4 Reasons Why Internal Candidates Get Passed Over

"Why aren't they going to hire me for the job? I'm perfect and I'm here." It's a question any qualified applicant in-house should ask. Having been the person who comes into a job when there are qualified candidates in-house several times in my long career, I feel I have a unique insight into WHY this happens.


  1. Too much baggage. Each of us, when in an organization, accrues baggage that taints people's perceptions of us. While I'd like to imagine that I'm still that bright, shiny penny the organization thought I was when I hired on, over time, I've gotten tarnished, scratched, flung, and ignored as valueless (penny analogies (smile)). Each one of those experiences leaves an indelible mark in the minds of my employer, teammates, interview committee.
  2. Too darn impressive. If you're a coordinator hoping to get into a director spot, a specialist hoping for a coordinator position, there's always the idea that you're too darn good. I encountered this with a dear friend who said to me, "Take down my ePortfolio web site. I don't want them to see how good it is." Since he'd spent money putting it up--and it looked good!--I questionned his thinking. But what he was trying to control was the concept that he was overqualified for the position. Sometimes, you may be overqualified but still want a position. But your potential boss doesn't see it that way. They may see you as a threat to their own ideas or way they want to get things done. Not everyone has that enlightened perspective, "Here was a man who knew how to gather smarter people than he around himself" (the old Andrew Carnegie quote I just butchered in paraphrase).
  3. Too political. My favorite reason for internal candidates to get passed over is this one--there are other candidates who are worthless but, for whatever the reason, have the right political connections to get placed in a position. They may be placed for a year until they find something better, or the pay may be just enough that they decide to stay. Poor organizations do this and shoot themselves in the foot (surprisingly, over and over again). After all, do you really want that principal who angered his/her community to take over human relations and PR? In the end, these candidates waste the District's time and money.
  4. Fresh thinking and ideas. While organizations some times want to hire from within, they are also hoping to hire someone who thinks different. In fact, when *I* hire for positions, I want people who think different from me and won't follow me like lemmings (even when I send messages that I do want them to not question my thinking). As uncomfortable as that is for a leader, asking questions and pushing back can be a valuable attribute in a new employee. But you can ask questions that challenge AND maintain the relationship...avoid sucker's choices.

    Unfortunately, in-house candidates tend to just want to maintain the relationship and that's why they end up leaving the organization for "greener pastures" that will value their "fresh ideas." Wouldn't it have been better for their former employer to have had a culture that tapped into that, though?
While hiring from within can be its own albatross for an organization, it can also be a boon for ensuring the organization stays on track when things are going well. Still, there are often many excellent candidates in-house who are ignored because, well, they meet one of the 3 criteria above. 
Image Source: http://goo.gl/t0WVtQ

If you do decide to conduct an interview with in-house candidates, then you might follow this advice via Harvard Business Review:
  1. "If the applicant is not a true candidate for the job, do not interview him. Keep in mind that internal candidates are likely to be around after the search process is over. It is important to treat them with respect, which includes not leading them on and being honest about their suitability for a job."
  2. "An internal candidate should be able to respond in a way that is in line with company policies or norms and shows that he knows how to handle conflict specifically at your organization."
  3. Ask behavioral or competency-based questions that get at the candidate’s motivations, like, What will you need to get up to speed in this role? or Please explain what your plans for the first 90 days in this role would be
You can find more great ideas on how to interview internal candidates in the article. For now, ask yourself these questions if you are an internal candidate:
  • How much baggage do you have in an organization? Balance it out and identify whether you should stay or go.
  • Are you too awesome for your organization? This may send the message that your productivity is overwhelming the organization's ability to process change. Is there any way to send the message that you are a collaborative innovator AND manage the change process in a way that doesn't make everyone's heads spin?
  • How can you build relationships that counter the negatives of cronyism?
  • How can you share your fresh, crazy ideas about the organization with others?





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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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