boss encouraged me to apply for promotion, then wouldn’t interview me

A reader writes:

Recently, my manager decided to introduce a new position that would be in between my current position and his position, basically someone to make sure the daily job functions of me and my coworkers get done at the company’s computer support desk. This position was opened to both internal and external applicants, and he encouraged both me and another coworker to apply. 

For some background, I’ve been with the company for 4+ years and have had many different responsibilities, as well as been depended upon to be one of the top service desk technicians. I have a total of 6 years experience in the field. My skills matched almost exactly what they were looking for, with the exception that I had a 2-year degree while they were looking for a 4-year degree.

In any case, after encouraging us to apply, my boss refused to interview both me and my coworker, and now we will be stuck with someone who does not know anything about the company or how our service desks functions, and worse yet, I will have to be training this new guy. Is this my boss’s way of telling me to move on and find something else and should I be as ticked off about this as I am currently feeling?

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging you to apply but ultimately not hiring you, but your boss owed you the courtesy of an explanation why. Some people would argue that he also owed you an interview after explicitly urging you to apply — but I’m going to argue that if he already knew that he had stronger candidates and wasn’t going to hire you, it’s kinder not to waste your time and mislead you. But either way, he owed you an explanation of why.

I recently wrote about why companies often don’t give rejected candidates any feedback — but it’s a totally different story when you’re an internal candidate. In this case, courtesy and morale — as well as your boss’s obligation to do at least a minimum of professional development — mean that you deserve feedback about why you ultimately weren’t hired.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons why your boss might not have chosen you, even after suggesting you apply. The most obvious one is that he thought you were strong enough to be in the mix, but ultimately stronger candidates came along. Or, who knows, maybe someone higher than him in the company ordered him to hire a specific candidate, or any other myriad reasons. But no matter what it was, he owed you an explanation.

My advice to you is that you ask him. You don’t want to sound bitter; it’s like seeking any other feedback, where you’re more likely to get better answers if you don’t sound angry or defensive. Simply say to him, “Hey, I really appreciated you encouraging me to apply, and I wonder if you can tell me where my shortcomings as a candidate were.” It probably wasn’t the 2-year versus 4-year degree thing; it could be that they wanted someone with more management experience, or who knows, that you once pissed off his boss, or anything — you just want to find out. The answer will help you not just understand this particular decision, but should also give you insight into your future prospects at the company.

He also probably wasn’t trying to send you some coded message that you should move on — or he wouldn’t have suggested that you apply in the first place. It’s far more likely that he’s simply not an ideal manager and mishandled this.

Last piece of advice: You noted that “now we will be stuck with someone who does not know anything about the company or how our service desks functions, and worse yet, I will have to be training this new guy.” While it is very, very common to have this reaction when a new manager comes in, do your best to put it aside. It won’t help you, and if this attitude comes across to others, it will likely end up hurting you. The fact is, most new managers come in needing to learn about how the company and department functions, and needing some training from the employees they’ll be managing. This doesn’t mean they’re not qualified; it’s just the reality of coming into a new management position.

Talk to your boss and get your questions answered. Good luck!

{ 10 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    AAM, I think you missed a key piece of the questino. It wasn't that the person wasn't successful, it was that they weren't even interviewed after being encouraged to apply. So I'd agree with your advice if you were interviewed and unsuccessful but not being interviewed is a bit of a slap in the face in these circumstances.

  2. Ask a Manager*

    I did address that up above, in the first paragraph: "Some people would argue that he also owed you an interview after explicitly urging you to apply — but I'm going to argue that if he already knew that he had stronger candidates and wasn't going to hire you, it's kinder not to waste your time and mislead you. But either way, he owed you an explanation of why."

  3. Charles*

    AAM and original writer;

    Let me emphasize AAM's advice about being "stuck" with someone from outside. This mind set will kill your career with the company.

    As a corporate trainer, I have often been hired specifically because of my training background. Often (too often, in fact) I have been able to tell who the internal candidates were that "lost out" to me, the external candidate.

    Some would actually let me know that they felt the job should have been theirs (I'm not saying that you have that attitude), while others just had a bitter attitude.

    Ironically, with their extensive company knowledge I might have considered having them help with training and with the proper mentoring from me they might have been able to move into training.

