do internal candidates have a better chance at the job?

A reader writes:

I am currently in the running for a fantastic job at a dream company. I was approached about the job by a recruiter. The feedback from the first face-to-face interview was that I was the strongest candidate and the company decided not to proceed with any of the other external applicants and, instead, wanted to interview further external people for a pool of choice.

Besides external applicants, however, the recruiter discovered there were one or more internal applicants applying for the position. The role has been newly created in a completely restructured team, so it’s hard to say how directly the internal candidates are experienced and if they are a natural shoo-in, or if it’s a bit of a leap in position.

In your experience, do internal candidates have better chances? On the one hand, I can see they are far easier to onboard and are already familiar with all the internal processes and have existing relationships with staff. On the other hand, the manager hiring for the position is also relatively new and I wonder if fresh blood is more attractive and appealing, bringing new skills and levels of experience (particularly as I have worked for a direct competitor).

As a hiring manager, are you more likely to hire from within? Or is it a case by case basis?

It totally depends!

All things being equal, if I have a great internal candidate and an equally great external candidate, I’m usually going to go with the internal candidate. That’s partly because they know the other internal players already, know how things work in the organization, and will have a faster ramp-up period. But it’s more because they’re known quantities in a way an external candidate can never be. That great external candidate could end up not being so great once they’re on the job, or have trouble getting along with people, or form a duck club on the side, or who knows what. Whereas with my great internal candidate, I already know their work habits and how they operate; there’s far less chance of an unpleasant surprise. Plus, it’s good to promote from within — it’s a way to keep talented people around.

That’s not always true, of course. Sometimes there are specific reasons why an employer specifically wants to bring someone in from the outside, such as when they want someone with a completely fresh perspective or way of doing things. But much of the time, it makes sense to hire internally when you have someone great already on your staff.

However, being a known quantity can hurt internal candidates too. An employer is going to be far more familiar with their weaknesses than they will be with an external candidate. And an internal candidate who would look great an outside employer might have obstacles with their current employer who knows they monopolize meetings, are rude to admin staff, miss deadlines, suck at managing, or so forth. And those “known quantity” downsides don’t even need to be serious performance problems for them to negatively affect someone’s candidacy for a role. If I’m hiring for a role that requires a lot of initiative and strategic planning and I’ve seen an internal candidate needs significant hand-holding in those areas in the recent past, I’m going to have a lot of skepticism about hiring them from the outset. It doesn’t mean they’re terrible at their current job or they wouldn’t be good at something else. It just means that I’m going to believe what I’ve seen from working with them over anything I see on a resume or hear in an interview.

So it can work both ways.

From the outside, when you’re the external candidate, you’re better off not trying to guess at what the situation might be with internal candidates because you can never really know. They may have already decided none of the internal people are right for the job but are interviewing them anyway out of courtesy. Or they might think their strongest internal candidate is a stretch, and they’re hoping to find someone externally who’s a better match. Or yes, they might be highly likely to go with one of the internal people. You just can’t know, and you’ll only mess with your head trying to figure it out.

The best thing to do is the same thing you should always do when you’re interviewing: Assume there are other candidates, assume some of them are quite good, and don’t worry too much about what those specifics are.

(But then, if you do get hired and you know there were internal candidates who didn’t get the job, it can be smart to ask if there are any politics you’ll need to navigate around that, especially if you’ll be managing any of them.)

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. Avid reader infrequent commenter

    Our industry and the nuances of it is by and far the biggest reason we prefer and give more weight to internal candidates in my group (our last two external hires had previous experience in the industry that helped them very much). If I have an external new hire, I don’t just have to train you on the job, I have to also train you on what our company does and why – and that’s why researching the company you’re interviewing with is so important. If you’re coming in from the outside, the best thing you can do is research, research, research, and then focus on your transferable skills that you can bring to the table. I’m looking at a big move in the next 6-12 months, and I’m fairly sure I’ll have to move out of this industry as there are no local offices where I’m headed. I intend on using the same game plan for myself, in looking for a new position.

  2. BRR

    We are hiring for a new position and when we thought of the role we specifically imagined it as only being external. It would be overseeing an area that is underperforming so we specifically want someone with experience in this area to fix things.

    I kind of skimmed the answer at first and thought the duck club link was an error (I hope this isn’t a derailing, sorry if it is!).

