Managing internal hiring when there’s more than one internal candidate

The good news is that you have two internal candidates for an open position. The bad news is that you can only choose one of them.  Many managers dread breaking the news to the employee that did not get the job, because they know that this may cause hard feelings that can even ripple out to the whole staff.

But as hard as it can be to bring disappointing news to a hopeful employee, there are things that you and your organization can do to help make these hiring decisions feel better to everyone.

Cultivate and emphasize a culture that is built upon taking care of the business’s needs. All positions are created to serve the organization’s needs, not individuals’ preferences. There should not be sense that someone is automatically “entitled” to the next open position–that kills morale and any motives for self-development. There must be trust that the hiring process will fairly select employees with the best match of expertise to the requirements of each open position. When employees feel assured that the organization is practicing principled talent development and fair hiring practices, they trust the process and decisions that are made.

Make celebrating achievement and education a visible part of the culture. Acknowledging completion of specific training sessions with certificates or awarding cookies to departments for hitting weekly goals, for example, help emphasize the importance of building skills in order to better meet the organization’s needs. The focus on development and achievement help prospective internal applicants have a more healthy perspective on hiring decisions.

Ensure that posted job descriptions clearly and accurately state the responsibilities, skills and competencies required of the position. If prospective applicants can evaluate their expertise against that which is being asked for in the position, and honestly size up their own strengths and potential gaps of expertise, they are much more understanding of losing out to someone with a stronger match of skills.

Follow-up with the employees who did not get selected and help them create development plans to become better prepared for the next opportunity. Taking time to talk with under-qualified internal candidates can reveal insights into what kinds of positions they are looking for in the future and help both of you look for development opportunities. For example, knowing whether someone wants to be a supervisor or wants to pursue a product mix analysis position could help match him or her with some appropriate training opportunities within the store. When employees feel that their supervisors are trying to help them build their own skills, they can more easily accept the disappointment of not getting a position because they have concrete ideas of what they are going to work on to be ready for the next one.

No one enjoys delivering disappointing news to an employee. And if not handled carefully, it could even erode staff morale overall. But we can create constructive ways to help manage those situations by focusing on our work culture and our hiring processes and by being attentive to an individual’s aspirations.

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