Our first three posts have highlighted positive on-campus interview experiences. In this post, we shift focus and explore a less-than-ideal experience as an internal candidate. The author of this post has chosen to remain anonymous.
When we’re job searching at another campus and we hear that there is an “internal candidate” we may automatically assume that that person has obvious benefits that external candidates don’t have. Their insider knowledge, their pre-established connections with members of the search committee, and their ability to network with the hiring authority beyond the interview day may seem like tangible advantages.
In my 15 years of working in student affairs, I’ve been an internal candidate three times. Only one time out of three did I get the position I was looking for. In my experience, internal candidacy doesn’t give one any advantage in searches, and sometimes it’s a distinct disadvantage.
Many years ago (three university’s ago) I was an internal candidate for a director-level position at a large university in the West. I had worked in the office for nearly four years when I found out that the director who had hired me was leaving for a new opportunity. I considered applying for the position for many reasons, but mostly because it seemed like the next logical step on my career path. In addition, I was encouraged by several insiders and outsiders to consider submitting my application materials.
I remember taking extraordinary time preparing my application materials. Truthfully, I felt the likelihood that I would get the position might be a long shot, so when I was called for an interview, I was pleasantly surprised (thrilled, actually). I did what we all do when we’re in a search and we get an on-campus interview. I started picturing myself in the position. I REALLY wanted the job.
Then I found out there were six of us. Yes, six candidates for the same position. All coming to campus for two-and-a-half day long interviews. This should have shaken my confidence, but it didn’t. I knew I would rock it.
I practiced my responses to questions. I finessed my presentation. Frankly, I probably over-prepared. But, as an internal candidate, I knew these people and they knew me. I wanted to be at the top of my game. When the interview day(s) came, I showed up and performed. It was one of those days when departing campus for the night, I felt phenomenal. I felt like I had indeed rocked it.
About a week after the interview, I was called into the hiring authority’s office and told that I didn’t get the position. The reason, I was told, was because I didn’t have enough “experience.” Why, I wondered as I left his office, was I even called to interview if I didn’t have enough experience? My experience (or lack thereof) was visible and clear on my resume. I came to realize that I had been included in the six candidates because of my internal candidate status. Including me didn’t involve hosting me or flying me in from a distant place. I was included as a “favor” or as a courtesy for my work.
We don’t do any good when we extend interviews to internal candidates as “favors” or as a courtesy to that person. The time wasted of the people who spent two-and-a-half days interviewing me should have also been considered as an “expense.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for the experience to learn and grow from the interview. I prepared a kick-ass presentation and felt that rush of confidence and positivity for a good performance in front of my peers. I got a lot of positive feedback.
Here’s what sucks though: I should have gotten the job, I was actually the top candidate and the search committee’s pick. How do I know this? Two members of the search committee were co-workers on the staff in the office. We were all close friends. A third member of the committee (also a good friend) was from another office. All three (unethically, I should mention) shared information with me about my candidacy after the interview process was over. They told me that I blew them away. They weren’t expecting my performance to be as good as it was. They were highly impressed. In the end, I was actually the committee’s overall top pick for the position, but the hiring authority went with his own choice (an external candidate). Which is totally his prerogative.
Knowing this information doesn’t change anything. There’s part of me that was satisfied knowing that I’d done well in the interview, that people recognized that and that I could have gotten the position. But there’s also part of me that wonders what other factors were at play. Was my gender a factor? My age? As an internal candidate, everything I’d done up to that point was technically “interviewing” for the position. Had I made a misstep with the hiring authority at some point during the previous four years? Likely all are true to some extent.
In the end, the lesson I learned is that internal candidacy isn’t the advantage it sometimes appears to be.