Risking Your Best

The purpose behind recruiting from within is to engage with and retain your employees.  You want to identify their potential, recognize their contributions, hard work and dedication, and help them to apply their strengths in a new way in the organization.  

Have you ever been an internal candidate for a promotion at work?  How would you describe your experience?  

If you are a manager responsible for hiring, how does your internal process compare with your company’s external one?  

There are times I wonder if HR puts more emphasis on how they manage potential external candidates than how they interact with their internal applicants.  I think this is quite backwards as mishandling the application of an internal candidate seems like the higher risk to me.  An eager, committed staff member can very quickly become an individual who feels unseen, disillusioned and demoralized by a bad internal screening experience.  

My friend and colleague, Tracey Johns is a professional recruiter and co-owner of Tandem Recruitment Consulting and says she is frequently called in to do an external search for organizations that have not facilitated a good internal one - “I strongly believe that organizations should do everything they can to promote from within before they look outside.” 

If your internal hiring process is hurting your staff engagement, consider examining these three areas:

  1. Link purpose and process – What is your standard process for internal candidates?  Common screening techniques include submitting a cover letter and résumé, panel interviews and presentations and perhaps some aptitude testing.  Do all candidates (for every position level) go through the same process or just those on the short list?  Many companies like the internal screening process to be inclusive and allow everyone equal opportunity.  This could include granting every internal candidate an interview and having all of them do a battery of tests.  Does this make sense?  Consider if you have clearly linked what you are asking the candidate to do with what is needed for this role or possibly for future development.  Given that you are dealing with a current employee, you have an opportunity to provide them with insight about how each step of the process helps you achieve your purpose, that is determining the best fit match for the position.
  2. Communication is key – In his book The Advantage:  Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Patrick Lencioni’s model for organizational health centers on building a cohesive leadership team, creating clarity and then communicating, communicating and communicating clarity.  This is even more true in the case of internal hiring as your key stakeholders are your employees.  We all know that many things can arise to cause delays in a hiring process.  At the first hint of a challenge or barrier, you should be communicating what you can to the candidates.  If you are part of the screening committee, it should be your top priority to over-communicate at every step. When you are communicating with candidates, keep in mind that the informal networks and office grapevines are likely to be at least partially in the know.  Your entire team will be watching as the decision about who gets the job has a ripple effect, impacting virtually everyone in the organization.  Your actions may also influence other employees’ decisions to participate in future internal competitions.  
  3. Follow-up with everyone – There are many companies who never follow-up with a potential candidate, using the line “only successful candidates will be notified”.  I think this is morally wrong.  Have you ever waited and hoped for the phone to ring or an email to hit your inbox?  It takes very little time to send a scripted email to a group of candidates to tell them the position has been filled.  For the applicants you have interviewed, a 30-second phone call or voicemail is very little to ask for the 60-minute (or longer) meeting they had with you.  When it comes to your internal candidates, they deserve even more.  It is essential to debrief with every candidate before the announcement of who got the job is issued.  Although the unsuccessful candidates will be unhappy about not being your top pick, why not use this event to meaningfully and honestly speak with them about future opportunities and how they can enhance their skills and experiences for next time.

Hiring from within your own company has many benefits.  Employee engagement is fostered at every interaction we have with our staff and the internal screening process is no exception. Before you make your next internal hire, place yourself in the shoes of your candidates before, during and after the process – consider the one successful candidate and the many who are not chosen to fill the vacancy.  

Each applicant is taking a great risk by putting themselves up front for your consideration. Remember, you know them, and they know you.  Have you aligned your words and actions?  Is what you are asking them to do reasonable under the circumstances?  Have you used this experience to increase their commitment and loyalty to your organization?  Or, does your process increase your risk of losing your greatest asset – a high-potential employee?