    1. Sloan Kittering

      Yes I have actually sat in on more than one hiring situation in which the committee explicitly wanted an outside candidate to beat the internals, especially when both coworkers were competing to be the new manager. It stinks but sometimes the easiest way not to make waves is to say “twist – neither of you get it!” and hire someone from outside. Also good if you sense that the dynamic of the department is getting weird.

    2. Turquoisecow

      Oh, that’s a good point. Sometimes internal candidates are too ingrained in the company culture to be able to make fixes and changes the way an external person would.

    3. Falling Diphthong

      I love that this has become a shorthand: “If we go with Stephen, we know that he’s someone who hasn’t formed a duck club. Or if he has, we know he’s good at hiding it.”

  3. Snarkus Aurelius

    I graduated from college in 1999, and I’ve been on probably 200+ interviews since then. When there were internal candidates for the jobs I interviewed for, 100% of the time, the internal candidate got the job.

    Out of those interviews, only one panel took me seriously, i.e. asked me substantive questions, took notes, probed my previous experience, etc. All other interviews lasted 5-10 minutes and consisted of no more than three questions.

    In only one instance did the interviewer say that there was already an internal candidate and her nonprofit’s charter required them to interview external candidates. She said, “Sooooo…” and trailed off. She asked me about the weather and if it had stopped snowing. Then she asked me what my favorite tourism spot was in DC and how job searching was going. Then she said we were done.

    All of AAM’s points are valid. But these days, if I find out there’s an internal candidate, I don’t bother applying. I’m sure the process is meant to be fair, but the pull of familiarity tends to reign supreme and overrule the whole point of examining external candidates. (That’s just me though!)

    1. NotAnotherManager!

      I hate places that have an interview quota or requires external interviews when an internal candidate is already a given. I think it’s incredibly unfair to candidates, and, if they’re going to waste someone’s time like that, they could at least do the courtesy of a full interview.

      1. all the candycorn

        I had a 35 hour a week job that was being changed to a 40 hour a week job. In order to do this, my boss had to have HR post the job for 30 days and accept applications. I then had to leave my desk, go to HR, interview with HR, and have them check my references, including with my current boss, to get to keep my own job.

        1. ket

          Yep. I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been the internal candidate who was heartily grilled in interviews and didn’t get the job. I’ve also been the person undergoing a job category change in state gov to reflect a shift in duties, and to do the requisite external posting of the job I’ve been asked to come up with the most disparate skills that apply to my job (experience coding in Ruby and singing choral music in Latin with a side of teaching remedial rocketry, say). That weird collection of skills in the job description is a hint.

      2. pretzel logic

        I hate places that have an interview quota or requires external interviews when an internal candidate is already a given.

        Yeeeepppp. I posted about this below, but I’ve seen this happen a lot in the public sector/governmental jobs.

        1. Julia

          And not just in the US. My husband applied for a job with a different government, had to take two tests, go in for an interview, and then they didn’t even have the courtesy of contacting him when they decided to either get rid of that post (do that before people spend time and money going to tests and interviews!) or renewed the current person’s contract.
          I assume they were still obliged to interview people, but I wish that this practice would be outlawed.

        2. rez123

          My profession requires to work in public sector and the law stated that any postition for more than 6 months has to be posted publically. In healthcare we have a lot of substitutes and temporary positions therefore the same person has worked the position for years before it becomes a permanent position. And yet tey have to interview certain ammount of people. It sucks. I have applied to so many “perfect” jobs only to find out that I’m just a mandatory prop. I always wish that theey only interview locals so that nobody uses too much money to travel.

          On the other side I was a temporary employee and my position went public. They can’t promise the position for me so it was nervewrecking to do own job and see “the competition” to come for interviews and listen to the boss talk how good candidates there has been.

      3. Riley

        I work at a place that does this. I guess my department has had problem hires in the past where they hired someone who was awful, but was hard to fire because of the larger organizational firing procedures. To circumvent this, for certain positions my department hires workers to a temp position with the understanding that if the new employee does well, they will be given the opportunity to become a full-time/”permanent” employee within 3 months. However, you can’t just change someone from a temp to a full-time employee. The full-time job has to be posted and the temp employee has to apply by submitting a CV and the online application. The organization requires that 3 (I think?) candidates be interviewed for every job before someone is hired. The last time we went through this process my boss told HR that conducting additional interviews was a waste of her time and made them do it. I don’t think it’s a huge burden to external candidates (and possibly internal candidates of the wider organization) to have a short phone interview but the hiring system also frustrates me because the kind of people my boss wants to attract would be much more likely to apply to a full-time position than a temp position in the first place.

