In the March 6, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a manager wonders why employers prohibit internal recruiting but let their best workers get recruited by the competition:
In [last week’s edition] a manager asked about hiring from within the company. I hire internally all the time, and my company’s own employees have been some of my very best hires. While it may be frowned on in some places, here we can request internal references, talk with an employee’s current manager, and check performance reviews. No doubt some companies make it difficult to hire internally even while they talk big about career development and growth! That’s not how to keep your best people. How can managers in companies like this change the rules?
Here’s the short version of my advice:
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It’s a dirty little secret that many companies discourage managers from recruiting internally. Oh, they promote “career growth” as long as an employee initiates the contact. (See JHBWA.) But for a manager to recruit an employee from another department? That’s a no-no!
Should managers be permitted to headhunt internally? Absolutely. While some would abuse the privilege, I think that in any healthy company managers and employees would find a balance. Not encouraging internal mobility only hurts a company.
I’ll tell you a story about how the enormity of this problem came home to me.
A Fortune 50 financial services company hired me to teach recruiters in their HR department to recruit like headhunters. After putting them through an intensive program on how to identify and actively pursue the best people for a job, it dawned on the recruiting manager that the best candidates were often already working somewhere else in the company.
That should be no surprise in any large company. If the company is successful, of course some of the best people in the industry already work there.
It was easy for me to convince the manager that the company needed to create an internal headhunting function, to recruit internal people from one department to another — legally.
She wanted to be the internal headhunter, and I helped her sell the concept to management because the company was losing a lot of its best people to the competition. Meanwhile, exciting internal jobs were going begging. The company was paying headhunters like me huge fees to recruit outside the company, when great candidates were right under management’s nose.
Since managers were not permitted to poach employees from one another — they had to wait for employees to come to them — setting up an internal headhunter with freedom to recruit with no-holds-barred seemed to be a good solution. They realized this was preferable to losing their best people to external headhunters.
As soon as they kicked off the project, the company’s managers freaked. Everyone wanted to hire internally, but too many managers objected to having their employees hunted. So the project was cancelled.
Long a target of headhunters, the company continued to bleed talent. To top it off, the HR recruiter who started the internal headhunting project got so disillusioned that she left.
Of course managers don’t want their talent poached by other managers. But it happens every day. The question is, does the board of directors want its talent poached by other companies — after investing a lot of money to cultivate that talent? In many companies, the geniuses in HR like to refer to people as a resource. But until HR recognizes that people are an investment, the ROI (return on investment) will accrue to the company that recruits them. Internal headhunters, anyone?
I think managers can help stem the loss of good employees by working together to create responsible internal recruiting practices. Hire an internal headhunter, and protect your company’s ROI. Pretending no one is poaching your best people from outside is a losing proposition.
Does your company recruit internally? Or does management play games about who must approach whom? And, if you’re a manager, what does this mean to you? What do you think about poaching, stealing, and recruiting your own company’s employees!
I was working for a professional services company. At an account staff meeting for the account, the HR manager, among other things, talked about a new exciting project in Québec. Then she asked “Anyone here speak frech?”
The PM later complained about poaching at an informal conversation with the eteam. Ironically, he ended up leading the new project.
The problem is beyond recruiting. One of my clients *applied* for an open position in another part of the organization and was turned down. Why? Because her current Director apparently told the hiring authority that he wanted her to stay where she was until a particular project was complete.
[It’s almost done and she believes they can finish it fine without her. And anyway, how fair (or legal) is this?]
My client is under-employed there and under-paid. She wants to move up. Now, she’s looking outside the company, which is at risk of losing a great resource.
We rarely recruit internally, which is why we lose people continually.
Our HR department is good at posting job descriptions and using careerbuilder. Recruit talent? Cultivate internal talent? You’ve got to be kidding!
From the manager’s standpoint, it’s certainly a problem to develop an employee, only to have them get recruited to another department.
