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Marcus - I notice one thing you didn't comment on directly: Is it appropriate to pose the question "Do you have an internal candidate" or something even more direct like "Did you open/post this position with an internal candidate in mind" to the hiring committee?

Anon UK Grad

I wanted to chime in to second Marcus' comment. Though I am now happily employed in a TT job, I was an internal finalist candidate while adjuncting and was not hired. So, the internal candidates might have an edge, but they are not guaranteed the job.


First of all, congratulations to the OP for getting three on-campus interviews during their first year on the market. That's no small feat. From my experience, there is little reason not to accept the interviews. I personally know two people who were themselves internal candidates when their departments were hiring, and in each case, the job went to an external applicant. I've also been on two search committees. We didn't have an internal candidate in either case, but the sheer number of very strong applications that we received makes me think that, if we had had an internal applicant, then any external applicant that we were going to fly out would likely give the internal applicant a serious run for their money. So, I wouldn't hesitate to accept the interviews.

y ask?

I am in a position similar to the OPs (with 2 internal candidate hires as opposed to 3, maybe we overlapped).

I *never* ask about internal candidates, primarily because I doubt I'd get an honest response. If a school was legally required to have an "open" search for a position, they might incur legal liability by telling me that they have an internal candidate. Even if there were no legal implications, I'm unsure of why a department would openly advertise the fact that they already have a preferred candidate, especially to other candidates under consideration.

Open to other thoughts!

don't worry

Worrying about internal candidates is a waste of time. Here are a few reasons.

1. Criteria for hiring a non-TT instructor often differ substantially from those for hiring a TT prof--even when the job description looks the same.

2. Search committees may work harder, exhibit greater attention to detail, and may have different attitudes toward risk for TT searches than for non-TT searches.

3. Applicant pools tend to be much smaller for non-TT positions than for TT positions.

4. Sometimes internal candidates make a bad impression on their department. This can be for a variety of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with internal candidates and everything to do with other members of the department.

5. The internal candidate might get a better offer elsewhere.


Definitely go to the interviews. Agreed with all the above on how the internal candidate might not get the job. I'm another one of those.

One new point I'll add: I would say that with some digging, in some senses you can get a sense of which departments have a culture of actually preferring the internal, and which do not. Even then this is not entirely reliable and may change year from year.

But anyways, the mere fact that there is an internal candidate (plus no additional information) should not dissuade you from taking the interview seriously.

Bill Vanderburgh

You could ask if there is an internal candidate, but it isn't clear how you should act on the answer. Taking the opportunity to practice interviewing is a positive in itself (up to a certain point, I suppose) and there is still a chance that the internal candidate won't win the position. I don't know the data on this, but I do know that internal candidates do not always get the job. Sometimes they are preferred candidates, sometimes they are included among finalists to preserve departmental peace or to meet a union obligation. So on average maybe an internal candidate has a 50% chance of winning the job? In that case, the remaining two finalists have a 25% chance. Normally, each candidate would have a 33.3% chance. That's not a big difference for you as the not-internal candidate, especially considering that since the candidates aren't equal on all dimensions, the principle of equipossibility doesn't really apply.

The biggest advantage that internal candidates may have is that they are a known quantity: The department knows their teaching, how students respond to them, and what they are like as a colleague. Do what you can to make them confident about you in those dimensions and it may improve your chances.

That said, departments who know they have a strong preference for an internal candidate should do what they can to hire without a search (direct appointments are possible, even if deans don't like the optics--that's how senior hires are usually made). If that doesn't work, departments should work to minimize the harms of their search to unwitting and already-hard-done-by junior members of the profession. They can do the latter by making the requirements in the ad very specific to limit the number of applicants, mentioning the existence of the internal candidate in the ad, doing most interviewing on Zoom, and minimizing the number of candidates they bring to campus (maybe only 2?).


There's nothing you can do about it except take the interview and try your best to get the job. As the others have said, the fact that there's an internal candidate doesn't mean they're a shoe-in. I've seen a few searches where the internal candidate, though interviewed, didn't make it to the end.

Perennial Candidate

I have also been trumped more than once by an internal candidate, but I have heard stories from others who managed to get hired despite the presence of an internal candidate on the shortlist. So I think the general wisdom emerging here is sound: internal candidates are likely to have an edge, but an excellent external candidate can definitely get the job if the search committee is serious about their work. While it does happen, I think it's rare for the search to be rigged in the internal candidate's favour.

Timmy J

I’ve been on search committees for VAPs to fill lines that we expected to eventually become TT lines. Sometimes we’ve hired as a VAP someone we typically wouldn’t hire in a TT position in part to see if they fit or otherwise are better than they seem to be on paper. Sometimes it turns out they do fit and are better. Sometimes it doesn’t. In either case, we end up running a search for which the VAP looks like a good fit.

