Build or burn?

The internal candidate – blessing or curse?

I once met a colleague on his way to an interview for the job of Chief Executive at his organisation.  He was the internal candidate.  Unsure of what conversation to strike up I expressed the view that I wasn’t sure if being the internal candidate was a blessing or a curse.  His view, as we walked to the end of the train platform, was that it was a curse.  He knew all the people that would be interviewing that day and would have to continue working with most of them afterwards, which would be awkward if he didn’t get the job.  Luckily he did.

I’ve been in a similar position on a couple of occasions (I didn’t get the jobs and yes it was a little awkward) and been on the other side of the table interviewing internal candidates I know well.  On balance I’d agree with my CEO colleague.  Being the internal candidate is a curse – for the candidate.  For the interviewer, it is a blessing.

From a candidate’s perspective it is very difficult to get interviewers to see you in the same light as an external candidate because the interviewer thinks they know you already.  You might express the exact same opinion as an external candidate but whereas the interviewer takes the views of the external candidate at face value, you – the internal candidate – are judged through the prism of what the interviewer already knows about you.  You are pigeon-holed.

To an interviewer of course, it is great to have an internal candidate because you already know everything about the candidate to make a decision, whereas you know nothing about the external candidate and have to take everything they say on trust, making judgements based on incomplete information.

I’ve gone for a job as an internal candidate, didn’t get it and strongly suspected no internal candidate would ever have got the job.  They just wanted someone from outside.  I suspect I also benefited from precisely the same situation where I got a job over an internal candidate where some of the interviewers didn’t want anyone from the host organisation.  Life is pretty unfair but I suppose the unfairness goes around and comes around.

Being the internal candidate isn’t fair.  But there’s no way around it.  The interviewers know you.  They’ve probably already made up their minds and there’s little you can say that will change them.  You’ve just got to hope their view of you is positive.

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