But this raises important questions:
1. Why is the employee willing/interested in making the change?
2. Why has the other manager recruited the employee?
3. What’s the working relationship between the managers?
1. Employee isn’t happy/engaged on the job.
2. Because the first manager is noted for cultivating good employees and it’s easier to steal than recruit.
3. Not good, or they’ find a way to share resources in an acceptable way.
There are of course lots of other answers. But I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. Are there ethical issues? Is internal recruiting really disruptive? What does “career growth” mean if there’s a hidden addendum that says, “When we say it’s okay.”
I have tried to move internally in 3 large companies. Each time, I had to go to the hiring manager to present myself, and I was told to talk to my present manager about talking with the hiring manager. All in the “effort of being fair to the present manager”.
Which led to the old run-around of “why aren’t you happy and why do you want to leave me?” song and dance.
This was even before I was interviewed to find out if I wanted to the other job or not, and if they wanted me or not. So now I’m labeled “unhappy” and so my present job was not so sweet.
So the only way I know of of trying out a new job is to interview outside of the company.
A long time ago I worked for a computer mfgr. One time they posted an “inside” opportunity in the production floor for an R&D tech. 12 production techs applied only one got it but then in a few months they had to contend with filling 11 production tech positions outside. This put the kibosh on “internal” hiring. After that the firm became a stepping stone to other firms. The turnover was like a subway train at rush hour. The firm filed for bankruptcy and closed it’s doors about 3 years later.
I drill down to the “why” people are wanting to leave an area in the company or the company itself.
Is it pay, opportunities for advancement, wanting more challenging work, bad managers?
Even if recruiting internally is frowned upon, unhappy employees leave for better opportunities elsewhere if they cannot find them in their current company.
While it is my responsibility to nurture my career, if I can’t find those opportunities to do so at my current employer, I look outside.
I am preparing to become certified in project management and am taking business analyst courses towards a certificate as well. I would like to apply some the methods I learned in these courses but have encountered resistance. There appears to be little interest in improving processes and increasing efficiencies. The decision makers in my department will not support it either. I see no reason to stay with my current employer–what’s the point?
The company I work for recruits internally and it is encouraged. The company does this by internal job postings. When a dept. Has an opening the job is posted both internally and externally so we have a ggood mix of candidtates. With the internal postings the candidates inform their supervisor that they plan to apply. When we speak to the internal applicant the first thing we ask is if they informed their supervisor they applied. The supervosirs do speak to each other if recommended or not. It is an open process.
This question, and the responses, raise so many different issues, that one post could not possibly cover them all. I will note a couple. Internal candidate recruiting has some limits and some advantages to both the company and the individual. It can be done, but it is very difficult to sustain because of results. As a manager, I have been “poached” a few times. It is difficult to do in an orderly fashion that balances the total interest of the company. The hiring manager has a priority to fill a key job to produce expected results. The sourced manager is losing a key contributor to producing results. The hiring manager is de facto saying that the results expected of my area are more important to the company than the results expected of your area. Not to mention that the managers’ own compensation and promotability are based on delivering those results. Quite a connundrum. Resetting priorities in the middle of a performance period is difficult for any business.
Another thing that came to mind in reading Nick’s comments is that external recruiter’s are bound by the “hands-off rule”. Quite simply, search firms do not recruit candidates from client firms, no matter how qualified or how well they know the quality of the candidate. Not sure how that would work for the internal recruiter, but there have to be limits. My experience is that no one likes limits if they are impacted by them.
@Bob: I published this column because I just have not been able to figure out all the ramifications of the company policies we’re discussing. This was triggered by the previous edition of the newsletter and blog.
What’s the point of a company committing to career development for employees, when it makes them jump through flaming hoops to develop their careers internally? It’s like, “We dare you! Try it! Bring a crowbar!”
What’s the point? I say this only half sarcastically — it’s easier to just go to another employer. At least there, if they like you, they encourage and welcome you.
Let me play devil’s advocate. You take a good job with good pay at a good company. You come up to speed pretty quickly. 6 months into it, you notice another, better job has opened up internally. Is it right to apply to move so soon? Is it fair to your boss? Is the other boss fair to let you interview so soon after you’ve been hired?
You’re spot on Nick.