    However, because of their disappointment turning into bitterness I avoided them like the plague.

    AAM, as far as the interview issue. You and I will have different opinions on this. Since he encouraged them to apply he should have given them, at least, a short interview.

    This would not have been a waste of time. Since it would be on company time (they are internal candidates, not external) it would not "cost" them any extra. An interview, even a short one, would have allowed the internal candidates to learn more about the position as well as prepared them for a future position, should one become available. Interviews are, after all, an exchange of information.

    As long as he isn't involving other departments, what would be wrong with the boss saying that he will most likely hire an external candidate for whatever reason but still sit down with the two internal candidates to "talk about things"? I think such a short informal "interview" would do a world of good for all parties involved.

  4. Anonymous*

    I'll throw in another plausible scenario. At one company I worked for, we had an open position in our department. My boss wanted to hire the temp who was currently staffing the position, but because of HR rules we were forced to post the position on our website both internally and externally for 10 days. My boss received hundreds of resumes from both internal and external candidates and never bothered to look at a single one because she already knew who she wanted to hire and didn't want to have to go through stacks and stacks of resumes, including those from internal employees, and go through the motions of interviewing anyone.

    I realize that this is standard practice for many companies, but it seems like a huge waste of time for the employer, HR and all the people who took the time to spruce of their resumes and write a cover letter for a job they had no chance of getting.

    Maybe this was a similar situation as AAM suggested. Perhaps a higher-up had already decided they wanted to hire an outside candidate (or even a particular person he/she already knew) and the OP just got caught in the crossfire because of an uniformed manager.

    Totally sucks for all involved.

  5. Vermilion*

    Dear OP,

    AAM makes a fantastic point. All I can say is don't be discouraged. Sometimes a fresh perspective from a newbie can implement some good changes within the work place. Needless to say it doesn't work out all the time but the potential is definitely there.

    All the best!

  6. Mike*

    I think it's great that the vast majority of the advice bases itself in the idea that the manager may have been overruled due to favoritism reasons. It really shows that many in the professional world succeed because of who you know, not what you do.

    How many of these advice posts discuss what are essentially matters of diplomacy? The underlying theme of them all is that we should never do anything that will make us look bad – even trivially. If we don't, then we'll miss those important promotions – regardless of how well we actually perform.

    Though AAM is simply helping her readers navigate these nepotistic waters, I have to laugh when her professional peers try to argue that the workplace is a meritocracy.

  7. Erik*

    Thanks all for your comments. AAM, I did ask my manager the way you suggested, asking for feedback about what went wrong. Turns out it was my fault. A few months ago, I had gotten written up by the same manager and that went to HR. Neither of us suspected that this would be an issue, however, HR would not pass along my application because of it – they require that another performance eval be turned in prior to allowing me apply anywhere in the company again.

    I know, some of you are going to say, why would your manager think you should apply if he wrote you up. I do a great job when I'm focused and he sees it, but there are times where I get burnt out with what I do and start playing online games like a chain smoker smokes a pack…

    With that being said though, I would like to give you some advice from an employee perspective. Most people have a desire to move up in the company they are with, but sometimes those opportunities become available prior to the person being ready. It is still a good idea to encourage the person to apply and give them an interview to allow both you and the employee an opportunity to really look at the employees strengths and weaknesses, which will, or should, help the employee in the long run to see what he needs to improve. Here's a key part that all managers should remember – make sure the employee knows that he is unlikely to get the position, but that he does deserve a chance.

    @Charles and vermillion, you make a great point and I definitely understand what you are saying. I will make the most of this experience and be ready the next time an opportunity like this comes along.

    Thanks again for your help AAM

  8. Mike*

    What a load of crap. HR's job is to do what is in the best interest of the company, and by applying arbitrary rules without context they are simply abdicating responsibility for their actions.

  9. Anonymous*

    Although the OP has written in about to further explain what happened, I do have to add one more thing to the subject at hand:

    Never put all hope into your company when they say you can apply to another internal job and you'll have a shoe in above the rest of the applicants.

  10. Emily*

    Kudos to the OP for 1) asking his manager, 2) returning to share the outcome with the AAM readers, and 3) having a good attitude about that outcome, even though it didn't work out in his favor this time, accepting honest criticism and making a change for the future. Good luck, Erik!

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