The Politics of Inside Candidates

“Should I even bother to apply for a job when I know that there are inside candidates? Can I ever beat out an insider? Are the cards already stacked against me?” The short answer is “yes”. You should apply. Like your mother would say, “There’s nothing to lose.” Be aware that the actual status of the insider or insiders is unknown. The “powers that be”, meaning the superintendent, board members, other administrators, may not favor the insider. The insider may be on the wrong side of some internal issue, some political alignment, or is just not highly respected. Oftentimes, the screening committee will reject the insider’s candidacy, which results in a wide-open process.

Even if there you wind up competing with an insider, it remains a possibility that you may prevail. You have no control over the status of other candidates, but you do have control over the quality of your own performance. All you can do is to do your very best and then hope for the best.

However, before you take a job be on the lookout for nepotism and xenophobia; these conditions flourish in too many of our schools. Just knowing someone on the inside to get a job may not even be enough. Sometimes you must be someone on the inside. Under some circumstances you must even grow up, live and work in the district.

Be aware that you might not even want to work in a place in which nepotism is the rule. Organizations that regularly practice nepotism are often resistant to any significant change and neither seek nor honor diverse perspectives which might come from outside sources.  Leaders in these schools might argue, “If it ain’t broken why fix it”. They assert the need for continuity and consistency. They preach that outsiders often don’t relate to their community. They take pride in being a “close knit community”. Conventional wisdom seems to be that the only way to land a job in some school districts is to be an inside candidate. If this is the case, then you might be better off not working in a place like this. Be careful what you wish for because you may get it.

Aside from being unfair, nepotism often results in mediocrity in that the best qualified candidates are passed up, and the same practices are perpetuated, as the torch is passed to yet another insider who was weaned in a closed system. The justification for rejecting outside candidates is often that “they’re not a good fit”which ironically is oftentrue! Unfortunately, sometimes “outsiders” are chosen and then not listened to, sometimes even shunned. Ideally, schools are organizations that should be open, and must continue to grow and learn.

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