The point being that at least in my department, even job ads that look tailor-made for one of our VAPs might be jobs for which the VAP in question is mot a serious contender.

Their teaching reviews were terrible and they don't publish

I agree with everyone above: the information really can't help you much, because you have to take the chances you get, and you'll never be able to really know that you have no chance.

On the other hand, if you don't get the job, I think (maybe controversially) that it is okay to let yourself off the hook a little bit! It can be all too easy to start ruminating on what you could have done better. So, at least for some of us, some of the time, even if the evidence isn't entirely there for it, feel free to assume that the inside candidate got the job despite your superior performance and that there was really nothing you could do!

Tenured faculty

My own experiences are too long ago, but here's my impression from students in our program. What sometimes happens is that a student lands a 1-year VAP in their first year on the market. They take the job, and then either next year or after 2 years the department finally has money to get a tenure track line.
The department advertises the position. The internal candidate applies. Often they get at least a first-round interview (they're known quantity after all, with the advantages and disadvantages this gives) but they don't even always make it to the on campus stage. Not because they're poor teachers or anything, just because the field sometimes is really strong with better-fitting candidates (fit is so, so important for searches even today, and being an internal candidate sometimes can mean that the department finds your fit isn't that great).
Being the internal candidate, I'd say, gives you better odds in the sense that you often at least get in the first-round interviews, but for the offer they want to see who they might be able to hire. Though they want (mostly) to treat their current colleague fairly, there isn't like a huge loyalty after what is only half a year or so working with them. Other considerations often play a role, another candidate can be a better fit.

It just isn't true that departments regularly initiate a sham search to be able to hire their beloved multi-year non-TT colleague. Rather what happens is they hire this person first non-TT because there is no tenure line. Once there is, they want to be diligent and do the best job they can to find the most fitting candidate.

I don't see the point of asking if there's an internal candidate. It makes you sound (perhaps? in any case, it risks making you sound) suspicious as if you are second-guessing the department's good intentions. And if there is one, you still have a very good shot. Just do the best prep you can.


No point in asking. Even if the department had a preferred internal candidate, the college/university/HR may not recognize that candidate as the finalist until the process is complete, which means the department wouldn’t be allowed to confirm their preference. And by asking you may reduce your chances, as it may be off-putting (even if it’s a fair question!).

Also, departments are not monolithic. There may be an internal candidate preferred by some but not all or enough of the voting members of the department. You may stand a real chance even if there’s an internal candidate.

Most importantly: my sympathies! I was beaten by an internal candidate—more awkwardly, I suspected there was an internal candidate and then I heard the students discussing him midway through my visit. I’ve also been an internal candidate passed over for the job (at least at first until they couldn’t fill the position, then they offered it to me, which felt pretty awful too). It all sucked. The job market is the worst, but with three on campus interviews your first time out, I suspect you’ll do okay!


You never know what the internal situation is. I've been on both sides of this - as the internal candidate and an external candidate finding out there was an internal.

When I was the external, the internal was hired. It was pretty obvious that was going to happen since the internal was on a temporary contract and married to the department chair. It was my first TT interview so I chalked it up to good experience and moved on.

When I was internal, I didn't get the job. Luckily I got a better job elsewhere, so I didn't have to end up working for the person who got it, but I was dreading that situation.

So basically, sometimes internals are a shoo-in and sometimes they aren't. Perhaps some departments interview ineternals just to avoid awkwardness of not shortlisting them for their own job and have no intention of hiring them. Don't let it throw you off!

Assistant Professor

I agree with the point from Anonymous at 9:26am. As one internal candidate told me when I was an external candidate and we both knew we were in the running for a job: being an internal candidate means being a known quantity in ways that can be both good and bad. This turned out to be true - I ended up with the offer over the internal candidate.


Do not ask "is there an internal candidate." In the interview process you should focus on yourself and I think it would strike the committee as inappropriate to ask about other candidates. Also, who exactly counts as an internal candidate? A graduate of the program? Someone who previously worked there? A faculty member's spouse or best friend? Anyway, that person's existence should not influence whether you do the interview or not.

During an informal part of an on-campus interview (committee member driving me to dinner), I once asked "why is this position open?" I don't think I worded it very well, but I was trying to suss out if the department was growing or if there was an institutional reason why they had a particular teaching need. The search committee member then told me that they had a VAP who's contract was ending and they told me that person wasn't under consideration for the TT line anymore. I found it kind of awkward that they told me that as a candidate and I didn't know how to respond. My point is, neither party should bring up other candidates. Both the then-VAP and I have good jobs at other places now!

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