        Also, the more I learn about why hiring decisions are made, the less I take it personally when I don’t even make it past the phone screen stage.

    2. A tester, not a developer

      My old employer used to have a line on all postings – even ones that were 100% internal – if there was ‘a preferred candidate for this position’.

      It was great. If you decided to apply, you knew you had to be bringing something above and beyond the requirements – and that you’d better emphasize it during the interview. Or you could choose to apply and interview more to get to meet the hiring manager, get a sense of the department, chat about other roles that you might be suited for, etc.

      I did have a friend who got hired (internally) even though there was a preferred candidate – she had a certification that wasn’t yet mandatory, but was going to be soon, as well as relevant experience with another company. Rumour is that the preferred candidate transferred out to another department in a fit of pique.

      1. Julia

        That sounds like a very fair approach to the external applicants. Getting rejected hurts much less if you know you didn’t really have a chance anyway, and people can decide whether it’s worth their time.
        For the internal employee, it might be a little less pleasant, but I guess that’s just leveling the field?

    3. Kathleen_A

      I’m on my fourth supervisor at my current place of employment (a non-profit). Of those four, three were outside hires, and in two cases, there were internal candidates.

      So it really does depend a lot on the place and on what they’re looking for.

    4. That Would be a Good Band Name

      I had an employer that used to post internally for a set number of days and then if it couldn’t be filled internally it would be posted external. I wish all places would do this and not waste people’s time if they are most likely going to go with the internal candidate.

    5. Bilateralrope

      I’ve got two stories of internal candidates getting the job over me.

      – The first time I got the interview, filled in all the paperwork for a credit check, then didn’t hear anything back for a while. When I finally learned what happened, the story was that that they had lost a few clients. So they had to find new places for their existing employees, which meant putting one into the position I was applying for.

      – The second time, one of my references was someone who used to work for the company I was applying for. He was known, and liked, by a lot of people still there. After my interview, everything he was hearing was that I was pretty much guaranteed to get the position. Until someone wanted to transfer from a different city and their policy of always taking internal candidates (if they are suitable) kicked in.

      In both cases, the internal candidates aiming for the same position as me weren’t known by the companies in question when I interviewed.

    6. Candace

      Mostly, I don’t apply if there is an internal either, but once, the hiring manager said “There are actually two, but for specific reasons, we are very strongly hoping to hire externally.” I applied, got the job, and stayed ten years.

  4. Sloan Kittering

    Apply, do your best, and don’t let it get into your head. I have twice beat out internal candidates for jobs when I was coming in from the outside, and both times I was cautioned by HR that it might be an uphill application. I have no idea why they like to do this, but shake it off.

  5. Tash

    At my workplace we’ve recently hired externally for two positions despite there being internal candidates.

  6. MsChanandlerBong

    This is one thing I really like about my company. We always look within before we fill a position with an external candidate. Heck, I started out as a freelancer, then worked part-time during our peak season, and then came on board full-time. My boss said that when I was freelancing, I showed them that I could meet deadlines and produce good work. My part-time stint showed them that I can work well with everyone on the team and catch on to new things quickly. When a FT job opened up, they wanted to go with someone who had already proven themselves rather than an unknown quantity.

    1. Cobol

      My current company promotes from within to a fault, and now has people at almost every level who shouldn’t have that job.
      Of course we just hired an external candidate who doesn’t appear any better than the internal ones (although there were external options who did have more experience).

      1. MsChanandlerBong

        I see your point; that can definitely be an issue. With us, we look from within because we are usually filling seasonal positions. We typically ask a couple of our freelancers if they want to work 40 hours per week for about two months, and then they go back to freelancing. So with such a short work period, it would be hard to bring new people on board, as we’d have to get them up to speed during a very busy time. It’s easier to hire someone who already does the job on a freelance basis so they can just switch to doing it an an hourly basis for a couple of months.

    2. Silicon Valley Girl

      My company (or at least my dept!) looks internally first & then advertises the position. So you know, if you see an external job listing, that the position is truly available to anyone & the company hasn’t found someone inside that’s a fit.

  7. Exhausted Trope

    I cannot believe the timeliness of this question! Alison read my mind.
    Just Tuesday I had my second interview for an amazing position in an industry in which I’ve worked over 7 years. While I was in the waiting room, I chatted with two other candidates both of whom were internal!
    I have not heard from the hiring manager yet and I’m close to the ledge right now, figuratively.
    Thanks to all for your comments!