I think recruiting in general is hard and recruiting externally is even harder. Why not hire someone interally since they may know about the processes in place and have a rapport with people in your company already?
I’ve turned down jobs where the company was “hostile” to this sort of thing. When I’ve been asked “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” – I tell them some of my career goals. Their answer to my answer tells me a lot in this regard. Why would I give up my current postion if there is no hope of moving up your ladder (especially if one may have to take a pay cut/no raise/etc. or give up perks at your current co.)?
I’ve found that some of the more reputable places to have a fair process/policy around switching jobs as well as encourage their employees to do so.
I also file this type of thing under the whole talent shortage thing. Companies want to hire from the senior pool of talent but do nothing to develop it.
I still don’t get why companies leave it up to the internal applicant to go make nice with the old boss and clear the “political” path to the new job.
That’s like dangling a bone to a dog on a leash, and telling the dog, If you want the bone, take this gun and shoot your master so you can reach the bone.
Why don’t companies make the managers convene to discuss the transfer, with a higher level manager serving as judge? Someone has to decide. After all, the company has an investment in the employee. Who owns the rights to the employee’s talents?
Seems to me it’s a contest. If I’m the head of the company, I want to see each manager’s business plan. Then I’ll let you take the investment because I think you’ll do the best job producing good returns.
Beyond expressing interest in the new gig, why should the employee have to deal with his or her old boss’s interests? (I’m being only partly sarcastic. I still think it’s an important question.) Why should the employee have to shoot the old master in order to move on? Isn’t it the company’s obligation to let the employee mosey on over and sniff out the new job without getting kicked for it?
Who is really the boss here?
“Is it right to apply to move so soon? Is it fair to your boss? Is the other boss fair to let you interview so soon after you’ve been hired?”
That’s why you need a well thought out process/policy for internal recruiting and a good understanding of the cost of recruiting for various positions.
I know many places require a year or so plus adequate performance at your current job in order for you to switch.
Also I think it depends on the positions themselves. It would be much easier (possibly cheaper as well) to promote someone from the bottom rung and then fill in that bottom rung – than to recruit for the higher position in the first place.
I think you raise important points.
However, if you had a solid employee that produced profit, would you rather them stay in your company, then have them completely leave?
Also, I find this view a bit problematic in another way – you’re treating people as cogs in a machine. I’m in IT and many people I know like to tinker with things and enjoy new challenges. Are you saying that if they work the help desk at your company, that’s the only place for them there? I’ve known people that have worked help desk to put themselves through school. What’s the problem with moving them up if they’ve shown themselves competent and gained additonal skills?
Theoretically, department managers all work for the same company, so sharing and developing talent is a good thing. It is a way to cultivate relationships and to cross-pollinate best practices. It helps keep people satisfied and challenged. It retains talent and disseminates organizational learning. There is no downside to internal recruiting on the organizational level. The only problems are political (aren’t they all?).
I heard an interesting story when I attended one of our diversity events, forgive me because I can’t do the story justice, but it is worth repeating. The speaker was a Native American and in his story he said that the Creator gave each tribe a different blessing and then went to take care of some other business. When the Creator looked down to see how things were going, He saw red rivers of blood because the tribes were warring over each others’ resources. The Creator told them “I gave you different blessings so you could come together and share them and then everyone would have a bounty.”
@Dave: I think your point about hiring “up” and replacing less costly workers is very important. Compare this to losing highly-skilled employees to a competitor.
But what of the enterprising guy on the helpdesk? Is the company even aware of his initiative, what he studies on the side, his potential? Is HR watching and crediting his “account” at the company? Is his boss?
The joke about Human Resources Management is that in most companies, all that’s being managed is a bunch of files. And you’re right: Proof lies in the constant cries of “Talent Shortage!” If HR wants to make a dent in the problem, HR had better get out on the shop floor and into the cubicles and start spending time with “the resources” — because they’re constantly changing. And being poached by the competition.
