MANY organisations tend to make mistakes when dealing with internal candidates. Two problematic approaches are:

• The candidate may be “too familiar” and, as such, his strengths are not viewed with “fresh eyes”. His application for a new role within the organisation is therefore not taken as seriously as that of an external candidate.

• The internal candidate has a much easier ride than external candidates because his organisation assumes that his familiarity with the culture will make it easier for him to get up to speed in his new role.

Both approaches do not benefit the company. In the first scenario, the company may lose a candidate who could have a high potential for growth. Feeling unappreciated, the internal candidate may think he has no way to grow except outside the organisation — perhaps with a competitor.

In the second scenario, the employer may lose out on a really worthy candidate because the hiring managers involved prefer to stick to someone familiar.

While most internal recruiters believe they take an unbiased approach to recruitment, anecdotal evidence suggests the opposite. Why is this so?

This is probably because most people in this role gear their recruitment efforts towards external candidates. Even if they know logically that they need a slightly different protocol when dealing with internal candidates, in an attempt to “be fair”, they start on the premise that all candidates are treated at the same level.

This is where they make the first mistake. How can an internal candidate be on the same level as an external candidate?

Internal candidates already know the culture of the company, they may know something about the job opening, they know people connected to the job and have internal relationships and a history with the organisation. Knowing this can get in the way of a hiring manager’s good judgment — and can work for or against the internal candidate.

Here are some simple guidelines to consider:

•  Separate what you hear about the candidate from the candidate, in assessing skills and expertise: There is a big difference between hearing of a candidate from someone else’s point of view and knowing a candidate.

Headhunters practise this skill all the time — they have to gather information about a candidate from others. But their work is not complete until they really get to know the candidate. Go beyond hearsay to see the potential and real talent of a candidate and how this relates to the job at hand.

•  Do they have what it takes?: If someone feels “boxed in”, find out what they are going to do to change that impression of themselves or what they have been doing to expand their skill sets.

•  Ask probing questions: Internal candidates know more obviously because they have an inside view, so interview questions need to be designed to probe further into their understanding of the role and how they can add value to it.

Ask about relationships, how they handle challenges or disappointment and focus on behavioural interview questions, as this will give greater insight into the candidate.

•  Watch out for political baggage: Sometimes, internal candidates are put up for another role because that is the only way their current department can “get rid” of them. Middle managers and senior executives sometimes “play corporate chess” to further their own agenda.

A hiring manager who does not know the real situation may end up with an internal candidate who may not be suitable for the role. Internal candidates need references too, but don’t rely on the immediate boss alone for genuine feedback. Ask a candidate’s peers for their opinions too.

•  Be sincere: Internal candidates are sometimes presented for a job opening because the company wants to be seen as fair. Senior management may know this is just a superficial exercise to keep the employee motivated to stay in the organisation.

This is a waste of time and may backfire against the company because it raises the expectations of the employee only to crush him when the job goes to someone else.

Employers must train internal managers to put up only candidates who are suited to the role — meaning they must have the relevant experience, exposure and ability to perform their responsibilities. This should be the focus of all internal interviews.

•  Pose a challenge: Why not give internal candidates some project work to test their suitability for the new role? These days, even external candidates are given specific assignments to fulfil before they move to the next level in the interview process.

Some organisations do a better job of hiring from within and there are many success stories that can offer pointers on how to draw the best out of internal candidates.

Familiarity with “the system” alone does not mean that internal candidates can make the cut. Sometimes employers make the mistake of promoting someone too early and setting them up for failure.

Good talent is always in demand, and messing up an internal candidate’s job application can have an impact on external candidates as word gets around.

Article by Laletha Nithiyanandan, managing director of Behavioural Consulting Group as well as Talent Design Potential (TDP-Asia). Read her blog at