#304: Good problems!

Knope 2012 Campaign Poster (Parks & Rec)Dear Captain Awkward,

My boyfriend and I met in college, and are following similar career paths. We’re a little different in the exact path, but it’s the same industry.

Last month a family member visiting my family said that he was best friends with a head honcho in the industry. He said that my boyfriend and I should send him our resumes so that he could pass them on to his friend. I was all over it, even though I knew nothing would come from it. My boyfriend was a little hesitant because of the low odds, but he put something together and sent it in.

Flash forward to yesterday and BAM we hear something back! Or rather, I hear something back. Nothing about a job, but head honcho wants to set up a call with me to speak about possibilities. His assistant sets up a call for today. We have the call, and it’s all sorts of amazing. There’s no job (yet) but he says I can call or email him any time and to definitely let him know when I’m in town so that he can set up meetings with different companies. Not necessarily job interviews, but people who can shoot me in the right direction. Awesome right?? A HUGE door opener!

Here’s my question…what about my boyfriend? He is going to be traveling to that town with me (we made plans a while ago) and I know that he’d love to have meetings. But I already feel like I’m receiving a huge favor, and I’d feel weird dragging him along or asking for meetings to be set up for him, too. I think that would be pretty imposing. All sorts of awkwardness in my brain right now. I know that I should tell him that look, this is now my contact. You had a chance to send in your resume when I did (he sent his in a few hours past the “deadline” – when my family member left). I know he’d understand but…wow I want him to have opportunities, too!

Anyway I think I have this question answered for myself, but I have no way to approach it. Should I just own the fact that this is now my situation? Or should I bring it up with bf and talk to him about it? This is nothing we would ever break up over, but I love him and want him to have awesome opportunities, too. And I really want to spare hurt feelings.

Thanks,
Opportunities For All!

Dear Opportunities:

I have very strong opinions about this, are you ready?

It will be ok if you are the first to land a job in your industry in (place), if you are the one who really gets the advantage of your family member’s contact, and/or that the people involved are really interested in doing you the favor. It will be okay if the head honcho guy liked your materials better. Say thank you, set up and go to every meeting that you can, and seize the fuck out of this opportunity. Make it about you, what you can do for the company, what you can learn. Don’t dilute this experience by also trying to sell your awesome boyfriend at the same time. It will weaken your position if you spend YOUR job interviews saying “Well, my boyfriend…” and “By the way, my boyfriend…” Let people do the favor they’ve offered to do for you and don’t try to expand it to include him right now. It’s actually a teensy bit rude.

If you’re both in the same industry and you’re both good at what you do (and it sounds like you are), this is something that is going to happen over and over again in your lives. One of you will get The Call and be the pioneer into a given city or opportunity. You will say yes and then once you’re in the door you will do reconnaissance for the other person. You’ll be the first to hear about openings, you’ll be the one who can see and advocate how your the other person’s skills might solve a certain problem. He’ll do the same for you (and he’ll have his chance).

I would not present this to your boyfriend as a problem. “Good news, boyfriend, they want me to come talk to them when we’re in town. I’m going to go find out all that I can and report back.” If he’s bummed that they didn’t call him, too, it’s totally understandable! And you can express empathy without taking this on as an Unfair Problem You Must Fix.

A good partner is going to understand and be psyched for you. He may be sad, but he won’t steal your thunder or pressure you into trying to rep him, too. If he sulks and tries to pressure you, that is bad mojo and you can shut it down this way: “Of course I wish they’d called both of us, but I’m glad that they called one of us, and if the situation were reversed I’d be happy for you. It’s unrealistic to expect that both of us would break into this industry in exactly the same way at the same time. I understand why you’re bummed out, and I would be too in your shoes, but right now I need you to be happy for me and trust that we’ll both get our chances at this.

Notice the distinct lack of the words “I’m sorry” in that script. Being awesome is not something to apologize for. Please, please don’t offer to advocate for him or to try to set up meetings for him to make him feel better. In a weird way it will make something that isn’t your decision at all – “Some honcho at some company called me instead of you!” –  into something that feels like your decision or your “fault” even though whatever happens (even the decision about whether YOU yourself get the job)  is totally beyond your control.

tl;dr

YOU are not hurting anyone’s feelings by being awesome at what you do, and it’s not your responsibility to get your boyfriend a job or to manage whatever feelings he has about this. Go after this opportunity as hard as you can and hope the two of you will play a life-long game of job leapfrog.

