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When Competing for a Promotion, Keep It Friendly

Ask The Expert

By Barbara Mitchell

Q: I am competing with a colleague for a promotion in our department. How can she and I continue to work together while the interview process is going on? How about if one of us is successful? What then?

A: First, congratulations for being in the running for the promotion. That’s great news, but I also see the pitfalls in that a colleague is also being considered. Depending on your relationship with that person, this situation could have huge impact on your future with the organization.

Your goal is to sell why you are the best person for the job—not why your colleague is not.

I hope that the process in your organization is an open one so that you both know you are up for the same job. But if that’s not true—if you know and she doesn’t—say something to the other candidate like, “I know you’re also being considered for the promotion, and I want us to be able to continue our good working relationship.” (Of course, if you don’t have a good relationship now, this competition isn’t going to help.)

If you are tempted to undermine your colleague during the interview process, do not go there. Aside from the questionable ethics of that approach, it will come back to bite you. If you are asked your opinion of your colleague’s credentials during the interview, indicate that you have the highest respect for her. Your goal is to sell why you are the best person for the job—not why your colleague is not. The hiring manager needs to hear all about your strengths, your skills, and your plans for how you will add value if you are selected.

If you get the job (congratulations!), don’t flaunt your success. This is not the time to invite the whole team out for happy hour to celebrate. Find a good time to talk with your colleague privately and clear the air. Put yourself in her shoes and think about how you’d like to be treated in this situation.

If your colleague gets the job, be as professional as you can be when you congratulate her. If getting passed over is a deal breaker for you and you think you need to leave the organization or the department, take some time and consider your options carefully before you make any decision.

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].

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