How to Move Forward When You’re an Internal Candidate, But Someone Else Gets Picked.

August 25, 2016

By Ellen H. Badger, Editor

We’re kicking off the new academic year with this Advice From the Field column by Deborah L. Pierce, PhD, associate consultant at Ruffalo Noel Levitz, who offers helpful strategies for managing the potential downside of being an internal candidate.

Q. I was an internal candidate for a position in my current office that would have meant a promotion, but an external candidate got the job. I’m really disappointed. Are there options other than looking elsewhere? What’s the best way for me to manage this setback?

A. Deb Pierce

You are not alone; this has happened to me and will happen to most of us at some point in our careers. I understand why this feels like a setback: you committed to that search and didn’t succeed, which doesn’t feel very good. Here are some steps I took to deal with similar situations.

Have a pity party for one day! Acknowledge how you feel so that you can move forward. This can be enormously liberating, so indulge yourself – briefly! More than a day or two is too long. Recognize you still have an important job to do for our wonderful students. And the way you respond to this new hire will speak volumes to your students and coworkers about the kind of employee and colleague you really are. The most important step in facing your challenge is to demonstrate exceptional emotional intelligence*. The new hire probably knows that you were also a candidate, so he or she might feel awkward too. Try to imagine how you would feel in that person’s place. That’s empathy, and it’s hard to do, but it changes your perspective significantly.

Become useful to the new hire by sharing your networks and resources, and be sure the new person feels welcome. Make the first move. Start building a productive working relationship through frequent meetings and interactions.

Communicate openly and honestly, so you cannot legitimately be accused of undermining the new hire. Always let that person know what you’re doing and how it will help him or her. In any case, communicating more than you think you need to will almost always enhance your reputation as a dependable team member.

Continue your own professional development; a new leadership role within NAFSA might be just the thing as you seek to deal productively with this challenge.

Make sure you are ready to step in if the new person happens to find another position. This person has already moved at least once, and might be someone who often seeks greener pastures. One way or another, I guarantee you that things will eventually change; nothing in higher education stays the same for very long these days.

Keep looking for other opportunities, on or off campus. Be open to everything! But if international education is truly your mission in life, make an affirmative choice to stay in your current job, and follow through with positive contributions.

Recognize what you can change or control and what you cannot. The things you can control in your career include your own attitude, your own behaviors, and your own development as a professional. Focus on those!

So, do not deny how you feel. Instead, continue to contribute to your office; continue your professional development through NAFSA; and be open for new opportunities. Then you’ll be ready when something great comes along – and it will.

Have a question? It may appear in a future column! Submit your questions to jr@nafsa.org

*Learn more about emotional intelligence from these authors: Daniel Goleman; Travis Bradberry; and Robert and Carolyn Turknett.


"Advice from the Field" is a bi-monthly online column that offers trusted career and professional development advice for international educators at all levels. The column is a joint initiative of NAFSA’s Phase II Member Interest Group (MIG) and the NAFSA Career Center, and is edited by Ellen Badger, past-coordinator of the Phase II MIG. For additional career resources, visit www.nafsa.org/careercenter.


SHARE THIS POST