Tag: FEMINISM

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29 comments
  1. Danzon said:

    LW, the best thing you can do for your boyfriend is pursue this opportunity and make no mention of him. It will come across as a distracting turn off for an employer who is professionally interested in you and what you have to offer.

    Once your opportunity turns into something more solid, that is the time to start promoting your boyfriend’s case. You will be a more effective advocate for him when you’re actually in a role, in the industry, with presumably more relevant contacts. For now, follow CA’s advice and let nothing distract from you getting your foot in this door.

    BTW, I give this advice as someone who has interviewed many dozens of people and made recruitment decisions to employ quite a few of them.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the backup. Also, “Once your opportunity turns into something more solid…” = probably equals “Once you have accepted a job offer, had a chance to settle in a little bit and learn the ropes/see what the place is like.”

  2. Travis said:

    Hey CA, how about this for a Possible Additional Awkward Scenario (PAAS): “Well, can you see if you can get me a meeting too? There’s no reason you can’t mention to these companies that I do good work as well!”

    I dunno how likely this is with your boyfriend or career, LW, but I’ve had it happen to me (with friends, not an SO)

    If I got that question in this situation, I would fist-bump that guy and say “You know I got your back, 100%, always”. And then I would go to my (YOUR) meetings and focus completely on how awesome I am (YOU ARE). For every thing a season, a time sew, a time to reap, a time to network, and a time to self-promote.

    • JenniferP said:

      I am cringing at that question. Sooooooooo awkward.

      Good strategy for dealing with it in a noncommittal-but-positive way! Though I hesitate to advise the LW to put herself on the hook about this whatsoever.

    • tinyorc said:

      I would caution against lying, even it’s lying by dodging the question with vague positive reinforcement. Lying usually will lead to more lies, because Boyfriend will probably follow up with “Did you mention me in the meeting? What did you say about me? Did they seem interested?” and LW will have to either invent more lies, or come clean and say she never had any intention of talking him up in the first place. Also, it sets up a messy set of career-related expectations will continue to dog the relationship further down the line.

      • theLaplaceDemon said:

        I agree. Avoid lying in this one. I would say something along the lines of “I’m worried that if I try to get you a meeting too it will look bad for me/they won’t take me as seriously.” Maybe add some kind of qualifier like “because they seemed really old fashion/SUPER professional” or whatever is appropriate for this industry/situation. If LW makes it clear that asking makes her uncomfortable, or might diminish her own opportunities, and Boyfriend still pushes her/gets sulky, they have bigger problems to deal with.

  3. Esti said:

    Wow, I also have ALL KINDS OF FEELINGS about this.

    First, LW, congrats! This is not an easy economy in which to be starting a career, but you obviously put together a great set of written materials and then wowed the head honcho by phone. You should be psyched about that and about the opportunities that are going to flow from it.

    Your instincts on this are absolutely right. It would be a huge, weird imposition to ask this head honcho to set up meetings for your boyfriend. (And definitely do not bring your boyfriend to things set up for you!) It’s totally understandable for you to want good things for your boyfriend, but the opportunity you are being given is not fungible or transferable. It is specific to you, the person who wowed the head honcho. This isn’t “I won the lottery and want to share my luck with you!” This is “I was given an opportunity based on my individual characteristics and achievements, and I am sure that you will find your own opportunity, boyfriend, based on your characteristics and achievements.” (Not to mention: how not-awesome would it be for him to tag along to something his girlfriend was picked for and he was rejected for?)

    I think you know what to do here, but there’s a bigger issue underlying this and it’s one that is likely to arise again so long as you are dating someone who works in the same field that you do. You and your boyfriend are building a life together, but you are building two distinct careers. It is essential to the health of both projects that you give yourselves and one another the freedom to go after things you both want and to succeed at them. In all likelihood, there are going to be times when you are more professionally successful than your boyfriend, and times when he is more professionally successful than you. But if it ever becomes a comparative exercise–even in the nice, generous way where you don’t want him to be left out of the opportunities you have–then I think it’s going to be very tricky to navigate.

