Managing Internal Candidates

Many of the searches we perform for clients include candidates already employed inside the client company who want to be considered for the position on which we are working.  Managing internal candidates can be tricky and sensitive, and it can have a large impact on how they feel about their employer after the search is done – regardless of whether they ended up in the job or not.

 

When we begin a search that includes internal candidates, the first thing we do is get an explicit agreement from our client on two things:

 

  • The object of the search is to end up with the most qualified person in the job.  This individual will have the highest likelihood for success in the role and will have the talent to make a strong contribution to the company.
  • Any internal candidates who were considered for the role will feel positively about their experience at the end of the search, regardless of whether or not they ultimately got the job.

 

How can you achieve these dual objectives?  Here are five effective strategies that we have developed over the years:

 

  1.  Make sure you have a detailed, comprehensive and realistic job specification.  This document is going to be the bedrock for the search and the standard against which you evaluate all candidates – both internal and external.  At a minimum, it should include job responsibilities, required qualifications and critical competencies.
  2. When an internal candidate throws his or her hat into the ring, get the position description into their hands immediately, if they have not yet seen it.  Make sure they understand that their fit with the job requirements outlined in the position specification will be one of the most critical ways they will be evaluated.  Make it clear that the goal is to find the best person to fill the role.
  3. In our firm, we conduct an extensive phone screen of candidates, followed by an in-person interview.  We never meet internal candidates at their place of work.  We want to see them outside of their native habitat, just as we do the external candidates.  They also should go through the same interview process internally at the company as external candidates.
  4. If there comes a time in the process when it is clear to you that an internal candidate is not capable of doing the job, is the wrong fit or is just not the best option available for the company, tell them.  Nothing makes an internal candidate angrier than being strung along.  It is very easy for them to feel as though they were just being used, for any number of reasons.
  5. If you do not end up selecting the internal candidate, give them very specific feedback.  Work with them on ways to address some of the reasons they were not selected or help them establish a career development plan to become more promotable.  By taking the time to do these things, you will send the message that you value them, are willing to invest in them and believe they have a good future with the company.  You will also send the same message to everyone else in the organization.  They are watching how their colleague is being treated and drawing positive or negative conclusions about the company.

 

If internal candidates go through the selection process at your company and do not get the job, you want them to be able to say “I am disappointed, but I understand the decision, support it and have gained a new perspective on my career and developmental opportunities.”  They should be happy they raised their hand – not kicking themselves for considering the role.

John Salveson
John brings more than 30 years of experience consulting with a broad range of organizations, including life sciences and pharmaceutical companies, banks, insurance companies, manufacturers, professional service firms, healthcare providers, retailers, service organizations and non-profit institutions. John helps companies define their talent needs and execute creative strategies to recruit and retain that talent.

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