The author of this post has chosen to remain anonymous.
It was time for the campus partner panel for my internal interview. I currently served in the interim role of the position I was interviewing for so I was familiar with everyone in the room. There was a panel of 6 individuals with whom I interviewed and had worked with in various ways. The interview began. I was ready for their questions. Then, like most interviews, it was my turn to ask questions. My first question was, “How can I support you and your office in this role? What are your needs?” Well, this was my first and only question, because I was blindsided by a barrage of frustrations and complaints about their lack of involvement with the new direction of the program that I was coordinating. The flood gates opened. I sat there in awe, nodding, smiling and attempting to take notes while thinking “how do I get this back on track?” I still had two other questions that I really wanted to ask and we were quickly running out of time. More important, my interview was neither the time nor the place for them to express their frustrations and frankly, it was unprofessional. There were also some harsh comments directed towards the actions of my supervisor, who was not present during the interview. Luckily, a member of the panel realized the responses were no longer to my question and interjected to suggest that these concerns be discussed with my supervisor at a more appropriate time. At that point, time was up and I had to move on to my next interview panel. I thought to myself, “What just happened?”
All interviews are intense and stressful but internal interviews can be even more intense because of the nature of prior relationships and the campus politics that already exist. In my situation, the interview was uncomfortable and I was unsure as to how it was going to play out in the end. I had so many thoughts going through my head. “Did I do something wrong in the first 3 months of my interim role to contribute to the frustration? What was the feedback going to be from the panel? Could I or should I have done something differently during the panel to avoid the backlash?” There were so many unanswered questions and so many uncertainties.
That interview took place over 3 years ago and that experience is the only part of that day that I vividly remember. Since then, I have shared my story with a few colleagues who have had similar experiences with unprofessional behavior directed towards them as an internal candidate. As I reflect on that day and conversations with colleagues, here is my advice on how to manage yourself if you are an internal candidate:
- Stay humble. Don’t take offense to any complaints or frustrations and become defensive. Even if you don’t verbally respond, you’re body language will speak for itself. Remember that, non-verbal language speaks volumes! Throughout the entire rant, I kept a smile on my face and tried to stay as engaged as possible hoping that no one would sense my disagreement with their unprofessional behavior.
- Treat this interview like any other interview. Do not feel entitled because you are an internal candidate. Don’t assume that you will be hired. Despite what many think, internal candidates are not guaranteed a position. One would hope that if you are currently employed by the institution or currently work in the office you are applying for that you would have a pretty good chance. That’s not always the case. From my experience on search committees, I’ve seen a few internal candidates have lackluster interviews and be ill-prepared due to their sense of entitlement. If you are an internal candidate, you should take the interview just as seriously, if not more, as an external candidate. Due to your familiarity with the campus culture, knowledge of the program/office and established relationships, interviewers will likely have a higher expectation of you as an internal candidate.
- Be open with your supervisor. If you are interviewing for a position that you serve in an interim role for and an uncomfortable situation or conversation takes place during your interview, be open with your supervisor. Be upfront about what took place and let them know your concerns. During my wrap-up with my supervisor, I informed her of the comments that were made during the campus partner panel. Not only was I worried about the perception of how I handled the situation but I was also worried about what would be said the next day when the external candidate arrived for her interview. We all know that Student Affairs is a small field and it only takes one person to say that the working environment on a campus is not a good place to be.
- Steer clear of the campus politics and gossip involved with internal candidacy. The politics of Student Affairs is daunting on its own, but even more so when there is an internal candidate. People will talk and despite the proposed confidentiality of the hiring process, everyone will know that you are interviewing for the position. Don’t get caught up in the mix of campus politics and gossip. Internal candidates have a bird’s eye view of how the politics and hearsay play out on a particular campus. Steer clear of any gossip, rivalries or the latest battle over resources that may interfere with your candidacy for the position. It would be unfortunate for your reputation to be tarnished with the search committee or your possible new supervisor because of cross campus politics and hearsay that have nothing to do with the position for which you are applying.
Later that evening, I received an email from a member of the panel who was on the forefront of sharing her complaints. She applauded me for handling myself with “grace and poise” during the interview. Maybe it was a test. Who knows? But evidently, I passed because I was hired. As with all experiences, everything is a learning opportunity. I took the frustrations that were shared and utilized it to establish a campus outreach plan to rebuild relationships with our campus partners. Despite their unprofessional behavior, I thought it was important to let them know they were heard.
What tips do you have for dealing with unprofessional behavior as an internal candidate?
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