As recruiters we tend to focus ourselves almost completely outward. As I look back over the past year’s columns, I don’t see any that focus on recruiting the internal candidates that every company, even small ones, are full of. But I know that firms like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and Schwab all fill countless positions internally. The internal hire is probably a better hire than any external candidates for several reasons. First of all, they have been with the company for some time and therefore must be performing and fitting into the culture. Secondly, they have the intangible knowledge about how to get things done, about who is really important, and about the best approach to take to get a project accomplished. This intangible knowledge often takes a new candidate months — even years — to acquire. And thirdly, they bring their previous skill set and information base to the new position. This can have all kind of beneficial effects. For example, I once brought a person into human resources from the finance function. Within days, we had re-looked at our metrics and this person had put us in touch with an internal expert in doing the formulas we needed. Here are a few ideas and tips from the best practice companies on how to develop a robust approach to seeking the internal candidate.
- Pursue the passive as well as the active candidates. Yes, even internally there is a distinction between those actively seeking a new position and those quite happy where they are. Either can be a good choice, but the passive candidate is harder to find. There are companies devoted to providing services on finding the passive candidate, offers great tools that work for both internal and external candidates. They help you make your web site attractive to the passive candidate and also provide screening capabilities. The important point here is to realize that there are employees all over your company who would be great candidates for open jobs, yet you don’t know who they are! Not only are you missing out on their skills, they may decide to leave because they don’t realize they can (and even should) move around the company.
- Build an internal employee referral system and internal headhunting processes. If you work in a large company, take the time to build or buy a system that allows you to build skills databases and track employees based on their skills. Have a recruiter focus on locating great employees and getting information about them into searchable databases. The goal should be that a manager can, with a high degree of certainty, find out if any employee in the company has a particular set of skills. Develop a process of capturing information about good employees from the performance management system and even from the opinions of other employees. Why not let employees recommend internal people for jobs? These internal referral programs can be even more effective than external ones — and a lot cheaper and faster.
- Make you HR policies serve corporate goals, not those of individual managers. Most HR policies restrict movement of employees around the company. Managers tend to create internal fiefdoms and erect walls to prevent anyone from knowing who their best people are. We tell employees they can’t move for 6,12, or 18 months. We sometimes force candidates to leave the firm for other jobs because our own polices get in our way. All employees should be free to move around the company at any time — even after their first day on the job — if the move makes sense and their skills fit. Our goal should be to get the right person in the right job, not satisfy the ego or bureaucratic needs of a manger or HR. While this is a hard policy to get senior management to accept, it simply mirrors our free labor market. Perhaps in a time when there was excess labor, requiring minimum lengths of service in a particular job made sense. And it is easy to see why any manager would want an employee to stay. But, in a time of labor shortages, the tendency is to do things that are actually counterproductive to improving the situation. Trying to be restrictive will only work to force employees out of the company, not force them to stay. Sometimes the way to keep something is to let it free.
- Simplify the process. Don’t make the internal candidates go through multiple interviews or an application process. The best practice companies usually have a single interview with a hiring manager followed, perhaps, by a meeting with the work group. Then the decision is made and a transfer process is set up between the two managers. Often there are established policies regarding salary and salary increases for the movement. A world class process should involve almost no paperwork on the part of the employee and a minimum of paperwork (if any) on the part of the managers involved. The whole process and decision should be completed within a week. Choose an applicant tracking system, such as Personic Workflow (www.personic.com), that can work well for tracking internal ad well as external candidates.
- Build awareness internally. Make sure your internal message is clear to employees. You need to say, “We want you to stay with us and we want you to find a job that really challenges you and lets you use your skills in ways that help you grow as a person and help our company achieve its goals.” This means you have to make sure everyone knows that it is OK to move. The procedure has to be very well explained and understood. I recently worked with a client who had a very open internal transfer policy. The problem was simply that few employees knew about it! Managers didn’t want to “advertise” that you could easily change to a new job. The employee communications function began spreading the word and applicants rose immediately.
- Let people build their own skills. Employee development is the cornerstone of any internal recruitment policy. If people cannot learn new skills, there is much less incentive to move around. If you goal is to have no one move, then do not provide development. However, I can guarantee that your turnover rates will rise. Provide generous tuition reimbursement and encourage employees to gain new skills and acquire degrees. Offer training and development opportunities and encourage participation. Then provide pay increases and promotions when the employees have achieved certain goals. Frequently firms allow development and then restrict movement or do not offer any promotional opportunities or pay increases. If we truly believe that human capital is the critical necessity for long term success, then we must reward those who try to improve and increase their level of knowledge. Once again, restrictive policies that may have worked in the past are no longer effective. IBM has offered generous training and development opportunities, easy internal transfers, and has built a very open and development-friendly culture. They also have one of the lowest turnover rates in the world = and very high employee satisfaction. One can wonder if there is a correlation.
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Great recruiting processes are not built in a month or a year. They are the result of continuous improvement, tinkering, and experimenting. By adding this enhanced capability to find and transfer internal employees, you move closer to that “wow” recruiting process and, more importantly, closer to customer satisfaction with what you do for them!