    1. So totally anon for this post

      I’m not a hiring manager at all but there was one time where there was hiring to recruit a second person to do the same job as I have because of the volume of work. It was advertised internally and externally and though I didn’t have hiring rights at all, the people who did cared a lot that I would be able to work well with the person who got the job. As Alison said some of the internal candidates were at an advantage, others were at a disadvantage because I was able to say “I know their work and it would require a LOT to get them to where they need to be and/or they are difficult to work with” or “they would require minimal training and we already have a good working relationship” If only the people from the first group applied it would have been an external candidate who got the job. Looking at what you can see from outside you can’t know. It could be optics of interviewing X number of candidates or it could be the internal candidates need to be granted a courtesy interview. If I had said no, outside the interview process, there is a 99.99% chance the internal candidate would not have been hired.

  8. Lew

    This a perennial issue in academic settings because they have a combination of few permanent positions and lots of temporary workers (adjuncts) trying to stick it out until they can grab one. External applicants who see that a current postdoc or adjunct was hired into a tenure-track line think that the search was fixed from the beginning. Contract faculty hoping to get a permanent job feel unappreciated or slighted when an external hire occurs. Each group thinks they’re the one at a disadvantage and it’s a systemic problem.

    1. Dr. Doll

      Ay-men. But I’d say that in general it’s adjuncts who have the slightly shorter end of the stick. The shiny new unknown rock star usually wins over the solid but by-now-slightly-boring known performer.

      1. ket

        Yep, happened to me! Potential is so much more fun to dream about than the person you argued with in faculty meetings for two years already. Sigh.

    2. Dr J

      Yes, to everything. I’ve seen a postdoc who was being groomed for a tenure-track position not even make it to the interview stage, which caused a lot of bitterness for their remaining time in the department. And that’s to say nothing of adjuncts or lecturers who’ve held the same position for years who get perpetually passed over.

    3. Academic Librarian

      There was an inside candidate for the position that I got. I knew it but went all out in my preparation for my interview and job talk. Later I heard that everyone thought she was a sure bet. It was my job talk that beat her out. As Alison says, she was graded on a curve.

  9. all the candycorn

    I worked for a franchised/federated national nonprofit organization, on the border of a boundary between two regional associations: I worked for Association of South Region, but the next facility over from mine was part of Association of North City.

    Association of North City gave priority to internal candidates already in their Association. Association of South Region gave priority to external candidates from outside Associations. So what happened was that people from North City would apply to internal jobs, and if passed over, apply to external jobs in South Region, where they were given priority as an external candidate. People from South Region would apply to internal jobs, where they would be passed over because they were an internal candidate, and then apply for jobs with North City, where they would passed over for being an external candidate.

    South Region HR was perpetually confused as to why they were bleeding so many staff to other industries.

  10. Cafe au Lait

    My workplace prefers external hires over internal. Part of our ethos is diversity of opinions and experience. Too many internal hires and you end up doing the way things have always been done. External hires bring fresh eyes and new perspectives.

    If there are any staff profiles you can read, browse through them. You’ll be able to get a sense of “oh this person moved through the ranks,” or “all the staff had experience elsewhere before landing the job here.”

    1. Sloan Kittering

      I think I agree with this, although I also acknowledge that it must be hard to retain loyal staff (or at least morale) if incumbents are less likely to get promoted. You want a company that hires mostly external when you’re interviewing, but you want a company that promotes once you’re hired!

      1. Cafe au Lait

        We’re highly stratified here at my academic library. Staff can, and do tend, to be promoted into other staff positions. Librarians tend to be hired externally. Staff can make the leap from staff to librarian, but it’s rare. It is a morale killer among the staff, no doubt.

        1. Cafe au Lait

          I meant to say this too–a lot of the staff have or get MLIS degrees while they work here. Admin positions don’t open often, I’ve applied and interviewed for most of them, six or seven over the last five years. Each time a coworker was promoted, but there were at least six internal candidates interviewing.

      2. AMPG

        Yeah, I was at my last employer for a long time, but I ended up getting stuck because they were only willing to promote to a certain level, and after that point they pretty much always wanted to bring someone in who had previous experience managing at that level, which meant they weren’t willing to move someone up. It was very frustrating for those of us who really liked the company and wanted to stay, but also wanted to progress in our careers.

