The Perils of Pre-selection


No one likes rejection. Yet, the hiring manager only can choose one individual for the position…unless multiple positions were announced. You get a notice in USAJobs telling you that someone else was selected for the job. It wasn’t you! You believe you have done everything right. You are disappointed. You notice the hiring manager on the elevator. You have rehearsed your question. Nervous, you are ready to ask her why she didn’t select you.

Not so fast! You will need to remain professional. Wish her a nice day and exit the elevator with a smile. You get to your desk and have a seat. Don’t log on just yet! Reflect! Pose the following questions to yourself:

  • Is it a possibility the selectee was more qualified?
  • How well did I perform on the PBI?
  • Did I engage in negative narratives?
  • Does my personality fit in the cultural framework of the department?
  • Black listed by the decision makers?

You could be an outstanding candidate, but another prospect was more closely in line with what they were looking for.

The P word!

As I mentioned in a previous article, the P word is not a nice word. Politics! Pre-selection! Ill-fated words within the workplace.

As much as I love being a government employee, sometimes the government gets dirty. Sometimes, well…lots of times hiring managers know from the moment the position is announced who they were going to hire.

Unfortunately, there’s almost nothing you can do when this happens. If you didn’t get the position, it could be because you never had the chance in the first place. A pre-selectee, conscious of the charade was simply waiting for the process to take its course.

Often times around the virtual water cooler, there is chatter when a position announcement emerges from USA jobs.  Here are some signs when it looks dirty:

  • You are told: Don’t waste your time applying. That job belongs to Mickey Mouse
  • A strong internal or external candidate that they probably knew
  • A relative, a friend, a friend’s friend was promised the position
  • The hiring manager owes a favor
  • Behind-the-scenes factors at play
  • Other selectee might have a leg up on a personal level (same college as the hiring manager or of a senior level staffer)
  • An inexperienced Intern or Fellow who excels at Excel
  • Manager heard negative gossip about you

According to USA Today some hiring managers will never tell you why you didn’t get the job. Regardless, the key is to act as professional as possible even when you are disappointed maybe even angry. You don’t want to burn bridges. You do want to regroup and do the following:

  • Use it as a learning experience
  • Practice the areas of responses that didn’t go well so you can be better at your next interview
  • Conduct a reconnoiter to ensure the P word is not a factor (sometimes difficult to decipher)
  • Gracefully move on to other opportunities displaying your worth
  • Reinvent yourself in your current position
  • Keep your head up high!

This article is based solely on the author’s opinions and experiences.

June Bridges Cox is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Mark Hammer

I’ve been engaged in surveying both federal hiring managers, and candidates, about staffing processes for a while. Several years back, I thought it would be useful to engage in a he-said-she-said examination of what hiring managers look for in candidates, and what candidates THINK managers are looking for.

It was not possible to directly compare managers and candidates on the exact same staffing process, but what we did see, over thousands of responses, is that managers place a lot more emphasis on “personal suitability” and match to the work team, than candidates tend to think they do.

And if you take a step back, it makes perfect sense. The candidate thinks in terms of themselves and their knowledge and strengths, in isolation, where the manager thinks in terms of their work objectives to be accomplished, and how well this team or that is going to function; something which the candidate (especially if they are external to that unit or agency) has very little idea about. They certainly want merit as well, but they are thinking in terms of a bigger picture than most candidates will, or can.

I like to think of staffing as match-making. I think it is the inalienable right of everyone to be in a job that allows them to thrive, and lets them come to work with a smile on their face. I’m well aware that not every hiring manager has that perspective. But I think as well that the job we think we ought to have is sometimes, maybe often, not the job that will make us happy. As such, don’t think of rejection as solely a judgment of your deservingness or personal worth, but as a matter of whether it’s going to work out in a way that will make you happy. And if the hiring manager is trying to make a pick that will allow all the team members to get along and complement each others’ skill-set, then maybe it’s even a good thing they picked someone else.

That said, there was an excellent report from the Merit Systems Protection Board in 2004 or so, that looked at “sham competitions”: those competitions that the manager was told they MUST post for “transparency” purposes, even though they knew who they really needed in the position. Based on their survey data, MSPB came up with a conservative estimate that such sham processes cost the federal system an estimated $240M/yr. Keep in mind that is ONLY manager time, and does not factor in the cost of HR’s time, and the wink-wink “sick leave” taken by employees to study for or write tests, or the endless hours they will spend complaining to co-workers about how “the whole thing is rigged”. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating when I suggest that total costs in time and effort wasted on such pretend competitions by all stakeholders probably runs close to a billion dollars.. What sort of price you want to put on the squandered good will and loss of faith in the system is a whole other budget line item.


I agree with the idea that staffing could be considered as matchmaking. It should be the perfect match…or almost.
However, the P issue is a factor in staffing. Not every time, but
significant enough for discussions.