuable feedback and insights into his performance. If you deliver the feedback in a way that builds trust and avoids judgement, you might find he responds well.

If offering this kind of feedback is not an option, does your company do 360 reviews where you will be able to share your feedback more confidentially? Alternatively, I would recommend seeking advice from someone in your organisation who helps manage your career development. Let them know you are eager to take on a leadership role yourself since you feel you already shadow your current boss and could add a lot of value with the right opportunity. This may lead to a conversation where you can ask this person for advice about how to handle your current situation.

I’m a professional in my early thirties and over the past few years I have moved jobs every year or so chasing a higher salary with great success. The result is I have five previous jobs with around one year tenure each. I am worried how my previous job-hopping looks and how I address it in interviews and applications?

Five jobs in five years would, ordinarily, be challenging to explain in a job interview, and there is no doubt it will raise red flags for some potential employers. You are best to tackle the situation head on, perhaps even in your cover letter, and point to the fact that you have been eager to expand your expertise and the value you offer which is shown by having been successfully poached to join new organisations on a number of occasions.

You can also make the point you are in a different position in life now, and stability is much more important for you. Explain how much experience you have gained in each of the different roles you have held which means you believe you can add significant value to the role you are applying for. I would reconfirm your commitment to finding an employer where you can now embed all that experience for the medium to long term.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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