A reader writes:
Another question along the lines of job rejections. I have been applying to jobs at the company for which I used to work (I left to stay home with kids). I still have great references from colleagues and managers; they pass my resume and cover along with recommendations if they know the hiring manager. While this gets me in for interviews, the jobs are invariably given to internal candidates. In the most recent case, the hiring manager called to tell me, was very apologetic, offered to help connect me for future postings, asked to keep my resume. I gained a great contact, but no offer. I emailed to thank her for calling me personally and said I would take her up on her offer.
That said, I wonder why companies post positions externally if they need to hire internally? Is it to save the time it would take to post externally if no appropriate internal candidate applies? I understand the need to give the job to someone already within the ranks, but it is really frustrating to go through the process, get one’s hopes up after a great interview, only to be told that they went with someone from inside. Can you provide any insight?
It’s true that sometimes a company plans to hire an internal candidate and is just going through the motions with others, often because their internal rules require that every job be posted, that a certain number of candidates be interviewed, etc.
But this is often not the case, and I’ve noticed that candidates — the external ones — tend to assume it’s true even when they don’t have reason to believe it is.
Often what happens is this: A job opens up. An internal candidate expresses interest. The employer welcomes their interest, but isn’t ready to anoint them and genuinely wants to consider other candidates as well. In this case, the internal candidate is one of many candidates on relatively even footing. They may get the job, or they may not. But in cases where they do, it can look like that was the plan all along, even when it wasn’t.
Other times, all the candidates aren’t on even footing. The internal candidate is the first choice — but the employer is truly open to finding someone better. It’s just that the bar is high, because the internal candidate will have a shorter learning curve and is a known quantity. That bar can be beat, but it’s a much higher jump than it would be without that candidate there.
In both these cases, the company isn’t acting with no regard for your time; they’re genuinely open to hiring you.
Now, there’s an argument to be made that companies should tell applicants when there’s a strong internal candidate, so that people can factor that into their expectations. I’ve done that in the past and never had anyone withdraw their application.
By the way, the obvious assumption is that internal candidates have a leg up because they know the people, the work, the culture, and this is true. But they may also be at a disadvantage, because the employer knows them so well that they know whatever weaknesses they bring. I’ve turned down internal candidates because of weaknesses that I knew about only through working with them, stuff that never would have come out in the interview process. Now, smart managers balance that knowledge against the knowledge that external candidates have hidden weaknesses too, ones that we just don’t know about yet, but you can’t ignore what you know.
Anyway, the point is this: Yes, sometimes companies go through the motions with external candidates, when they know all along that they’re likely to hire someone internal, and that’s rude and inconsiderate. But it’s often that’s not what’s happening; often they’re truly considering you. And remember, you can go through the process, have a great interview, get your hopes up, and lose out to an external candidate too — it’s just that when it’s an internal candidate, it’s easy to think, “Well, they must have known this all along.” But maybe they didn’t.