5th November 2018

Be a successful internal candidate with the Head-Hunter

During two retained searches I am just about to successfully complete I have been asked by the clients to include their internal candidates in my screening processes. This is a regular request for me, but was a surprise to the internal candidates.

This is a common scenario: Your boss resigns and you begin covering their role. You feel you’ve been doing a good job. A few days later you get the call from the HR Director that ‘You’re doing a great job covering but we’ve decided to use a head-hunter to find x’s replacement’.

You can’t help but be disappointed, though it may not necessarily be the terminal blow you imagine. Unlike contingent agencies, search firms are genuinely objective about the source of candidates for the role. We get paid in return for applying our judgement across all the candidates in the process, regardless of where they come from. 

That said, the fact your organisation has taken the decision to take an expensive search in the market is telling. It means someone, whose opinion is valued, is not sure you’re the best candidate for the role. So, what can you do to improve your chances of being appointed? 

First, demonstrate that you will do the job well, as this may convince the doubters. Responding negatively to the bad news will not. 

Secondly, have an open conversation with your manager (or even HR) about what the perceived gaps are between where you are, and what is required from the role. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but the key is to listen objectively and not to react defensively.  Whether you feel you do have the required capabilities or not, it’s not been apparent that you do to the people whose opinion matters. If you do have the capabilities, this is an opportunity for you to show them more clearly. If not, then it’s a development point which you can actively (and visibly) work towards. 

Third, promote yourself internally.  Recruit a network of advocates whose opinions may be heard and demonstrate to them that you can start to be the person that makes their long-standing problems go away. The internal candidates I’ve seen appointed usually came with a load of supportive opinions hitting the decision-maker’s desk. You want a situation where it is difficult to explain to people internally why you weren’t appointed to the role.

Lastly, prepare yourself for the interview process. Most internal candidates I meet are ill-prepared for either the meeting with me or the business itself. Overwhelmingly I see people describe what they do, but not their achievements. You need to arm yourself with the evidence of the things you have delivered (include facts and figures) plus the subsequent benefits for the business, and you need to be able to present a this as a narrative. Don’t assume I and, indeed, the internal interviewers know about everything you have achieved.

Remember though, you also have a huge advantage over external candidates; a deep understanding of the business and its culture, as well as a connection to its vision. External candidates can do all the research they like, but they will never be able to speak as authentically on these themes as you can.