    And more broadly, there is a whole lot of socialization that makes it difficult for women (I’m assuming you’re a woman, LW, based on the Captain tagging this post with Feminism, but apologies if not) to take credit for their achievements and to sell themselves professionally. Women are way, way more likely to respond to praise at work by saying that it was a team effort or by otherwise downplaying their accomplishments. Men, by contrast, are more willing to credit themselves when they have success, and are definitely more willing to sell themselves without apologizing for it. We’ve got to fight against the messages that tell us we’re selfish because we want things and work for them.

    In short, LW, you shouldn’t feel guilty about asking for an opportunity and then seizing it when it comes to you. This is your chance; your boyfriend will find his own.

    • statusstories said:

      This this this this. All of this. LW, as a very wise elf once said to a very small hobbit, this task was appointed to you, and if you don’t find a way, no one will. Obviously, career = way more awesome than throwing an evil ring into Mount Doom! But: you and your boyfriend are two different people, and you can’t substitute his awesomeness for your own.

      • Nicole said:

        Umm, how did I miss this my first time through the comments? Because it is one of the most awesome pieces of advice ever! Especially since a) I read those books for the first time in grade 3, and have read them SO many more times since b) I just finished reading “Mark Reads LOTR”, which reminded me of the awesomeness.

        As an add-on: If you are someone who HAS thrown a ring into Mount doom, career= piece of cake. If you are someone who hasn’t, the career may very well BE your Mount Doom. It’s all about perspective!

        Hopefully your boyfriend will turn out to be a Sam Gamgee (oh how much I love him) and not a Gollum

  4. Similar situation happened to myself and my partner only a few years ago – We both applied for the same job on the other side of the world, and he got it and I didn’t. As much as I wanted to say to him “Put in a good word for me!” I just sucked it up and didn’t, because I knew that, well, they’d rejected me once, they’d probably like me even less if I was being a drain on one of their employees. So we went over there together, and he fed me insider information on the company and the profession in general (stuff tht would later make me a stronger candidate) and lo, within a week of arriving in the country, I had a job based on the interviewer-baiting tricks he’d shared with me – Stuff that would only be known to a more experienced candidate, because it wasn’t the kind of thing that you’d pick up on in training.

    TLDR – Sending one of you ahead as a pathfinder just means that the second will have an advantage later, not based on connections but based on insight into the workings of your field.

    Also – Congratulations!

  5. You might be worrying about this far more than your boyfriend will, LW. Women are taught hard not to self promote, and never to take a slice of cake until they’re sure everyone else has had two, and definitely never ever to admit to being clever and good at stuff. Men don’t usually get that – they are taught to think big and be ambitious and seize opportunities.

    An awesome man, such as your boyfriend hopefully is, will take it for granted that when life gives you a chance like this you grab it with both hands rather than mumbling no-I-couldn’t-possibly or trying to push someone else ahead of you. Being disappointed they didn’t call him is, as the Captain says, natural – but he should also be happy that they did call you.

  6. Lily said:

    OMG YES TAKE THE EFFING HAND UP.

    If we’re ever going to have a woman president in the US and more female CEOs and senators, young women need to understand that their career is THEIRS and that they don’t owe it their boyfriends or husbands to slow down so they can catch up.

  7. Lily said:

    Also? If your boyfriend is butthurt about it, kick his ass to the curb.

    My husband and I are in the same industry. When I got the chance to be in a very competitive entrepreneur in residence program two time zones away, he took care of our two kids — then age 3 and 5 — singlehandedly for three months without ever suggesting that was anything other than what one spouse SHOULD do for another.

    Your boyfriend should support you to realize every atom of your potential and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t deserve you.

  8. case-in-point said:

    Let go of your guilt. You did mention that he had the opportunity to get his resume in front of this guy’s face at the same time as you did. That your resume was chosen over his is not of your doing. Your boyfriend may be disappointed, but it’s certainly not going to be a surprise that your relative is a better advocate for you than he would be for your boyfriend. You don’t need to apologize for getting this awesome opportunity and you shouldn’t try to make this about your boyfriend– that is, you shouldn’t advocate for him right now, nor should you pity him. You can empathize with his disappointment, but he should also be able to show that he’s happy for you.

