This post was updated at 1:39 p.m. PST with Yahoo declining to comment.
Yahoo may have fallen out of favor with Wall Street after the failed Microsoft buyout bid, but that doesn't mean you can count Yahoo President Sue Decker out of the running for CEO, people familiar with executive search say.
Decker has undergone two full rounds of in-depth interviews with Yahoo's board, according to sources.
And, in executive recruiting circles, more than one in-depth interview with an internal candidate signals a strong contender, said David Nosal, CEO of executive recruiting firm Nosal Partners.
"If she has gone through two rounds of full interviews with the board, it sends the signal that she is being given strong consideration," Nosal said. "Rarely do boards go through a second round of full interviews, unless there is something significant they see there, whether it's for an internal or external candidate."
A number of industry players and major Yahoo investors had discounted Decker as a viable CEO candidate for the struggling Internet search pioneer, following Microsoft's failed buyout bid of $33 a share for the company. Yahoo, which had traded at roughly $19 a share before the initial bid became public last January, closed Wednesday at $12.71 a share.
But one source familiar with the search noted: "She has always been a strong candidate."
And at least one influential Microsoft source noted that Decker is well regarded at the software giant, even though the companies weren't able to strike a buyout, or partial deal for just the search business.
For Yahoo, naming Decker as CEO could potentially bode well for its efforts to quickly reignite talks with Microsoft, given that an outside hire would need time to analyze the different aspects of Yahoo's businesses before holding discussions to potentially sell off parts of the company.
Meanwhile, strong outside candidates have reportedly included former Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin, whose expertise with the carrier could have come in handy in righting Yahoo's failed effort to win the Verizon search business. Sarin is reportedly no longer interested in the Yahoo CEO gig.
And an All Things Digital post Wednesday notes Autodesk CEO Carol Bartz is another serious contender for the post.
Although sources familiar with the search say there is no deadline for naming a CEO and that it's hoped one could be selected by the end of the quarter, executive recruiters say there is an artificial deadline.
"A search of this magnitude you can never rush, but since it's one of the most high-profile CEO searches, there are any number of people who have made it be known in, or outside, the U.S. that they are interested in the job. I would imagine that Yahoo would be into its second or even third round of interviews with a short list of candidates," Nosal said.
He added he would be "surprised, if not disappointed," if Yahoo does not name a CEO within the next 30 to 45 days.
Executive recruiter Jon Holman of the Holman Group noted that if a CEO is not found within a four-month period after launching a search, the process "begins to grow hair."
"If six months go by, you know that the board has seen a bunch of people and you begin to think that the board doesn't know what it wants, or the board is looking for a Superman that doesn't exist, or no one wants the job," Holman said. "All those alternatives are bad. You don't want the company to look like damaged goods."
Yahoo announced on November 17 that its founder and CEO Jerry Yang would step down and resume the role of chief Yahoo once a new CEO was selected. In the meantime, Yahoo is nearing its two-month mark in its search.
Yahoo declined to comment on Decker and the CEO search.