  11. Shark Whisperer

    I used to work at an organization where, generally, internal candidates were more likely to get the job, but there were big exceptions to that. One exception was me. I was hired onto a management team and I was the only person out of 5 managers that was hired externally. There was a lot of friction when I first started because there were a couple people I was meant to be managing who has assumed that my position was theirs by rights, but the truth is that they weren’t the best candidates for that role. They saw that I was good at my job and the friction settled. (I am very proud to say that one of the crankiest people about me getting hired eventually saw me as a mentor. I served as an excellent reference for her for a job at a sister organization, and now she is a kickass manager in her own right). The other exception was when the CXO above our department got on a need to hire externally kick, but that was generally fought against. During that time, we were allowed to create 4 new senior positions. We wanted to hire the best people for the jobs, but also very much wanted to reward staff that deserved a promotion. We ended up hiring 3 internally and one externally. Again, there was grumbling about the one external initially, but people came around eventually on her too.

  12. Amelia

    At my company, I’ve decided being an internal candidate is a disadvantage.

    I’m currently on a salary + commission plan with my commission representing about 25% of my take-home.

    I’ve applied (and been offered) two internal managerial positions. But they are salary only.

    The company has a policy that they will only increase your salary 10% from a previous internal position, regardless of the range of the new position. And they won’t use average take-home (my current salary + commission) to calculate that.

    So both jobs ended up paying me less than I’m currently making, even though an external candidate could go far higher.

    To further complicate things, I work in a place where employers cannot ask for previous salary or salary history. So I’m at a disadvantage because as an internal candidate, they already know my salary but they don’t know for anyone else.

    It’s very frustrating. Clearly, I need to leave to jump a level.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      This is not uncommon and in my experience is one of the other reasons companies prefer internal candidates: they can often get away with paying them less!

    2. pretzel logic

      Wow, that seems like a terrible staff recruitment strategy on the part of your work! Commiserations.

  13. Teapot librarian

    I was an internal candidate (in Job A) for a position (Job B) where I had been doing the job while Job B was vacant (at my lower pay, of course). They hired an external candidate because it was a small office and the director was going to be going on maternity leave, and they didn’t want to have Job A vacant while the director was also out. So I was kind of screwed over long term (I later filled in for Job B while the person they had hired was on maternity leave, still at my lower pay), but that led to my getting another graduate degree and ultimately landing where I am now, so it’s water under the bridge.
    All this to say: you never know what factors may be playing out behind the scenes.

  14. RabbitRabbit

    Our division hired a new executive boss-type, one level above my direct manager. National candidate search, lots of applications, phone screen interviews, whittled down to 6 finally, and then to two, with one internal and one external. More intense interviewing then, and us workers got to meet and interview both.

    The external had years of direct experience in our specific area – let’s say Llama Breeding Rules and Regulations. The internal one had experience with actual breeding of llamas so she had experience dealing with these rules, but not the very “inside baseball” level of it. Plus the external one had dealt with some impressive turnarounds at other llama ranches that had real problems with adhering to these rules.

    The internal candidate was hired. I’m not sure what the other interview groups (up to nearly the C-suite in terms of interviewers) thought, but those of us who would be working under said person were concerned that the external person seemed to just love fixing problems. He went through a narration of his job history and it was very much about how he’d clean up a disaster department and then got bored when things were running smoothly until a former colleague called from somewhere else with a job offer to clean up another disaster, rinse and repeat every 2-3 years.

    It was all very impressive, but we weren’t a disaster, though, and neither was our workflow’s area. We’re a really solid team who can get the job done with little to no supervision. He had been informed of our team dynamic and composition prior to meeting us. To us, it felt like a bad misreading of the room.

    If he had spun it as “so I have all this experience in dealing with craziness and worst-case scenarios, and I’d love to take that expertise and focus it instead on making a strong team even better, improve workflow, improve areas you might have had to neglect,” then I would have been all for it. Instead we were wondering if we’d have to go through another candidate search in 2 years.

    Like I said, I have no idea what the Very Important People thought, but that’s what the employees did. The internal candidate gave a great interview where she acknowledged her knowledge/experience gap in the exact area but also talked about her flexibility, her ideas, and gave a much more comforting-to-us explanation for her career path changes.

      1. RabbitRabbit

        It was! My direct manager and the old boss (prior to retirement, so was there for most of the process until the second or third-last whittling-down of candidates) were involved from the start, but we didn’t get any insight until the last 2, which was fine.

