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This is similar to another question but with a bit of a twist, so I think it warrants existing alongside the other question.

I am in the process of changing jobs, so I have been applying to quite a few positions over the past 3-4 months and been following the trends for longer than that. I don't know if it's relevant for the answers but I am also transitioning from non-profit research to industrial position, with a sought-after profile. Had a bit of an interesting event lately which made me think a bit.

So in chronological order:

  • I applied for a position at a large multinational company
  • I got selected for a phone interview with the hiring manager and his superior/collaborator at a different site/department.
  • They hinted that I might be a better fit for a different position they are looking for (which does not exist online)
  • I agreed to be considered for that, and immediately got selected for the second round, on-site interview
  • The HR person accidentally (?) sent me information about this position as a forwarded email, where s/he sent this information to another candidate a couple of months ago. I can see their entire conversation in the quoted text which is an interesting read I have to say.

So then I got a bit curious and ended up finding this persons CV online, and read a bit more. The profile looks legit and I don't see any immediate red flags. So the obvious question in my head is why did they not go forward with this candidate and decided to keep searching, and even asking me to apply to this position.

Is it unprofessional of me to try and inquire why this position was not filled before? Or in other words, how can I acquire more information on this position without leaving a bad impression and hurting my chances?

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    why did they not go forward with this candidate - Why is it important to you to know that? Personally, I don't care why any other candidate wasn't selected for a job. How would knowing that help you? – joeqwerty Nov 13 '19 at 17:50
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    Perhaps the candidate got a better offer someplace else. – Ed Heal Nov 13 '19 at 18:03
  • It's more likely that the candidate didn't go ahead with the company! Make of that what you will - could be anything from not enough money, decided against the commute, received a counter-offer, didn't like the colour of the business cards -- up to actual red flags in the process. I would keep the forwarded information in the back of your mind but not mention it, but you could legitimately ask questions about "how come the different position is now available", "why do they feel you are better fit for that position" etc. FWIW I think it was genuinely accidentally sent, not 'strategically'! – seventyeightist Nov 13 '19 at 19:54
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    @seventyeightist oh, I dont doubt that it was an honest mistake. What I wanted to convey with the question, which seems to have avoided pretty much everyone except you and dwizum, there might be a legitimate reason why someone legit not accepting this position. It's a good & prestigious company, it's not the fact this one person didn't get the job, it's that they couldn't find anyone for months to fill this position. Maybe they are expecting unrealistic things, maybe the managers are difficult or the pay isn't satisfactory. The history might be meaningful, thence the question. Thanks though – posdef Nov 13 '19 at 22:03
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    While it may have been an honest mistake, the email may have something like a confidential flag, that instructs you to dispose of the email if you are not the rightful recipient. If that's the case, simply reading it (and more importantly, acknowledging it), would be a no-no. If it's a position that regards privacy and information security highly, you might want to state that you saw the confidentiality flag, disposed of the email and would like another copy of the position details – Mars Nov 14 '19 at 1:33
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You were sent information in error. Do not mention it ever again.

You can ask why the position is open, but not about other specific candidates who were rejected as answering could potentially expose the company to liability.

The hiring process is a strange thing. The things that can knock you out of the box can be anything from a weak handshake to your phone going off, to someone thinking they may not work well with you.

If the person seemed qualified on paper, then leave it at that, but don't bring it up, EVER.

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    +1 Additionally, you have no idea who broke off the process. It could have been the candidate who rejected the position. Maybe it didn't pay what they were looking for, maybe they got a better offer elsewhere, maybe they just didn't want to take their career in that direction. Whatever the reason, that knowledge does not help the OP with their own decision. – Seth R Nov 13 '19 at 19:58
  • @SethR "_ It could have been the candidate who rejected the position._" precisely!! if someone finds a red flag that I might not have noticed, wouldn't that alone be a good reason to what to know? – posdef Nov 13 '19 at 21:56
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    @posdef If the candidate broke it off for a red flag, do you really think the company is going to admit to that? "Oh Bob? Yeah, he didn't like that occasionally we force you to work a few hours overtime unpaid, so he turned us down. We won't admit to that so early next time!" – Mars Nov 14 '19 at 1:36
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Your last question was,

Or in other words, how can I acquire more information on this position without leaving a bad impression and hurting my chances?

To me, this is a much more answerable (and valuable) question than the one you started out with. You need to determine what your criteria are for the ideal next job, and then devise questions you can ask this employer to determine if they meet those criteria.

Interviews are meant to be two-way. The company asks you questions to determine your fitness for the job, and you will get a chance to ask them questions to determine if you would like working there. So, be deliberate in this process - if there's something you think you would like (or not like) in your next employer, think of questions that will help you evaluate this employer on that criteria.

Getting information on why a prior candidate is not currently in the position won't be helpful to determining if you will be selected, or will be happy in the position. Maybe they tried to hire that person, but couldn't afford their salary demands. Or, maybe that person had a bad day and botched the interview. Or, their resume didn't match their interview performance. Or, a million other things. Even if you asked the employer for this information, they may not give you an accurate response - they may not even know the real reasons, if for instance the candidate rejected their offer without explanation. And, the chances that the prior hiring result will actually be meaningful for your criteria - in a way that you cannot independently verify yourself by doing research or asking your own questions - are pretty much zero.

So, it's probably best to forget all about the prior candidate, and instead focus on making your own decisions based on what's important to you.

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This is a breach of privacy accidentally initiated by the HR of the company, which could be considered a red flag. It's none of your concern why that person was hired. I propose raising the issue to HR and ask for correct/updated information.

Further digging from you would make you an accomplice of the breach. Do not do this.

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