How to make better internal hires

Hiring an internal candidate is not the easy way out. If anything, it’s even more difficult than bringing in an outsider.

The best hires are often the easiest to find. They’re already working for the company and have a history of drive, teamwork and innovation. Deciding when to place faith in an internal candidate is not always simple, though. Companies that get it wrong risk making two mistakes at once: hiring the wrong person for a new job and losing the right person in an old one.

Companies that get it right, however, enjoy a host of advantages. Internal hires provide growth opportunities for capable employees, ensuring that they stay at the company instead of seeking opportunities elsewhere. They also give leadership more information, because managers already have an idea of how their internal candidates operate.

To make smart internal hires, leaders need to understand both the purpose of their internal investments and the best methods for setting up chosen candidates for success.

Categorizing internal hires

There are three types of internal hires: promotions, lateral moves for similar skills and lateral moves for different skills.

Promotions are the easiest internal-hire decisions. Building up clarity within a new department is difficult, so people already functioning well within the organization are best able to make the switch. Team dynamics can be tricky when promoting from within, though, especially if others are not willing to see the candidate as a leader.

Lateral hires are riskier than promotions, at least in the beginning. People switching to a job with a similar skill set have an easier time, such as an inbound salesperson moving to relationship management. An engineer who wants to move to sales, though, must learn an entirely different way to work. Both leadership and employee must be willing to take an initial hit and experience growing pains to make a lateral move work.

When our company needed a new marketing manager, we looked to the employee who ran our paid-search campaigns but were unsure about his ability to transition. After a few failed outside hires, we took a chance on our internal candidate. With support from leadership and plenty of room to grow, he has rewarded our faith and become the manager we had always hoped to find.

How to effectively interview for internal hires

While you might think your interview process is up to snuff, there’s a good chance you need to make some adjustments to make truly great internal hires. Start with these three steps to ensure your next internal hiring decision is an easy one:

1. Encourage potential applicants

Internal hires work best when leadership spots the potential first. If you notice people you think would make an excellent internal hire for an open position, tell them one-on-one about why they should apply. This builds your employee’s confidence, ambition and drive before the interview even begins.

During the interview process, however, let internal applicants know you still expect them to prove their initiative and passion. You need to know that they will continue to show those traits after volunteering themselves for a new position.

The investment does work both ways: Assure internal applicants during their interviews that, should they receive a new position, you will help them make the adjustment. Employees who get help managing their workflows are eight times likelier to remain in their jobs, lending stability to your internal hires and company alike.

2. Lean heavily toward demonstrated skills

The adage of “hire for attitude, not skill,” is less applicable when it comes to internal hires. Worthy internal candidates have already demonstrated an ability to get along with their co-workers and fit the company culture. By this point, attitude issues are of little concern. Instead, company leaders should focus on internal candidates’ skills and development.

Ask interviewees to talk about the skills that have served them best during their time in their current roles. Continue that conversation to ask about how they have developed new skills you might not be aware of. Internal hires must tackle a variety of unique challenges, and only those who possess sufficient intellectual curiosity can keep pace with the demands.

Choose candidates who demonstrate good visibility of the broader company vision. Internal hires should be able to look beyond their departments to understand how their work affects larger company goals. CareerBuilder found that 73% of companies prioritized a strong work ethic in hiring — more than any other factor — so it might serve you well to prioritize drive, as well.

3. Follow through on expectations you set

Once your internal hire takes up a new mantle, don’t leave that person twisting in the wind. Set clear expectations on what good performance should look like in the role, then be present to help the new hire achieve great results.

Only about half of employees worldwide strongly agree that they understand what their bosses expect from them. Employees who guess at their bosses’ priorities are less able to meet those unknown goals and more stressed than they need to be. Remove that stress by providing clear goals — bonus points if you can also outline paths to achieve them — and help employees as they adjust to their new roles.

Follow up with candidates regularly after their interviews to provide feedback and to listen. Allow employees to communicate perceived gaps in expectations or unclear instructions and help them fill those gaps. Internal-hire candidates have proven themselves to be capable and curious, so give them the benefit of the doubt. With the right investment, they will reward the faith of their leaders with strong results.

Hiring an internal candidate is not the easy way out. If anything, it’s even more difficult than bringing in an outsider. With greater challenges come greater rewards, however, and the companies that perfect their internal hiring processes and interviews can reap the benefits of a strong, self-replenishing talent pool.

Suresh Sambandam is the CEO of KiSSFLOW, a SaaS-based enterprise-level workflow and business process automation platform with more than 10,000 customers across 120 countries. He is an entrepreneur on a mission to democratize cutting-edge technologies and help enterprises leverage automation.

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