        That boss has been in place for a number of months now and things are good. Nice progress in handling issues we need to deal with due to changing regulations, good at being a go-between for us to the upper management, etc. She’s learning the nuts and bolts of the regulations rather than the internal politics; the external candidate would have learned the reverse. Either would have worked out but (for us, at least) our issue with External was the concern that we would not be a sufficiently-interesting ‘project.’

  15. AK

    I was recently promoted to the head of a new team and felt incredibly guilty that it was required to be posted as an available position since it was technically a new role for the company instead of just upward movement for me. The job description was basically written to be my resume because I helped create the structure of the position, and even if they’d found anyone who’d done exactly the same thing I would have gotten the job. Although, I think they would have said that no one made it past the first screening, so I’d hope they hadn’t wasted anyone’s time. Now I just assume that was the case for a lot of (not all, certainly) internal hires, they already had someone in mind and posted the job because of some requirement.

    1. Sloan Kittering

      I do sometimes get twigged to this if the application seems oddly specific about something with only marginal relevance – I assume it was custom written for a specific applicant. Still, I’ve seen a hiring committee that was biased towards an existing applicant get blown away by an external candidate and make the offer to them, so if a job looks great, I still apply. I’ve also seen people who were initially interviewed for one job, make a contact that ended up getting them a different job. I always think it’s worth it to apply.

  16. Kyrielle

    Everything that Alison said. There’s really no way to know. It could be they have good internal candidates, bad internal candidates, or even a weird sense of whether they have internal candidates.

    At one point I was an “internal candidate” for a position that would have been a step up from my then-current job, but which I did not want in the least (would I have been good at it? Parts of it yes, parts probably no, but mostly I *did not want to do it*). Why was I considered a candidate? Because my boss REALLY wanted me to take it, despite knowing I really didn’t want it. We hired an external candidate whose candidacy actually existed.

    1. uranus wars

      I agree with your first paragraph completely.

      We recently hired a position, we had 68 applicants in the first week, 20 internal, one qualified and the rest external with 4 qualified and we interviewed all 5. The external candidates blew the internal away by a mile and the one that had the best knowledge of the position actually looked so-so on paper.

      I do think its weird they specifically told an outside candidate there were internal candidates, too. My best practice in all orgs has just been to say “other candidates” period.

      1. Lily Rowan

        Yeah, there are internal candidates and internal candidates. The place I work is big enough that I’ve had internal applicants for every job I was looking to fill. In some cases, it was someone’s obvious next step in their career. In those cases, I do feel bad for the external candidates, because they have a much higher bar to clear. In other cases, it was someone looking to make a change, or take a larger-than-usual step up, or other things, and in those cases, it was a much different calculus.

  17. pretzel logic

    I think this advice changes in the public/governmental sector.
    In public sector, you basically cannot get promoted. If you (or even your boss) wants to move you to a higher level, you still have to go through the formal application + interview procedure. Likewise if you’re on a contract position and want to effectively extend it – you’ll generally have to reapply.
    Also, public sector positions almost always have to be posted publicly (it may actually be a legal requirement in my country? If not, it’s certainly a convention), even if there’s an internal candidate that the job is earmarked for.

    I’ve seen it soooo many times working in the public sector. For example, I had one job where I held a string of contracts – each time I had to apply formally and go through interviews. This was for the exact same job that I was already doing. Each time my boss had to read through the deluge of applications, interview a bunch of people … then I got rehired. I’ve also seen this happen a lot with colleagues. And on the other side, I’ve applied for several jobs where I had a great interview and afterwards got the polite rejection, “We really liked you – but [said apologetically] we had an internal applicant”. This has happened to several of my friends, too.

    I understand why the recruitment process is this way – to be ‘transparent’ and give external candidates a ‘fair shot’. However, in reality it’s neither, really – it seems to me that it gives people false hope and wastes their time. And on the recruitment time, this process takes up so much time (and money!) – reading all the applications, interviewing several people, etc etc – and none of them were ever going to get the job. Why not just extend a contract (if relevant, like in my example above), or only post the job internally?

    Sometimes there are tip-offs: the job is only listed publicly for a short time (say a week), or it’s written to be so specific that virtually no one but the existing employee could meet the requirements. However, since job descriptions usually have to be approved through very formal processes, even the latter doesn’t happen that often in my experience.

    Obviously what I’m describing isn’t true all of the time. Lots of external people get hired all the time into public sector roles! But for the reasons you described, you have a much higher chance of going up against internal candidates who have a high likelihood of getting the job.

