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Got a job yet? When class- or roommates become rivals

Katja Mayer 06.07.2016
You’ve studied together, partied together, maybe even lived together. But suddenly you are chasing the same job... 
Am Ende des Studiums kommt es zum Konkurrenzkampf
Gegen Ende des Studiums können Freunde zu Konkurrenten werden

Many people experience the nasty tactics of a dog-eat-dog world at the start of their careers or even when they start college. Some German universities release an official list that is used to select candidates for certain international partner universities as early as in the first year of study à the competition is tough.

Classmates becoming rivals is happening more and more in higher education. No sooner is a vacancy posted on the central notice board than it disappears again. Some people deliberately withhold information about job vacancies in order to keep the number of applicants to a minimum. To this end, they also intentionally spread misinformation disguised as insider information about bad working conditions or false horror stories from interviews.

The battle for the dream job

It’s a no-holds-barred fight to get your career off the ground. For a marginally better starting point, people may fiddle, trick, lie and cheat along the way. The result: A dog-eat-dog mentality where everyone is preoccupied with looking out for number one and fighting their way through without a second thought for those left behind. Many previous generations have already had to pay this price if they wanted to focus solely on their careers and streamline their résumés.

Granted, getting a career off the ground is a major step in people’s working lives. Failure to do so means there’s a threat of opening up a gap in your employment history – or at least having to explain why you want to change jobs after only a short amount of time. But that would be a foolish thing to do when sought-after jobs are few and far between. That’s why many people are tempted to cheat to gain a competitive advantage.

Competitive pressure sets in sooner

Some of the pressure is down to study regulations, where only a speedy completion of your course counts. Completing internships and exploring your own interests and skills often simply get in the way. Moreover, every single exam result counts towards your final grade and therefore is a deciding factor in whether you’ll be streaking ahead in the race or caught up in the uncomfortable middle ground. It’s a well-known fact that only the best are given a chance, you have to be right there at the front at all costs. And those that aren’t have failed and ruined their futures. Or at least that’s what some people think.

The Bologna Process has turned studying in Europe into a rat race. One reason is that every aspect of degree courses – right down to the last detail – is predefined, meaning that different key topics can’t be highlighted for each individual class. Graduates who cross the finishing line will be like clones of each other, which of course adds to the pressure as the job market expects individual characteristics. But under the current conditions, graduates can only grow and mature to a certain extent.

Cooperation can boost your career

While competing and stealing other people’s jobs is humanly understandable, it’s also dangerous. Those who resort to such measures merely prove that they aren’t able to cope with the pressure of competing. They still lack maturity of character, a quality that is essential in a future manager. Young people with little experience who are just starting their studies can fall into such a ‘me-culture’ easily, making it more and more difficult for them to work their way up in an honest, collaborative manner. Team leaders who meddle, hide things, pinch ideas or advance their careers at the expense of their colleagues are never welcome in any company. And they generally don’t get too far either. It’s the very same pattern of behavior and thinking that also lurks behind corruption or industrial espionage.

What’s more, those who keep information to themselves and trick others deprive themselves of their single most important basic resource: the network. People are more successful when they work with – and not against – one another. This is not only illustrated in various studies carried out by economists and game theorists, it’s also a timeless business law: You always meet twice. At least. Today you may be rivals, but tomorrow you may well be standing opposite each other as potential business partners. Or in five years time your old roommate might be able to help you change jobs. So it’s great if you’re still able to call them up and look them in the eye. And because networks are always started by giving a little, you should always be as generous as possible in order to acquire information that will help you kick-start your career.

People who behave in this way will be able to enjoy the benefit in their careers in the long term – even if it means doing without the head start.

Editor: Katja Mayer with Karrierebibel