Why Do I Have to Interview for an Internal Promotion?

Last Updated Jan 15, 2011 3:59 AM EST

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I have been with my company for several years, and I am now up for a promotion. The job description is a perfect fit for my career path, and came from discussions with my supervisor about my career goals and the needs of the company.

Then in a twist I wasn't expecting, the position was posted as a new position. Instead of being promoted directly to it, I was encouraged to apply for it like everyone else. Outside candidates will also be considered, but company policy gives "preference" to internal candidates when all other things are equal. 

My question is two-fold:

1. Is this a normal way of doing things? This job description was tailor-made for me, and it seems odd that the company would go through a full recruitment process with outside candidates and all.

2. Since I am going to be interviewing for this new position, how much of typical interview advice still applies? The hiring manager is my current manager, who already knows all my strengths and shortcomings. He already knows what skills I have and what skills I will be able to learn. He already knows how I fit in with the company culture, how I get along with my co-workers, and how well I understand our business. What advice do you have for a situation like this?

To answer question 1, yes this is normal and what you didn't ask is that it's a big waste of everyone's time and effort. If a company already knows who they want in the position, why on earth do they post it and force people into interviews? This is especially noxious behavior when you consider it from the outside candidate's point of view. These candidates are excited when they get the request for an interview. They have to take a vacation day at work (which has a definite cost to it), they pull out their best interview suits, come to the interview, go through all the stress and worry and general anxiety that goes with job hunting all because someone in management wanted to "go by the rules." A pox on their heads.

Now, to be fair to your managers, it may not be their rules. It may be HR's rules. And we all know, sometimes HR is not so bright when it comes to exceptions. But, HR also has to show that they are an equal opportunity employer they need candidates for their statistics and blah, blah, blah, blame the OFCCP for all our stupid policies.

But, unfortunately (for you) sometimes this is a sign that they aren't 100% sure they want you in the job. Just because it's in your career goals and good for your career path doesn't mean that you're the best person for the job. Your manager may think that you're qualified, but he's not entirely thrilled about you being in the job. He may also find it difficult to give feedback and it's easier to say, "We have to interview outside candidates because HR said so" rather than "you're excellent at project management, but this job also has a strong focus on marketing and that's something you're not so good at. I'm not sure I want to have you in this position when it's critical to the health of the department."

This possibility means that the interview is anything but a formality. You'll be compared to the other candidates and you better shine. Additionally, you may be interviewing with people who don't know you well and don't know your strengths and weaknesses. Don't go into those interviews acting like you are obviously the best candidate, because you may not be. I'm not saying that you shouldn't show confidence, I'm just saying that if you come across as if you feel you deserve the job you may not get it.

It's doubtful that those that know you will ask you questions about your strengths and weaknesses, but they will ask you what your plans are for this job. What will you differently than the previous incumbent? What changes will you make to improve things? They may bring up a specific example where you failed or succeeded and ask what you learned from that. It may feel very much like a regular job interview, or it may feel like a casual conversation. Be careful if it feels like the latter--too many people fail in this case because they forget they are on a job interview.

All in all, you have a strong chance of getting the job, but there is a very real chance that someone else will. You need to prepare and approach this like you would for an external position. Wear your interview suit. Hopefully, all will go well for you.

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