Like April I once worked with a company who openly advocate internal recruitment and tell their staff including the managers to encourage it as career advancement. They had a few rules including you have to stay in a position for at least 12 months, you must get your manager’s approval to move and if you got a poor annual review you cannot move because managers were told not to hire these “failures” into their team. The HR Department would not believe staff when they pointed out this was open to manager abuse. If a manager wanted to keep someone the only option was a poor review. Poor reviews meant no pay rise, no bonus, no move and stagnation. Talk about a demotivation system.
The killer came when the company decided it needed to lay-off staff and went after the poor review people. Even with glowing review write-ups the HR department simply axed those with poor reviews and out went thousands of great productive employees. Worse still the company created an unwritten no rehire policy for those let-go even though they provide exiting staff with written documents saying the exact opposite. Now the company is full of unhappy employees and is bleeding talent; yet they say they don’t know why.
Companies need to think through internal recruitment and the investment which can be lost.
Idealistically Companies should want and encourage personal growth, the faster the better as undeniably it’s good for the company, the person, and the company subsets (team, department, division etc). Ideally management executes corporate wants. Ideally
In reality it’s all over the place and I’ve worked in them all, and experienced both perspectives, boss (who by the way is also just an employee) and staff.
On one side is the corporate masochism, that makes internal recruiting and movement so painful, it’s avoided, with the result everyone’s talking about…exit. In this approach one must have a “hall pass” permission from the current boss to even talk to a hiring boss. How this goes depends on the range of managerial due diligence to the major responsibility of a good boss, to develop people. From a guilt trip flogging to full collaboration. At any rate you can assume movement is slow & rare, and when done can come with some managerial suspicion that rather than developing a person, you’re pulling a fast one by passing along a lemon.
On the other end is a system like April B noted, internal posting. That cuts to the chase. In this system, it was nice if a person gave a heads up to their boss that they were applying, but they didn’t have to. No hall passes required . If they did, they got interviewed and if accepted they were gone. It wasn’t the turmoil you may think, Reason usually prevailed. and when done right, the person had to be reasonable, you had to ensure you fulfilled commitments before you left.
No system is perfect, people make things perfect. It’s likely I could be approached before I applied to a posting, it’s likely that I already had an “informal” interview, it’s likely that a hiring manager already had my target and posted pro forma (and that includes having an external target). Be that as it may the internal posting came closest to balancing the various needs, & overcoming the negligent or selfish managers, while blocking job hopping internal candidates who were running from something rather than to something.
As a manager I came from the former restricted environment, to the open posting environment & thought I fell into a lucky pit. I recruited internally and was recruiting from internally, and gave my full cooperation.
HR only needed to manage the process, and at times referee some unprofessional behaviors.
As to leaving after 6 months. One size doesn’t fit all, generally I expected people to give a new job at least a year so I’d get at least a modest return on investment. But if there would be a compelling reason I wouldn’t raise a fuss. But easy to say, as no one did that.
@Dave: “I know many places require a year or so plus adequate performance at your current job in order for you to switch.”
True on paper, but the reality is that poor performers can get kicked upstairs. We all know people who were promoted or transfered because the boss wanted them gone, not because they deserved it. I have also known of some unscrupulous bosses cook the performance appraisal data in order to keep someone from leaving the department.
Managers are rarely rewarded for sacrifices they make for the common good. This has to happen at the senior level.
Another excellent column. I agree that internal recruiting should be encouraged and open. Employees should not be labeled as “unhappy” or “disloyal” for wanting to develop their range of skills. I personally have left jobs due to stagnation and lack of internal development. So many places manage to get this so wrong. I really can not stand office politics. It should be more about salvaging the investment in an employee, rather than risk losing them to competitors.
PLUS, Internal headhunters will make poor managers lose their people, so good managers will be rewarded. Another incentive to do internal headhunting is to either scare or reward managers to make people WANT to work in their team! I know nobody wants to leave my team, and EVERYONE wants to join it :-) Have fun trying to recruit some one out of here!
Daniel makes a very important observation. An internal recruiting function would force managers to compete openly. And this raises another angle: Letting employees move around internally with little fuss puts the focus on “People are our most important asset!” (Ever hear that corporate proclamation?) It would de-emphasize “the job” and focus powerfully on employees’ capabilities. Jobs come, go, change, evolve. The nature of the work changes constantly. The question is, does a company have people that can change with it?
