November 13, 2018 |

The Dreaded Internal Candidate

Both recruiters and external job candidates alike become mortified when they hear a hiring manager say, “We may have an internal candidate.”  After all, how can someone who is unknown compete with someone who is known?  It’s difficult – but not impossible – to overcome.

What fascinates me is when this occurs in the middle or near the end of a search.    If there is an internal candidate who is good enough for the job, then they should get the job.  Promoting from within is generally always good for the organization. How then, can a company make a decision to engage a recruiting firm, let them conduct a search, interview candidates…and then decide that there is an internal candidate?  Did the company suddenly “remember” there was someone right in their midst who could do the job?

How does this happen?  Here are a few explanations:

  • The company knew all along there was an internal candidate and didn’t disclose it to anyone. They simply wanted to benchmark their internal candidate against outside talent.  Beneficial for the company, but bad for the recruiter and the external candidates.
  • The company doesn’t know its own people. As external candidates are interviewed, someone inside the organization says, “Hey, I want that job!”  Everyone is surprised.
  • The company knows an internal person wants the job, but it’s already been decided they’re not getting it. There’s an internal candidate…but the interview is a check-the-box exercise.
  • Someone is playing politics. As the interview process proceeds, someone realizes there’s a political advantage to putting a specific person in the role.  This is an interesting one, as often times job qualifications suddenly become arbitrary.

I’m sure there are others, but those are some of the most common.  Pro tip: Always ask if you are competing against any internal candidates.  And if you find out you are, be bold enough to ask why they don’t already have the job.