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How to avoid mistakes with internal promotions

Roger Quinn |
While searching for a new top executive, every company will speak with internal candidates because they already know the company. However, while talking to "your man" you must pay attention to some very important things.

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External candidates for senior executive position have one big advantage: they are not part of corporate culture and they can bring fresh wind to your company. They don't care who's who, they will line up people, sort business processes and give a fresh start to your organization. However, in some cases that lack of understanding of corporate culture can cause many misunderstanding and bad personal relations. That's why internal candidates seems much better option.

Internal candidates are cost-effective and safe way to hire a new executive, right? Well, the answer is maybe. True, they already know your corporate culture, all business processes and this is a big advantage. However, the real danger is to treat them as candidates that don't need to be interviewed. That is fundamentally wrong because of several reasons.

"Since you know the person and it knows you, there is nothing to be asked." This is the mistake number one a company can make. Although you know somebody, that doesn't mean that you know will he be able to take over the new position.

Not every expert is good material for a managerial position, and you can't know that without an interview. Then, you maybe don't know about candidate's additional skills that can help him at his new job. Again, without the interview you won't know that.

The mistake number two: "We'll do that in five minutes." This is usual behaviour in some companies and it is wrong too. If you are serious about your candidate and if you think that he could perform well on his new job, treat him as you would treat an external candidate. That will show him that new duty carries new responsibility and that you count on him seriously. If you don't hire him, the mutual relationship will remain full of respect and he will be able to return to his co-workers without being embarrassed.

Next, don't lower you standards and keep them at the same level for both external and internal candidates. For example, if you ask an external candidate "How would you solve a conflict?" you will get a theoretical answer. This is understandable because he doesn't know your people. However, the internal candidate knows his teammates and he can give you more specific answer, based on his knowledge. So, don't think "OK, he knows people, we don't need to ask that". As the same questions you will ask external candidates.

One important advantage when you are dealing with an internal candidate is that you have a chance to put him in real life situation. Think about some task or give him a part of his future duty for a limited amount of time, let say two weeks, and see how he performs. Since he knows the environment and people he will be able to work on the problem he is assigned to, and you will have the opportunity to track his progress.

But this has another good side: your candidate will get the better picture what his new duties will be and that may be crucial for his statement "Yes, I'll take it", or "No, that's not for me".

If you put just a little planning in your interview process, you will avoid mistakes that even the largest companies did at least once. And in the end you will hire the best candidate.