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I keep losing out to internal job candidates

(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have been doing a lot of interviews lately and for whatever reason seem to not be getting very far because almost all the positions were filled internally. When I ask for feedback, I am told that I interview well and that they just needed someone with more experience internally.

My question is why do companies interview external applicants and lead candidates on when they know they will be making decisions internally?

Most of the time, it's not as sinister as it seems. Many companies post jobs externally and internally at the same time, and they have no idea who within the company will apply for the position. People from other departments will apply and in larger companies, the hiring manager may not even have known these people existed before their resumes landed on her desk.

In other companies, they post the positions internally first and later externally, but they don't really start the hiring process until the position has gone external. It just gives the internal people some additional time to get their stuff together before the outside world knows about it. The recruiter collects all the resumes, screens the candidates (internal and external) and then presents options to the hiring manager; only then are interviews conducted. In theory, the internal candidates have no advantages over the external candidates.

But,as someone who has been beaten out by internal candidates, you know that isn't quite right. Why? Because every internal candidate has an advantage over the external candidate in knowing the company's culture and having inside knowledge that crosses levels and departments. For instance, the internal candidate already knows how to navigate the computer systems, knows who to call when there's a problem with travel reimbursements and understands the political intricacies of dealing with various members of senior management. That gives them a leg up.

On the other hand, many companies require additional hoops for internal transfers. For instance, companies may require a six week time period between when you're offered the internal transfer and when your current manager is required to release you. Sometimes your current manager may refuse to let you go. Or there are all sorts of internal politics that may keep someone firmly seated in their current job even if he was the best candidate for the open position.

However, sometimes (and you suspected this) the external interviews are all a ruse. The hiring manager knows who she wants to hire, has written the job description specifically to make this person fulfill all the "requirements" and just needs to jump through a few hoops. One such hoop may be to interview a handful of candidates. That can amount to a huge waste of time for outside applicants for the job.

This practice is appalling. It's rude. It's ridiculous. It's downright mean. The theory is that the hiring manager can't be sure who to hire until she's interviewed five people. But to drag four people through the stress of interviewing for a 1 percent chance that the manager will change her mind is really unconscionable. Recruiting departments should realize this is a ridiculous waste of everyone's time. 

Unfortunately, many companies will continue on their merry way with this policy, and it's not something you, as a job candidate, can even ask about. "So am I actually being considered, or has an internal candidate already been picked and this is just a formality?" That will probably eliminate you in the cases where you were being considered, although I personally would tell you the answer to that and bump you up on my list (but I'm not hiring anyone right now).

Good luck on your job search. May your next interview be the one.

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