Not if you stick them to a job like old gum.
no system is perfect. it really comes down to the quality of the manager doing due diligence to the best interests of their team and in so doing they are doing due diligence to the company..and themselves. win/win/win/
I’ve seen it in tiny companies and huge ones..where someone’s reward for doing a really good job..adding value…becoming go-to subject matter experts is to be bolted to that job… by a boss who won’t let go. Even when they clearly can’t do anything more for them where they are.
It’s all about them and when they cover their selfish asses, they create a lose/lose/lose scenario.
Like Dan said, if you run a good shop, and that includes taking care of business in such a way that people have a path ahead, you don’t have a thing to worry about.
And sometimes that path ahead may be out of your base of operation. A good boss & person doesn’t block progress, even if the corporate environment seems to be designed to do just that. You intervene and make it happen.
What goes round comes round.
I was a manager in one of those regimented scenarios. My best writer came to me and wanted to transfer. I could have thrown a body block on it easily..for what? He could have left the company for the same locale. I wasn’t happy about losing him…but we worked out a reasonable transition plan including him helping me replace him.
Managers who won’t let go need to consider another point. Even if they succeed and the worker in question doesn’t move on, there’s no guarantee that the worker will always be available.
People get sick. They die. They give up work entirely to deal with a family situation. There may be absolutely no warning that this is about to happen. What’s the “hang on to him/her at all costs” manager going to do then?
Change can’t be stopped. It can only be planned for.
I am with Don on this.
I had a manager who believed that “my” team was my peers and on up to the CEO; rather than my team being my direct reports and below. It was interesting because he clearly had not considered the message he was sending to the direct reports like me who he was managing. He later wanted to know why my direct reports were loyal to me, yet had no faith in them having the same loyalty to him. This is one of the challenges of someone who manages up.
My worst managers have been managers who simply did what their manager told them to do. I want to know my manager has my back while I look after my direct reports and work on the understanding that they are an investment by the company. Yes I did terminate those who lied, did something egregious or could not fit in. I build a team with care to manage both up and down.
@Jane: How many times I’ve heard managers say so-and-so is indispensable. Or that they themselves are. Anyone can get hit by a truck. What then? The definition of business insanity is to tie a key function to just one employee.
@SteveG: You might enjoy this shortie:
“Yes I did terminate … could not fit in.”
This raises a question I have related to the blog post. If someone under you was having a tough time under you, could they still be an asset to the company somehwere else assuming that they aren’t lying, working hard, and are reasonably competent? You spent the time/money to recruit and hire them, so there was something about them that you viewed as positive.
Just some food for thought…
@Dave. My 1st real boss taught me something very useful. When you hire someone you owe them due diligence. Any bozo can fire someone, but that’s the easy way out. They may not be right for the company, but they also may be very good for the company. You owe them that chance (unless lying, totally rotten attitude etc) And people being people the chemistry may not be right between you and someone else, but great with someone else. Or they may not have the right role.
So before you blow someone away, by all means see if there’s a better role, or better chemistry. It works. It’s all about internal networking. Nothing is more gratifying as a manager in turning a negative into a positive.
@Dave, @Don Harkness
I have fired people who thoroughly deserved it, but it is a gut-wrenching process. And I did make a genuine effort to try to find something of use for them to do. And I have to say, that most of the managers I’ve seen fire someone also had the integrity to do what I did.
However, I have seen cases where the manager firing someone has the kind of lack of integrity that Don Harness mentions.
But, in my experience, that is rare.
Most managers with that lack of integrity don’t fire anyone. They bully people into quiting.
@Dave and @Don; Exactly my thoughts – if someone has grown out of their current role for some reason, see if there is another for them. The “First Break all the Rules” vision is one I think is great. Sometimes the person just needs to sit down and talk it out. I have been openly defiant when told to dismiss without reason. I have managed to “save’ several good productive employees this way.