    One thing I will say from experience is this, being in the same field can make it easy to be too competitive with each other and that’s a trap you should both try to navigate and avoid. It’s definitely something to think about since you should be on the same team, working together to meet both mutual and individual goals, and that can be difficult if you’re competing over who can score the most.

    • Lily said:

      My husband and I decided very early in our relationship that we’d never work together. Not so much because we’d be competing head to head, but because we thought we wouldn’t have enough to talk about when we got home. There is such a thing as too much togetherness.

      • mintylime said:

        As my former supervisor used to say “I don’t ever want to have to tell the judge ‘Well, your Honor, we didn’t think it would be a problem that they were sleeping together'”.

  9. CPALady said:

    So, my story is about my friend, not partner but I think it is still instructive.

    When I finished my accounting program I was a star student generally believed to be on the fast track to one of the more in demand accounting firms. But, Accounting recruiting is hard, and opaque, and a lot like sorority rush in ways. I didn’t get an offer but one of my best friends did.

    Almost a year later (I was working in accounting but not in public accounting like I wanted). This friend was having dinner with the manager who hired her and not me and my name came up in conversation. Long story short, he got in touch with me about an opportunity at the firm I interviewed and got the job I wanted from the start.

    The key here is that she DIDN’T say “hey you should hire CPALady”. When the topic of great accounting students came up naturally in conversation she was able to talk about me, but she didn’t force it or even really keep a sharp eye out for opportunities to drop my name.

    So… you know… you can still help him, but you have to be, like, super chill.

  10. Nicole said:

    Wow. I am a twin, and my sister and I went into the same program in University (although we have no specialized differently) and this sounded SO familiar…There a couple of times at the end of high school where both of us applied for the same scholarship, or program…and I was the only one who got offered it. It does feel a little bit awful- but the thing that STILL feels awful is that I ruined the awesomeness of getting the offers by feeling bad for my sister. You are NOT RESPONSIBLE for your boyfriend not getting the offer. You are responsible for YOU getting the offer. You are awesome. Period.

    Unfortunately, my sister didn’t have the greatest reactions…(probably partially because twins= a certain amount of boundary issues when you are kids and family = sometimes treat like crap). For the first one, she just burst into tears instantly, and I never got to have my “yay” moment because it was all about how awful it was she didn’t get it. I REALLY don’t see your boyfriend pulling that. Adults generally know bettter 😉

    However, the second time wasn’t good either…My sister phone all my friends and families before I got out of the office, to give them the `good news. Nicole made it, but I sucked too much`and it got passive aggressive and nasty, and ruined any chance of me telling people and having them be happy for me.

    Just in case…I would both tell your boyfriend in a controlled setting (not in a room full of family) so he can`t ruin you telling fiends or family, and also have a phone call with a close friend of family member before you tell him- not because you AREN`T going to tell him or are going to lie to him, but to get that nice moment of feeling awesome and having someone tell you that you are awesome.

    But honestly, I wouldn`t worry too much about your experience matching mine. It is a boyfriend, not a sister, you are adults, and he didn`t sound so enthused in the first place. If he dragged his heels and was hesitant, he will (hopefully) recognize that there is a reason why he wasn`t invited.

  11. Nicole said:

    Oh, and sorry to post twice in a row, but the feminist in me is also pointing out that sexism is still alive and well in the workplace. Take whatever opportunities you get!

  12. Awesome advice by the Captain and commenters! The only thing I would add is that the fact that they are interested in you and not your boyfriend doesn’t necessarily mean they think you are “better” than he is. Although you are in the same industry, I am sure that you each have distinct experiences and expertises and knowledge that is reflected in your resumes. The fact that they followed up with you and not him may very well reflect that you are perceived as a better fit for the specific industry niche that this honcho is focused on.

