Looking for an opportunity ... fears about the economy have put the brakes on recruitment.

Are the positions really vacant? Photo: Gabriele Charotte

A former colleague complained about missing out on a job. She was disappointed another applicant got the nod and, later, furious upon learning the firm had earmarked an internal candidate for the role, and was just following policy by advertising the position.

My friend spent several days researching the firm and its industry, tailored her resume for the role, and contacted referees. She wasted a morning travelling to and attending the interview, and gave the firm several ideas and insights during the interview.

She felt she blitzed the interview. But there was no second interview or phone call explaining why the application failed. In her mind, the role was always going to the internal candidate. She spent several days, and thousands of dollars in lost time, making up the numbers.

I wonder how many organisations waste someone’s time with bogus interviews. Their job-hiring policy dictates they must advertise positions inside and outside the firm, or that they interview a minimum number of candidates before a position is filled.

So they happily interview a few people, sometimes more, knowing full well the internal candidate will get the job.

  • Have you ever made up the numbers in a job interview process?
  • How did you know the job was going to an internal candidate?
  • How did you overcome this problem in future interviews?

If asked, most organisations would say they were genuinely open to hiring an external candidate over an internal one, if the right person came along. And that they were within their rights to test the market for candidates, get a sense of salary expectations, and build a list of candidates who, if unsuccessful for the advertised position, might suit other roles.

And that they eventually hired the best person for the role, and that nobody was forced to attend the interview.

Managers might argue they were simply following policy, and would have preferred not to waste time interviewing external candidates when it was clear the internal candidate would get the job. Or that for unsuccessful applicants who lost out to an internal candidate – who had a huge advantage in terms of company knowledge and reputation – it was a case of “sour grapes”.

Moreover, internal employees could argue that advertising the job works both ways. The internal employee desperately wants the new role and the company has no intention of giving it to him or her. The employer must give internal candidates a sense they could get the role, even though it will not happen.

I’ve experienced this issue from both sides. As a manager, I went through the tedious process of interviewing a few external candidates when it was clear the person acting in the role would get the job. Interviewing outsiders was more about getting different views and perspectives – and seeing who was available – than a hard-nosed job-interview process.

I once applied for a newly created position that was always going to an internal candidate who had done a similar job. The interviewers seemed keen to hear my thoughts on the product, how it could improve, and other ideas. But the interview was probably more about executive “arse covering” than an open-minded attempt to hire the best person for the job.

What a tangled labour market we live in!

Imagine out-of-work people who apply for 20 jobs in a year that are only advertised because of a corporate policy. They wonder why their recruitment agency recommends them for certain roles: are they just fodder to make the firm look like it has a big database of candidates?

I’m not sure what can be done about organisations or recruitment firms that “fish” for external candidates, who have only the slightest chance of getting the job. One hopes ethical firms minimise the number of short-listed applicants and compress the job-interview process, rather than string people along, waste their time and money, and create false expectations.

My former colleague now asks whether a position has had to be advertised, how many people will be short listed, and if that short list will include internal candidates from the firm. Understandably, she is wary about applying for jobs that are only advertised because of firm policy. Her clear preference is for companies that seek external candidates because they lack internal resources.

But how do you know? No organisation will tell you it is advertising the position because it has to, and has no intention of awarding the job to anybody but the internal candidate. Also, asking those questions could limit your chances of securing a job where the company has an open mind about who to hire.

It goes to show that the best jobs are often not advertised. Securing them requires a strong network, a good reputation within the industry, and an excellent recruitment firm pushing your case. That has to be a lot better than being cannon fodder for companies that think nothing of crushing people’s hopes and wasting their time – so they can tick boxes for a silly corporate policy.