Take Away

Four questions to ask recruiters about internal candidates

Read Time:  2.5 minutes.

No one likes to waste their time, especially when the outcome was disappointing.  This rule applies to so many facets of our lives, including consideration of a new, better job.  

When a search consultant comes calling, it is a special feeling.  It boosts our ego that another employer thinks we are valuable and they are interested in wooing us to join their organization. Our imaginations immediately race, we cannot help but think — more responsibility, more money, a clear path for future professional growth. This is heady stuff.


Your time is important.   So is your confidentiality.  Any time you stand for another position in a formal search process, there is always a chance something could slip out that could compromise your position with a current employer.  So being prudent is an important quality.

 As a former executive recruiter, I never objected to being quizzed about internal candidates but as a cautionary note, there are some recruiters at very well-known search firms who do object to being pressed about the possibility of an internal candidate.  Their defense for being less than transparent  is almost always constructed around the theme we have a duty to protect the confidentiality of our candidate panel.  Good, we all get that.  Your questions about possible internal candidates should be designed not to uncover an identity that should remain confidential, but for you to avoid wasting your time.

Here are four questions I would ask before getting too excited about being recruited for an executive position:

  1. Is there an internal candidate either under active consideration, or someone the company would like to consider?
  2. If yes, ask if the internal candidate is as qualified and is he or she well-liked in the company? 
  3. Is the internal candidate’s experience more than, less than or about the same as your’s?
  4. In other similar searches, with an internal candidate, how many times has this company selected the internal candidate over other well-qualified external executives. (Yes, some companies have a tendency to run  beauty pageant searches just in case a super star shows up.) 

An external recruiter may not have the answers to all of your questions but internal recruiters who handle the majority of executive search assignments, certainly should.  

Do not let the ego rush of a recruiter’s call preclude you from asking questions that could help you avoid wasting your time.