Go ahead and apply, but recognize that the employment world can be as brutal and unfair as life on Africa’s Serengeti Plain. Some lions and hyenas may be lurking in the high grass. Factor these possibilities into your analysis:
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Someone else may have a lock on the position. This can be difficult to determine. The fact that an insider is holding the job on an acting basis is no guarantee that other candidates won’t have a chance. There are times when the “acting whatever” fumbles the opportunity or management is simply looking for new blood. On the other hand, we’ve all seen situations where you can have a great deal more education, judgment, and job experience--and they’re still going to give it to good old Gloria who’s been around there for years simply because they know and like her.
Politics may be the norm, not the exception. If you are applying for a high-profile, non-civil service job in government, don’t fool yourself into thinking that your sterling credentials will wow the selection panel. You’ll probably need to bolster your chances with recommendations from influential political figures and, in essence, campaign for the job. Cream does not always rise to the top in that process.
Many private sector job selections are subject to tinkering. The selection procedures are sometimes bypassed or scrapped entirely in order to favor those who have important sponsors. Applicant 'A' may easily outdistance the other applicants in terms of merit, but Applicant 'B' works for an outside attorney who knows the CEO and who is willing to give an enthusiastic recommendation. The result? Applicant 'B' is the only person interviewed for the position and consequently receives a prompt job offer. Applicant 'A' and the other quasi-contenders get a nice letter from HR thanking them for their interest in the position.
What this means is that it helps to know if the selection process is going to be vulnerable to anything other than a straight consideration of merit. (Keep in mind that even if an organization is seriously trying to hire the best person, it may misjudge the job requirements or botch the interviews. Such processes are not immune from mistakes.)
Unfortunately, you may never know if these factors come into play so there is another lesson to be learned: Don’t submit an application and then wait by the phone. Move on and apply for other positions. That dream job may have been snagged by a hyena.
Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.