How Do I Ask If There Is An Inside Candidate?

You do not ask if there is an inside candidate.

I don’t care if you strongly suspect that there is, and have good reason to believe the whole damned search is a completely pointless charade because they obviously already have somebody chosen….it doesn’t matter.

You cannot, and you must not, ask if there is an inside candidate.

Why?  Because it’s just Not. Done.

More pragmatically, if there is an inside candidate they will NEVER disclose that (not least because of legality issues).  And if there isn’t one, you just look like an ill-informed, paranoid ass who put a search committee member in an unbearably awkward position.

A smart job seeker does not, under any circumstances, ask if there is an inside candidate.

And, incidentally, inside candidates don’t have the superpowers that many of you think.  Inside candidates frequently don’t get the job.  Read this post, “What Inside Candidates Persist In Doing Wrong,” on why.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


How Do I Ask If There Is An Inside Candidate? — 4 Comments

  1. I was quite certain that my current job (nonTT research) had an inside candidate the way the job ad was written–a mishmash of very specific research interests and qualifications, but I applied anyway and put forward my best effort in the application and interview. I think it made me much more relaxed for the interview and I saw it more as an opportunity to practice my interviewing skills. Every job search that occurred in the departments I was in as a grad student or post-PhD visitor had some recent PhD, VAP, or similar status applicant in the department who was just certain they were (or should be) an inside candidate, but I’ve only seen that actually pan out once among the 10 or so searches I’ve witnessed inside a department.

  2. Spot-on advice. I was given the atrocious advice by a well-meaning but slightly clueless retired professor to ask such a question on an interview. When he first suggested it to me, I knew there was something off in asking a question an interviewer could not (and would not want to) truthfully answer. Reading your post confirms my initial reaction. Thanks.

  3. Thank you so much for this post. I recently contacted a friend who got graduated from an Ivey league business school that approached me for an interview. Rather than giving me any advice, he flat out said that they have invited this guy (one of their recent graduates who worked in a lower-tier school for a few years) for a visit and talk two month ago and this is probably not gonna happen for you!
    This made me very upset an thought why they would want tot waste my time if they have a candidate. The truth is that no one knows about the search process except the search committee and dynamics are not clear to anyone outside of the committee. So, we should always take such discouraging information for granted!

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