  13. Veronica said:

    I would add to the Captain’s point that a partner who can’t be happy for your success isn’t worth your time. There is a particularly vicious underlining to Western patriarchal culture that suggests it’s natural for men to succeed over women rather than with them, and that bullshit is why we’re in the year 2012 and still looking at arguments over gendered payscale disparities and reproductive rights. (I’m assuming you’re a woman, LW. I apologize if you are not.) Never apologize for being great at what you do – there are plenty of situations where your boyfriend is going to be the better fit, and you might find yourself in the position he is now. The best parts of a relationship aren’t that you must succeed all the time at the same time, but that you love each other enough that your mutual happiness over one another’s victories outstrips whatever petty jealousies are aroused by unequal opportunities.

  14. Britt said:

    I’ve been on both sides of roughly this scenario and the one thing I would say is for both of you to be really aware that you’re not having your emotions/experiences AT each other. You’re excited, he will possibly be bummed, neither of you are doing those things AT each other (or at least you shouldn’t be). If you start to feel that way and can nip it in the bud, you’ll save yourself a lot of potential stress.

    Also, be as honest as possible with your boyfriend about this whole scenario. When I was in his position, the feeling of betrayal because I wasn’t told for SO long (in fact I had to find out IN PUBLIC, which was so much bad, but anyway) was what was so hard to deal with far, far more than the professional disappointment.

    Do your thing, be honest but sensitive with him when necessary, and you guys should be just fine. And congratulations and best of luck!

  15. mintylime said:

    A bit of a digression… as a former manager who did hirings, this jumped out at me: “he sent his in a few hours past the “deadline” “.

    Often times, it doesn’t matter how awesome your resume and portfolio are if you can’t follow the instructions and meet the deadline for applying. If you are looking for a job and don’t have your stuff together, the hiring person has to wonder what kind of employee you’d be. I know this was an informal thing, not an official job posting/application thing, but missing that deadline would have reflected badly on him if I’d been the person getting it.

    I’m with the above posters – jump on this like hotcakes for yourself. Trying to bring him back to their attention now will not reflect well on you. Be awesome. Kick ass.

    At least one of you needs to be making money, and there’s no reason that can’t be you. You are not responsible for getting your boyfriend a job. He is.

    • Ace said:

      That’s what I got from the whole letter too. Everything boyfriend did and said made it seem like he really didn’t have a lot of faith in this working out for anyone, and him in particular. Maybe there was something about your contact (besides being your relative) that made him think it would be better for your career path than his? You said you guys aren’t doing the exact same thing. He might not be as bummed about not getting a callback as you thinks.

      And like everyone above said, if you’re in the know, you both can make sure he’s the first to put in for new jobs and opportunities that never get wider public release.

  16. cendare said:

    Hey, Mr Cendare and I are in the same field. And both applied to the same place. And: I got hired, he didn’t. (He did get an interview.) Well, it turns out:
    a) He actually wouldn’t have liked where I work, because we do things in an idiosyncratic way that differs from much of the industry, and he wants a more fungible job experience.
    b) I actually wouldn’t have liked where he ended up working, which is a job that pays more, but in a larger company with a different set of responsibilities. I heart small company! He doesn’t!
    Things turned out for the best. I didn’t see where you said that your boyfriend had even asked you to do anything about the situation, so maybe he’s an adult who understands that.

  17. commanderlogic said:

    Agree with everything that’s been said above, BUT ALSO wanted to add this silver lining:

    In this uncertain world, it’s probably better if you two work at different companies anyway; that way if one company goes under, you aren’t both tanked. Diversification for stability! Win!

    • PomperaFirpa said:

      There’s another terrible possibility inherent in working at the same company during turbulent financial times: Mr.Firpa and I worked at the same company in ’08 when the midden hit the windmill, and I got laid off and for a while it looked like he might be, too, because the company kept shedding employees left and right. He ended up getting loaded up with parts of several laid-off people’s jobs, including mine. That made for some awkward feelings; it wasn’t my fault I got laid off, and he of all people knew that, but it still sucked that I wasn’t there and he had to do some of my work!

  18. PomperaFirpa said:

    Way to go, LW, you kick ASS! Your self-presentation talents and enthusiasm will continue to make an impression on people, and a lot of the time it’s not necessarily the talent of the person but the combination of talent + likable personality that will get them jobs and promotions and whatnot. You’re on the right path and doing a great job.

