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Not-so-Friendly Career Competition: How to Deal


When your best friend lands her dream internship, it’s your job be there with a smile, a high five and celebratory night on the town. But sharing your BFF’s happiness can feel almost impossible when her dream internship was your dream internship, too.

If you and a close friend are trying to get into the same career field, it’s likely at some point one of you will seem more successful (or even just luckier) than the other. When this happens, that green-eyed monster, envy, can drain the life from an otherwise amazing friendship.

Feel like this scenario describes your friendship a little too well? Here are some steps you can take to deal with career competition before it gets out of control.

If you’re jealous…

Fake it till you make it

It totally sucks to be the one feeling envious. It’s a completely normal but nasty emotion to have, and it can be hard to shake off.  In this case, the advice “fake it till you make it” might sound cynical, but it works. Whether you’re trying to boost your confidence or feel sincerely happy for your friend, pretending can be the first step toward the real thing.

Emily Miethner is the founder and CEO of FindSparka networking and career development group for students and recent graduates. According to Miethner, faking congratulations can be a great way to become a better friend and deal with competition.

“I think one of the greatest things you can do for yourself is being in the mindset of being happy for other people,” Miethner says. “It’s like playing a sport—practice makes perfect. Start with just complimenting people.” Then you can work your way up to the real, heartfelt dance-party celebrations.

Stop comparing yourself to your friends

Easier said than done, right? Still, this is an important part of getting some peace of mind as you vie for internships and jobs that thousands of other qualified students are trying to get.

Being able to stop comparing yourself to others is largely about changing the way you think about your success as well as others’. Miethner says that it’s best to think of your success in its own world. No one else’s success is taking away from the success you’ve had or the success you’re bound to have in the future. In fact, if you’re surrounded by successful people, you should actually feel good about yourself!

“I totally believe that you are the average of the people you spend your time with,” Miethner says. “If your friends are accomplishing great things, then you’re surrounding yourself with great people.”

Channel your envy into productivity

If you’re feeling inferior or envious, try working on yourself instead of focusing on your friends.

Hunter College junior Alexa Amato says that competition with one of her friends helped her get motivated to work on her own career goals.

“My friend got an internship at a really big news corporation, and I couldn't help but almost rage with jealousy,” Alexa says. “I actually feel like this caused a riff in our relationship because she tended to brag a lot, and it made it so difficult for me to congratulate her in her endeavors even though I really wanted to be supportive.”

Eventually, Alexa realized she shouldn’t spend her energy holding a grudge against a friend, and she landed an internship of her own. “I channeled that negative energy and turned it into motivation,” Alexa says. “And, dare I say, maybe some healthy competition is what I need!”

According to Miethner, taking small, productive steps like updating your resume, applying for positions and doing informational interviews can help alleviate those feelings of envy.

“I think action is the best way to get motivated and feel better about yourself,” Miethner says. “You can’t judge yourself by how many interviews you get. There are thousands of people applying for each job.”

Sometimes even the most qualified applicants get overlooked. What matters most is that you’re taking steps forward!

Network with your friends

Having friends interested in the same field as you might be stressing you out right now, but in the long run, it could help you with your career.

Collegiette Megan* says that although she experienced some career competition with a friend, she eventually realized that having a talented friend in her field could be a great thing for down the road.

“I really struggled with [envy] since she had a lot of connections [in public relations],” Megan says. “I felt that maybe I wasn't good enough to go into PR. Now, years later, I feel like she could be a great contact one day. If we both end up going into PR, I feel like we will work well together and might even manage similar clients.”

You and your friend can share tips, practice interviewing each other and keep each other posted on great opportunities. That means when your friend succeeds, so do you (and vice versa!).

If she’s jealous…

Keep your bragging to a minimum

So we’ve gone over what you can do if you’re feeling envious of your friend, but what if you have a friend who’s making things competitive?

Of course, it’s not your job to make sure your success isn’t bugging anyone else. But if competition is straining your friendship, you can make an effort to not to rub your accomplishments in your BFF’s face.

That means that you should be honest if you truly love your new job. But if your friend admits to having difficulty finding a good internship, don’t immediately respond by talking about how excited you are for yours.

Once you’ve achieved your goal, try not to brag, gloat or give too much unasked-for advice. Be supportive, and your friend will likely support you in return!

Don’t get wrapped up in the drama of competition

Sometimes career competition can spin out of control without you realizing it. That’s what happened to Drexel University student Sara* when a peer found out that she had applied to the same internship.

“Once she got to know that I applied to the same position, she told the employers that I lied on my resume!” Sara says. “I found out because one of my previous employers called me and told me that my potential employer thought I never worked there.”

Sara called her potential employer, cleared up the mess and reported the event to her adviser. Sara recommends taking the higher ground in these kinds of situations.

“Be calm and involve the university if anything this serious happens,” Sara says. “Don't try to be confrontational.”

Sara’s experience is an extreme case, but it’s important to remember that not everyone plays fair. If you feel uncomfortable sharing your career plans and aspirations with anyone, just don’t share them.

It’s not a bad idea to save talk of your successes, failures and aspirations for the people closest to you. And if things do get dramatic, keep a level head and remove yourself from the situation, even if that means talking to a career adviser.

Surround yourself with uplifting people

Ultimately, when you get the news that you’ve just landed your dream job, no one can really blame you if you tell people about it. You’re excited and hopeful, and that’s totally okay. It’s not your responsibility to temper your excitement or keep others from playing dirty.

If you have a friend who doesn’t even make an effort to be happy for you or tries to belittle your accomplishments, you probably have a toxic friendship. When that’s the case, it’s probably best to put some space between you and your competitive friend.

“If it’s no longer bearable to spend time with them, sometimes that’s the way life is,” Miethner says. “Be polite and cordial, but don’t hang out with them as much. Spend time with people you enjoy spending time with.”

Surround yourself with people who uplift you and will cheer you along instead. You might lose one so-so friendship, but you’ll gain deeper relationships in return. That way, your career development (as well as your mental health) will be a lot better off!

Whether you’re struggling with envy or you have a friend who is, as long as you’re both moving forward and thinking positively, you’ll be okay. Your success is right around the corner, and you both should be thankful to have fantastic, ambitious friends to celebrate it with!


*Names have been changed.

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