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Dilemma of the Month: Be Fair When Considering Outside Candidates

Back Article Jan 7, 2021 By Suzanne Lucas

I had a midlevel manager recently leave for another position, and I’m about to post the job. I know that several of the people who worked for her want that position, but I think the company might be better served by going for an outside hire. How should I proceed so I don’t anger my current employees and risk losing them too?

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It’s OK to want to hire from the outside. Hiring new people with new ideas and varied experience is always a good idea. It’s also good to think about what the current staff thinks and make sure they are happy. But since several current employees want the position, you will have unhappy employees, even if you give the job to one of them. And it’s possible that they will be even more disappointed with a coworker elevated to the boss than an outside boss.

There are lots of things to think about when handling a manager leaving. Here’s how to get your ducks in a row.

1. Write a new job description. You may have an old one, but I guarantee the job changed since you wrote it. When you’re writing, don’t think about the tasks the old manager did but rather what tasks you want the new person to do. Now is the time to make changes. Have you been frustrated because no one in the department could do a statistical analysis? Add it in. Does invoicing really belong in this department, or is now the time to put that in another group? Make the job look like you want it to look, not as the prior person did it.

This serves two purposes: First, it gives the recruiter good material to work with. (They should work with you to write a job posting that highlights the essential skills.) And, second, it helps you realize you are filling a position and not replacing a person. Too often, hiring managers aim to hire someone who is exactly the same as the last person. They end up focusing on the little things and forget the big picture. 

2. Let the staff know they can apply. With the new job posting, you may find that some of the people you thought would apply will no longer want the job. That’s a problem solved. You may also find that someone has the new skills you seek. That’s a problem solved as well. Treat the internal applicants the same way you would external applicants.

3. Source and recruit outside candidates. Outside candidates often get frustrated and angry when applying and interviewing for a job only to find out an internal candidate gets hired. They feel cheated and that the company wasted their time. They don’t have the advantages internal candidates have, needing to take time off their current job, stressing out about what to wear or taking the risk of leaving a company they like for the unknown. On the flip side, the internal candidates may be upset if an external person gets the job.

Make sure to consider all candidates fairly, and select the best person for the position.

4. Focus on where you want the position to go. You are going into this assuming that the best candidate will be external, but you’ve updated the job description to cover what you want the new manager to do, not just to describe what the old manager did, so focus interviews on where you want the position to go. For instance, if you want someone with statistics skills, ask people about their abilities and how they can help the department achieve its goals. If you feel like the current marketing is stale, ask about what they would do to freshen it up and change the marketing plan.

Evaluate all the candidates, and make your decision. If you decide to go with the external candidate, you owe your internal candidates an explanation why they didn’t get the job. For external candidates, you can just send a thanks-but-no-thanks letter. This comes in the way of clear feedback. “We extended an offer to Jane Doe, and she’s accepted and will start in two weeks. I wanted to let you know that I appreciate you applying and interviewing. We selected Jane because we wanted to (insert a reason) and felt Jane was the best candidate for the job.” 

Letting the internal candidates know what you expect from your new hire and how much you appreciate them goes a long way toward easing hurt feelings. Is it possible that some of them will leave? Of course. But as long as you treat everyone fairly and professionally, you can hold your head high and know you did the best you could for your company.

Good luck with recruiting! 

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