    Your boyfriend, on the other hand, has just learned a valuable lesson: if he drags his feet instead of running at an opportunity with arms wide open, he is not going to get that opportunity. At least, hopefully he’s just learned that. That’s the major difference between your approach and his, and I really hope that’s what he takes away from it.

    Other commenters have said very smart stuff about remembering that you’re not being excited / sad AT each other, but here’s one other thing on those lines: this is maybe the kind of thing where you’d want to call in the rest of Team You to be excited with. I’m not saying to NOT be excited around him– hell, you guys should go out for some great dinner to celebrate– but realize that this is a case where the circumstances mean that he’s having some other feelings, and his excitement for you will probably be a bit muted. If you need some undiluted excitement for your badass achievement, go to other people for it, just as if your boyfriend needs some undiluted sympathy he will probably need Team Him to pitch in.

    It’s not that you guys can’t be excited / sympathetic for each other; you totally can! but you will each probably need some back-up from people who don’t have mixed loyalties and can ONLY be excited for you or ONLY be sympathetic for him. This will take some of the burden off of each other and make it less likely that you’ll have the dumb “It just doesn’t feel like you’re really excited for me / proud of me / sad for me” fight that often comes up in times like these (that fight is dumb. It is really dumb. Mr.Firpa and I have had it a number of times and it is ALWAYS dumb.) or the two-way passive-aggressive sulking or however your particular form of fighting works.

    Everyone else has already covered that OH GOD NO you shouldn’t have him ride your coattails on these contacts / opportunities / etc., and they’re absolutely right. Not only because it would mess up your chances, but also because he’s a grown-ass man and it would suck for him to only get into these things by your benevolent sufferance. Having you in the position of doorkeeper for his career is NOT something either one of you wants, and it would be death for your relationship.

    It’s possible that you’re going to be more successful than he is. That happens. It’s slightly less of a ZOMG MY WOUNDED MASCULINITY thing there than for previous generations, but it will still be lurking around, and honestly there’s nothing for it than for him to put on his big-boy Superman Underoos and get over it. Maybe he’ll sulk. Maybe he’ll nut up and deal. Either way, you can’t fix it for him. He has to deal with it himself. That’s just how it works.

    And yeah, that SUCKS, because we’re socialized to try to fix it when our male significant other is having a rough time of it, or to minimize our accomplishments to make it so they’re less upset, or to otherwise take responsibility for the guy’s emotional state because MENS CAN’T HANDLE TEH EMOTIONS and whatnot. But, no. There’s nothing for it but to get through it, and if he sulks, he sulks, and that’s good for him, it’s healing, and he’ll come out the other side and get his own exciting industry contacts (or not! and that’s fine, too!) and whatever happens, he has to deal with what’s in his own head, and you guys have to sort it out, and while that sucks, it is all for the best. It is hands-on learning!

    Jedi hugs, and congrats again for your awesome job of making the most of an opportunity!

  19. Yan said:

    I hope this conversation is a bigger deal in your head than in real life, LW — you sound a little like me, imagining the worst-case scenario, because you don’t mention your BF saying anything specific to you yet.

    Personal anecdote — when I got my first job in my field, which is related to the one my SO at the time was going into, his very first response was to be upset AT me because I got a job in a geographic he didn’t think he could (or wanted to). I was 5 months into paying my student loans back on minimum wage, the job market sucked, and I was living on baked potatoes and cup o’ soups, but HE was upset because — despite numerous conversations to the contrary — I think he believed I’d go wherever he did and get a job there. We tried to make things work after that, but I obviously wasn’t what he wanted out of life. He’s now married to a woman who is willing to follow his career whims (possibly at the expense of her own, but I don’t know that), and I’m successfully entrenched in a very good place for me, far from that first job. It is easier for me to be single and happy with my career than to be with someone who could support my dreams only when they didn’t interfere with his own.

    You will learn a lot at this stage of the game, about your career path, about yourself and what you want, and about your partner. Trust your gut in it. Follow all the open doors, even if you decide to shut them and go in a different direction. Make sure your decisions are what’s best for you, and it will work out.

    And congrats on this opportunity! It’s awesome and so are you.

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