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Is there someone already in the role?

28 January 2020

"Is there someone already in the role?"

This is such a loaded question.

“Is the role vacant, or is there someone acting in it?”

People approach this question with different perspectives.  Some won’t ask because they are concerned that finding out will deflate them.  Others want to know so it fuels them to higher performance, others want to know because their mental rule is to never apply for such roles.

There is also the hiring managers perspective.  Some will avoid the question (some even refusing to answer) in the belief that applicants don’t need to know.  Some are transparent, yet always reassuring that it is still a very open selection.  

In reality whether there is someone in the role has an important bearing on the selection, and is valuable information for you as an applicant to know. It has an important bearing because it changes the framing the selection panel makes in terms of the decision they have.

One of the fundamentals of decision making is that people generally frame decisions as in terms of loss or gain.  I.e. will making this decision result in me gaining something good or bad, or losing something good or bad?  Further, how people frame their decisions impacts the level of risk taking they are prepared to engage in.  If people feel they have something good to gain they are more open to taking a risk.  If people feel they have something good to lose they are more risk averse.

The implications on recruitment are quite important.  If someone is acting in the advertised role (and they are not performing poorly) the panel will frame the selection decision as a possible loss of something good and are likely to be more conservative in their decision making.  If there is no one in the role the panel is likely to frame the selection decision as a gain and be more open to taking a chance.

This, of course, is only one of the myriad of psychological mind tricks that plague selection panels, but knowing about it can help you decide what to emphasise in your application.  If someone is in the role it is wise to emphasise your level of experience, dependability, and solidness as the panel is risk averse.  If someone isn’t already in the role the panel is likely to be keen and more open to hearing about your potential and the ideas you have.

As always wishing you a flourishing career.


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