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Were You Appointed or Anointed?

You’ve prepared for a role like this for years and it is finally available. Because you are clearly the obvious choice, it would save everyone a lot of time and trouble to simply hand you your new title. The person to whom this position reports agrees also that you are perfect. Rather than create false expectations that lead to dashed hopes, all while wasting time and money, it would be far wiser to just give you the position. Right? Perhaps not.
 
Issues about fairness and equal opportunity aside, the practice of being anointed rather than appointed after a search, be it external or just internal, can have a downside, the most obvious being that a gift such as this can make people hate you. If they don’t hate you, they may talk about you behind your back. ”But that’s not fair,” you proclaim. “I have earned this job.” Well, guess what? Life would be easier for you in the long run if you actually proved it.
 
Several years ago, a version of the position I now hold was open. As the second in command, I assumed the job would go to me. Oh, so wrong, so wrong. I was stunned and outraged to learn that I would be required to actually compete for the position.
 
There is a certain terror involved in being an internal candidate for a very public search, and I have to admit that I almost withdrew from the process rather than face the embarrassment of being passed over for an outside candidate. In the end, I sucked it up and spent a zillion hours on my campus presentation, which I gave several times to the more than 200 people who showed up and evaluated my “suitability” on green sheets of paper. The day my new boss let me know the job was mine, she pointed to her desk where there was one tall stack of green sheets and one short stack. ”It was obvious,” she said tapping the tall set. “You were the campus choice.”
 
Being “the campus choice” rather than her choice alone gave me credibility that I would not have earned had she simply handed me the role. The vetting process also gave me an opportunity to think hard about what I wanted to accomplish, reflection time that proved valuable in charting my path in my new role. I will candidly admit that had the outcome been different, I would probably be bitter and living somewhere on the East Coast, but given that it worked out in the end, I feel grateful that I had an opportunity to win my job.
 
While many of our institutions have policies that allow hires without searches in certain circumstances, I have come to believe they should be used with great caution. When asked for guidance about whether to waive a search, I always ask the same two questions: “Who will be annoyed by this?” and “Will waiving the search hamper this person’s eventual success?” Yes, searches can take a lot of time, but dealing with the fallout of resentment can consume even more.
 
What are your thoughts on waiving searches? Have you seen people resent the golden children who were anointed?

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