    Disclaimer: this is all in my experience, and in my non-US country. Americans, have you observed similar things?

    1. Genny

      That’s basically true here for federal hiring in the U.S. The U.S. government typically requires all positions to be openly competed, but the process isn’t always as open or merit-based as they claim. You can get around competition requirements by only opening up a job to people who already work for the agency or the government. Those ones are usually higher-level and/or supervisory jobs, so it makes sense they want someone with government experience who can be on-boarded quickly. Sometimes a job that’s technically open to the public has such a specific list of required experience that it’s clear they’re trying to hire a specific person. Add in veteran’s preference and all the various fellowships out there, it’s really hard to get a federal position by applying through USAjobs.

      It’s also true that you don’t get promoted in the same way. You might get pay raises, but your job description doesn’t really change. Jobs typically have a band and you can’t be given raises above that band. If you want a promotion or to move to a new pay band, you have to get a different job.

  18. Res Admin

    Really, Alison has it spot on. Assume the there will be other candidates and that some of those candidates will be really good.

    My current office tends to hire people for certain staff positions as “temporary”. Gives everyone time to see if it is going to be a good fit. Rules require that when we make them permanent, the position must be posted and interviewed for (usually a minimum of three candidates). None of us ever take that lightly–and we would go with the external candidate if they proved to be more qualified.

    Likewise, at a previous unit, we had an internal candidate that was a shoe-in for a new higher level position. She had a prickly disposition and could be difficult to work with, however she was considered very well qualified for what they wanted in the position (she was really good at self-promoting). The prickly disposition made them take a little longer to look at candidates–and then she fumbled something really important…so they went with the outside candidate who was fantastic at the job.

  19. Totally Minnie

    I work for an organization that promotes from within a lot. That’s primarily because we have a strong focus on education and cross training for our staff, which makes our internal candidates really strong contenders.

    The organization I was with prior to this was the opposite. Their staff weren’t given much in the way of continuing education and they tended to pigeonhole people into certain categories, so a person being promoted from within was really rare.

    So it really does depend. The whole hiring process is really subjective, no matter how fair or logical the hiring manager is trying to be. Humans look at things in very different ways, so there’s not really a formula for this sort of thing.

    The best advice I can give the OP is to study up before the interview and be the amazing candidate that you are. Try not to let the other things get into your head too much.

  20. for what it's worth

    Hired externally, internal resented me from day 1. I reacted, and I was the new hire that couldn’t get along w/others. I guess my advice to managers is to look a little deeper before coming to conclusions.

  21. Hannah

    I’ve been the external candidate who got the job over the internal candidate, and the internal candidate who was passed over for an external candidate.

    But I don’t think my experiences are typical. In many cases, unless the internal candidate is weak or has characteristics that are cause for concern, it makes sense to hire them. It is good optics (see! This is a company in which you can grow your career!) as well as the benefits of someone who is already set up in the system, knows the company, and in a lot of cases may have direct experience doing the job. It’s hard to compete with that.

  22. scmill

    One company I worked for always put “Strong internal candidate has been identified” on job postings. Made things clear from the get-go.

    I always liked to hire internally because, if I got a dud, it was my own fault because I didn’t talk to enough people.

  23. Jennifer

    Hah, I’ve applied internally four times and lost out four times to other internal candidates.

    Never again in this office, y’all.

    1. kittycritter

      All may not be lost! I applied twice internally and was rejected both times. I had pretty much resigned myself that I would never move up in this company and would have to start a job search in order to do so. Then one day a few months later, the manager of the last position I interviewed for asked me if I was still interested in coming to her team because she got funding approval to create a new opening. I know the rejections hurt – because you still have to face these people every day – but ultimately I think it’s still beneficial to put yourself out there because if I hadn’t interviewed with her, she wouldn’t have approached me later on when she was able to create a new position!

  24. I❤️Spreadsheets

    I was the internal candidate when my current employer was looking for a new manager a couple of years ago. When the initial closing date approached I was the only candidate and they decided to extend the application period to encourage other applicants, as they said to me – they wanted to choose the best person for the job not the only applicant. I made it to interviews and was the second choice in the end. The applicant they offered the job to was surprised because he knew that there was an internal applicant (but not who).

    From a personal point of view, two years on the successful candidate has left the job and there is no way that I want it anymore. My plans for my future have changed and I am working to leave the company, not because I didn’t get the managers job but because I have seen who the company runs and I don’t want to be part of it anymore.

