Should my work tell me when I’ve been rejected for an internal promotion?

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week, finding out about a missed job opportunity, getting an external referee, and a funding request.

Years ago I applied for an internal promotion for a role that was also externally advertised. I was shortlisted, interviewed, and then… nothing. I found out I didn’t get the job when they sent out an all-staff email announcing the new hire. I’ve been in a different job now for 10 years, and guess what? The same thing happened again. I applied for an internal promotion a month ago (which I was ‘warmly encouraged’ to do) and found out when I was invited to meet the successful candidate next week. I can’t help but wonder: are internal applicants always doomed, or is it just my rotten luck?

If you applied for a job it’s only fair to be told you’ve missed out.Credit:Dionne Gain

It is infuriating poor communication like this can happen when we all know that internal competition for a role can often lead to one or more unsuccessful applicants becoming demotivated and wanting to leave. People like you, eager to progress and take on additional responsibilities, need to understand why you were not successful and what you can work on to improve your chances next time. There is no excuse, in either case, for you being treated with disrespect in the process. The fact it has happened twice, at different organisations, suggests what is needed whether from the HR teams or whoever manages the process, is a mindset shift to focus as much on supporting unsuccessful candidates as celebrating the person who has got the job.

It does sound like you have had rotten luck. I encourage you to keep applying for new, more challenging roles, and see if you can find out exactly what it was that prevented you from succeeding this time so that you are better placed when you apply again next time.

Is it appropriate after being employed for more than four years to be asked to supply an external referee when applying for an internal role? My organisation can be a bit bureaucratic and I need to provide a reference not only from my current manager but also from my former employer. There has been a large turnover of staff at my previous employer and most of my former colleagues, (including my direct manager) no longer work there. Is this a normal request?

Talk about bureaucracy gone mad – what a ridiculous request. Surely, the fact you have worked in your current organisation for four years is the best reference they can get. They can speak with your current manager, of course, but for an internal promotion, you would expect they can speak with anyone else you may have worked with too. The views of a manager from a job you did previously, especially given it was so long ago, cannot possibly be as relevant as hearing from people who work with you now.

I am going to guess this is one of those “we have always done it this way” things that needs a rethink. I would calmly but politely explain you are really keen on the internal promotion, you can give them as many internal references as they need, but your last role outside the organisation was many years ago now, your manager has moved on and so you want to talk about your future and performance here.

I work at a research organisation and my colleague is undertaking their PhD, using one of our work projects as the main part of their thesis. They want to use our project funds to pay for their supervisor to travel internationally with them to collect data. I don’t believe this is a fair use of our joint project funds, and it seems unreasonable for a supervisor to ask a student to be funding their travel. I’ve previously expressed my discomfort with this situation but was told we have the funds, so they are proceeding with the trip. Am I being unreasonable, or how I should broach this to come to a reasonable compromise?

I am surprised that your project doesn’t already have a clear budget and governance around what and when funding can be used for. I am also surprised to hear any research organisation has so much funding that this sort of request could be made ad hoc and without being included in the budget for the project.

In this instance, it is too late to change anything, but I would definitely want to ask the project manager or your fellow project members how these sorts of requests will be handled in future, so it is fair for all and so the project has enough funding for other ad hoc requests that may come up.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to [email protected]. Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

Dr Kirstin Ferguson is an author, columnist and company director. Her latest book Head & Heart: The Art of Modern Leadership (Penguin Random House) is available to order now.

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