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.

EDIT: I feel I ought to explain why I'm overthinking this. I'm not a great match for the role. My concern is that I get a boost over other candidates because of my connection and then turn out to be terrible. That's going to reflect badly on both me and my friend, and potentially make his position very difficult.

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    Get him drunk, tell him you're looking for a job, there is nothing wrong with using your personal network to secure employment.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 11:01
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    @LucianSava: This is not nepotism, they're friends not relatives. There is nothing wrong with using your personal connections to try and get jobs. Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 11:25
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    If you're friends with the CEO, tell them your concerns as well. If they think it's an acceptable risk, they'll put the wheels in motion. Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 13:13
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    Just remember that the a very good way to terminate a friendship is to turn it into a business relationship. If this guy does offer you a job, you won't be his "friend", you will be his "employee" (and if he doesn't understand the difference, you really really don't want to work for that company anyway!).
    – alephzero
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 13:37
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    @JackAidley - friends or family doesn't change whether something is nepotism or not. If you are hired over a more competent candidate because you are a friend of a CEO, that's basically a definition of nepotism.
    – Davor
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 14:14

5 Answers 5


Call your friend

Wow, you're seriously overthinking this. Phone up your friend, tell him you're interested in the job, see what he says, and proceed from there. Trying to stealthily avoid your friend is weird and unnecessary.

I would dismiss your concerns about being taken on for a role you're unsuited for. Your friend is CEO of his own company and is not going to put it at risk over a "not very close" friend. Simply be up-front with him and make it clear that while you're keen on taking the job you would not be so foolish as to let a rejection jeopardise your friendship.

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    Thanks, you may be right. I have added an edit to explain why I'm overthinking it and why it's not quite as "weird and unnecessary" as it might look :)
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 11:41
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    Your friend is CEO of his own company and is not going to put it at risk over a "not very close" friend I think you overestimate how good many CEOs are. I suspect a lot of small business owners make fairly poor decisions based on preferring friendships over sound business decisions.
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 14:25

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.

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.

You could say something like this:

I noticed your company posted a position as [X] which interested me for [reasons you'd want the job]. I think my experience at [past jobs] doing [stuff] means that I'd be well suited for the role, though I realise that I don't have the level of experience [you / the hiring manager / the company] may be looking for. But I wanted to talk this over with you first in case you didn't feel comfortable hiring a friend or know that I don't have the experience [hiring manager is / they are] looking for. Of course I don't expect any preferential treatment, but I did want to check with you whether it makes sense for me to apply or not.

Of course this would sound a bit formal when among friends but you want to approach this conversation in a more professional tone than you would normally. If he seems open to the idea after you broach the topic, make it clear that there'd be no hard feelings if the company's management decides that you're not the right person for the role.

1 - Edit to clarify: what you absolutely want to avoid as a candidate is giving the impression that you're trying to use personal relationships to bypass a company's hiring process. That's definitely Not A Good Thing. But the fact that you know people at a company will of course have an impact as those people can presumably speak to your work and give references that the hiring manager or HR can trust more than those from former managers of yours that they don't know. This can just as well cause you to lose the job: if someone there knows you're a great employee but also knows that you, for example, hate project management and they know that the job they're hiring for will include a lot of that. But that's not a bad thing! In most cases your goal should not be to find employment at all costs but to find a job that you'll excel at and that perhaps don't love, but at least not hate.

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    "That's definitely Not A Good Thing." Why not? It happens all the time. When you are hiring someone for "soft skills" knowing that person add's a huge amount of value. Might there be better candidates out there? Sure, but knowing a candidate outside of work has advantages in and of itself and might be worth a lot the the CEO or the business.
    – Sam
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 17:27
  • @Sam I thought I'd made that clear: there's a difference between a candidate trying to bypass the normal hiring process and interviews and a manager fast-tracking an applicant. The former is dishonest and sleazy while the latter is indeed common. It's one of the many power imbalances in hiring.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 17:40
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    I guess I didn't read it that way, but yeah I agree when you put it that way.
    – Sam
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 18:36
  • Hiring a friend may have drawbacks but also some advantages - and working for a friend, too. In addition to the important reasons stated by Lilienthal, asking your friend might even improve your chances if your friend values the advantages of hiring a friend for that particular position.
    – Pere
    Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 17:23

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?

I think the best you can do is talk to your friend, tell him you saw the ad, you think you might be qualified, etc, but you realize it could be awkward, what do you think, I really don't need this job so if you say you think it's a bad idea it's not like I'll be unemployed and living in a cardboard box, etc. As someone else said, I'd try to make it easy for him to say please don't.

Unless you desperately need this job, in which case it's a whole different story. Then saying "please please give me a job, I'm about to lose my house and my children will be starving homeless waifs" etc might be your best bet. :-)


Jack's answer is spot on. Contact your buddy, and be honest about your short comings and how this is a stretch for you and how you fall short of the desired qualifications. I would also have a plan on how to overcome those short comings.

Don't let the outcome of the hiring process effect your friendship in anyway. If you don't get hired, still be friendly with the fellow. I have applied at a friend's company 4 times. Twice I was denied employment, but it turned out to be very good for me and probably them. The first time I was really hurt, but looking back they did me a favor by not hiring me.

The other two times I was hired and it worked out pretty good for the both of us.


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.

Before going to the interview, you can send a note (I would prefer that over a phone call) that you had applied for this position and you are appearing for the interview. You can express your concern anyway about conflict-of-interest but more likely than not he will understand the situation himself and ideally should keep himself out of decision making process.

(Like other suggested you may decide to use your connections to actually get this job and there may not be anything wrong or unethical with it but you sound like you do not want this job that way. I totally understand that and I would feel the same!)

Also, I do not think you should worry about how fit are you for this position. No one is ever 100% fit for any advertised role. Let the company decide if they want you.

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