  25. Lia

    Due to the nature of our work, it can take 6-9 months to get fully trained on the data sources and software we use. Thus, internal candidates usually have a leg up, but if they are in different departments, they may not really be all that familiar with what we do.

    Of the last 6 hires, 5 were internal, one was external. Honestly, it took them all about the same time to get up to speed.

  26. Red Reader

    The timing of this question is handy. We just did interviews today for my entry-level teapot fabrication team, which has two openings, and my top two picks are both newly certified teapot fabricators, one of whom has been a stellar member of our organization’s teapot polishing team for five-plus years but has no fabrication experience and the other is external, but has had two teapot fabrication internships in the past, one of which was with us. I’m lucky enough to have two open positions, but I was telling my co-lead, I’d be hard-pressed to pick between them if we only had one.

  27. The Doctor

    My own employer gives preference in hiring (and offers MUCH higher salaries) to outsiders. On an unrelated note, the higher-ups are wondering why morale is so low.

  28. Thany

    It wasn’t until I was several months in my current job that I learned I was the external candidate that was hired over someone internally. Overall I’ve noticed my agency often promotes internally, and there are REASONS for the few people who have not been promoted. So it’s true, that you never really know.

  29. Anon for this

    I’ve personally witnessed multiple incidents across two different fields in which the internal candidate did not get the job.

    In most cases, it was exactly what Alison said – being a known quality in those cases actually hurt the candidate. There were qualities we knew about the internal candidates that made them less appealing for the job. In at least two recent cases I recall, we interviewed the internal candidate simply because we felt obligated to due to our company culture, and the entire time these candidates were fighting against already established internal opinions of them. In one case that I remember, the internal candidate actually interviewed really well; if they had been an external candidate we may have hired them, but because we knew about some internal politics and obstacles that this candidate would’ve brought we went with an ostensibly ‘safer’ external choice.

    Also, external candidates bring with them another advantage: unknown potential. I have seen many teams who are lured by the potential of a candidate – essentially ‘yes, sure, Internal Bob is good, but External Anna [i]might[/i] be AMAZING.’ In that case being a known quantity might actually work against you even if you are pretty good at your job.

    Also, depending on the kind of internal role, the employer could also (consciously or unconsciously) reason that they could still keep the internal candidate on doing what they are already doing well while still bringing in a great outside hire. I’ve seen that happen, too. (Usually, though, the internal candidate ends up moving on a few months to a year later.)

  30. Bookworm

    I have personally found that the answer is no. I have been an internal candidate for promotion 3 times and have never been selected.

    The first time the hiring manager had been pressured by the head manager to interview me. The second time was an internship that did not pan out because I was dealing with managers who did not want to give negative feedback, so I never knew I had gaps in my performance. The last one was after I had been an intern for 9 months, had a product that would have been an example of exactly what I could do (and was an example of what I would have done if I had been hired) but it didn’t pan out, either.

    It can’t hurt but I am also not excited if I’m an internal candidate either.

  31. Kate

    We are actively trying to get new and different experience into our company, and change the culture so we prefer external candidates.

  32. Let's Bagel

    We are currently in the process of filling a role on our team. We received dozens of external applicants and one internal applicant. We brought in several external applicants for interviews and they were all meh. Then we interviewed the internal candidate and she interviewed extremely well. However, talking to her current boss (she’s on another team) opened up a whole new can of worms for us, where we learned that she left a lot of things to be desired. We actually decided to open up the job again to a second round of external candidates, instead of going with the internal one. Now we’ve found an external one who seems great and we’ve made an offer. So it’s not always a shoo-in for the internal candidates!

  33. Julia

    Sometimes, an internal candidate may even be blocked by their own manager. As in, “we need Bob here, let’s talk sh*t about him to the other department so they won’t snatch him away.”

  34. Me

    My place of employ advertises positions in 2 ways – promotional which are open only to internal candidates or regular which are open to both. If we are advertising regular, it means we don’t have a known internal candidate who is heavily qualified and a good fit. Now, that doesn’t mean an internal candidate we don’t know of won’t apply in those cases and be a strong fit, but chances are we are advertising to the outside for a reason.

  35. Safely Retired

    Another possible disadvantage to being an internal candidate is that you might be considered too important in your current job for them to let you move. Being irreplaceable isn’t always a good thing, especially if you want to advance.

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