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People with ‘Practice’ experience will know only too well that organisations such as Accountants, Solicitors and Architects etc can spend a fortune chasing new prospects, whilst completely overlooking the existing loyal client base. Indeed, much has been written on this subject and it isn’t uncommon to spend 5 or 6 times the money on chasing ‘new blood’ rather than capitalising and farming the existing pool. Does the same apply to colleges?

 Well, perhaps it does! Recruitment appears to be no different and I am staggered just how often organisations chase the new stars, through externally-focussed recruitment and overlook, disregard and even (unintentionally) disrespect those in the organisation that have served loyally and well. When I and my Protocol team recruit, the very first place we look is internally. Not because we seek to shy away from an open exercise, indeed it’s really uber important from a fairness and credibility perspective that internal candidates are seen, and also feel that they have to compete, but moreover to yield the many benefits of the internal market, and most importantly to do all in our gift to ensure organisational-karma, post recruitment. Remember, if the requisite skills are available then the most efficient form of change is to maintain some consistency!

 The following highlights how internal candidates can often find themselves disadvantaged in the race for the next job, with some simple remedies:

  • Internal candidates often feel like the ‘plus one’ during recruitment; there is often a perception that new blood is required and that the decision to appoint externally has already been made. Inevitably, it is of little surprise that the internal underdog can struggle to show in the best light! Actively encourage internal candidates. Go out of your way to brief them thoroughly on the opportunity and what you are looking for in a successful candidate, as they are less likely to seek discussions before the interview day for (incorrect) fear of compromising their position.
  • External candidates are often better prepared because the internal is fixated on doing a good day job – perhaps as a working example of appoint’ability; sometimes even in the hours directly leading up to interview or assessment. Encourage your internal candidate(s) to take some time to prepare fully. Show this investment through the award of some time, rather than insisting on the taking of annual leave or lieu time. Inevitably, even if unsuccessful the organisation should benefit.
  • External candidates will promise the earth, and in spite of referencing, there is often little that can be disproved on the day. On the flipside, internal candidates are more likely to stick to the ‘ground truth’. Bear this in mind and ensure that assessment and interview activities are aimed so that all candidates can demonstrate their achievements, even internal ones that may be taken for granted. Imagine that you have never met the internal – if an external were telling the same story you would likely be impressed – so be impressed with the internal!
  • Internal candidates can struggle to demonstrate key attributes such as leadership and vision. These are often traits attributed to external examples of achievement and can be overlooked internally. Again, aim assessment and interview technique to cover all candidates and be willing to give credit where credit is due in the internal’s contribution to organisational achievement.
  • Feedback given to internal candidates can often be poor, lacking sufficient honesty and depth. Sometimes, due to uneasiness on both candidate and management or governors’ parts feedback isn’t given at all. Use the exercise to develop your people. If they come up short, then tell them why and where possible follow up with a plan of up-skilling, coaching or mentoring in order to secure the candidate and to give them a better chance next time around. Make sure that feedback takes place, and avoid any ‘Captain Cliché’ lines such as ‘3 into 1 doesn’t go’ or ‘you were appoint’able, but beaten by a stronger candidate on the day’ as this doesn’t generally wash and can do more harm than good. 

In summary, giving, and being seen to give internal candidates a ‘fair crack of the recruitment whip’ can pay substantial organisational dividends. To assist with demonstrating impartiality it may well pay dividends to utilise an independent recruitment specialist such as Protocol to underwrite the whole process. If the internal is successful, it sends a strong message to the rest of the organisation that succession planning and internal progression is ‘alive and kicking’ and delivers the most efficient change-process, whilst opening up further opportunities below. It also gives the internal candidate a surge in credibility, knowing that they have competed on a level playing field. When successful, opportunities open up further down the chain which can be good for all, and these are often easier to fill as they are often less complex posts.

In summary, I do not advocate internal promotion as a default setting. There are times in an organisational life-cycle when an injection of new ideas, skills and pace is essential. Furthermore, ‘shoe-ins’ must be avoided at all costs; it is down to the internal candidate to prepare thoroughly, deliver on the day and prove beyond reasonable doubt that they have the evidence to be appointed. Then, even when unsuccessful, the feeling of going through a fair process limits the risk of one or more valued internal candidates suddenly seeking to leave. The relationship between the Board and / or senior management and the internal applicants (depending at what level is being recruited) is reinforced through the process and the chances of the new, successful external candidate being well-received and achieving early ‘organisational fit’ are significantly boosted. By investing in your internal candidates fully to participate in recruitment, there is the likelihood that you can develop them further and secure more loyalty rather than diminish it.

Ian Sackree is the COO at Protocol and has significant experience of college-led recruitment and in leading Protocol’s wide range of recruitment services, including its new and innovative Permanent Recruitment, Search and Selection Service tailored for academic and management posts.


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