Nick, thanks for another superb article. And thanks to everyone for all of the comments and feedback. These are more examples of stupid HR tricks and management behaving badly. At the job I had before my last job, management didn’t encourage employees moving from one dept. to another, even if you’d outgrown your job, finished school, gotten advance training and there were other jobs in other depts that now suited you and your skills better. You would have thought that the company would have jumped on it–better for the company, better for the employees. But no. Many who tried to move between depts. couldn’t, and on the rare occasion when someone succeeded, they were punished. There was a woman working in a different dept. from mine–she had been with the company since she graduated from high school, worked part-time while she got her associate’s degree. She transitioned from part-time to full time into a different dept., and told me that she had been told that new management frowned on people changing depts but because she now had a degree and they had an opening, they would allow it because her old job wasn’t appropriate anymore (they didn’t want to pay her more to do the old job). When her dept. was absorbed into another dept., she decided that that after 10 years, she didn’t want to work there (knew who her new boss would be, and decided to get out) so she went for another job in a different dept. More money, more responsibility, but she was now in her 30’s, single, had bought a house, and wanted to ensure that she could pay her mortgage and support herself. She told me that she was an account manager for 19 years, and that it was 19 years of pure, unabated hell. She stuck it out because she had a house and no one else to rely upon for help. Managers of the account managers came and went, and it got harder and harder. A position in an entirely different dept. came up, and she applied for it, only to be called into the office of the owner of the company and told that they didn’t approve of such changes (unless a dept. was being merged with another dept., leaving employees with no where else to go), and that if she persisted in trying to change jobs, there would be consequences. She did change jobs–19 years of pure hell were enough and she said that she’d had it. She took a huge cut in pay, and the owners docked her a lot of the benefits she had accrued over the nearly 30 years she had worked for the company, but she said that her sanity, her health, and her peace of mind were more important, so she took the pay cut and lost her benefits. She had received excellent job reviews over the years, bonuses, money from profit-sharing, etc. None of that mattered because the owners apparently didn’t like change or couldn’t envision employees in different jobs.
It is a waste of talent, skills, energy, and sucks the life out of good workers. Most employees I know (myself included) want to do a good job, but also want to stretch and learn new tasks, and to move up in a company. If you have the skills to do a different job, or even if you don’t have the skills but have the brains to learn the job and the work ethic to make it happen, then it doesn’t make any sense to keep someone in the job they have. They might do an even better job in the other job, and that will benefit the company. What is management so scared of? If they don’t want to train new people, then they’d better hope that no one dies, no one gets hit by a bus, no one’s spouse gets a job in another state and the family moves, that no one gets sick (as in seriously sick) or injured where the job goes undone for a long period of time.
People who feel the job has become routine, who feel that their jobs or careers are stagnating, that there’s no challenge anymore, they’ll leave. Maybe they’re not leaving now, in this economy where jobs are still scarce, but if/when things pick up, they’ll be the first ones out the door. Any employer who nutures talent, trains employees, encourages them to learn new skills, promotes them to higher jobs in the dept. or out of it is going to have an advantage–they’ll get the talented workers.
Timely post, as I’m starting a new position at my current company on Monday. It’s a large (150K+ employees) organization that is known for long-term employment, so there’s definitely an openness to internal transfers as many people advance through long-term careers here.
I’ve noticed in my own job search that it’s mostly up to the employee to find the opportunities, though a couple of times I was “cold-called” by internal recruiters about opportunities. I’ve also seen coworkers get recruited by hiring managers directly for positions. Our process is that once you’re through the initial screening interviews, you have to get your current manager to sign an eligibility for internal transfer form – basically it lays out whether the employee is under any disciplinary actions, and what date the employee would be eligible to transfer.
As for my own move, my current manager was supportive, though he didn’t want to lose me. He understood my reasoning (there’s limited opportunities for advancement in my current department, and those that do exist don’t fit with my own career goals). In a way, an internal transfer is better for an employee’s current management team, because there’s an opportunity to negotiate start dates and more gradual transitions. If I’d left to go to another employer, I would likely have given 2 weeks notice and been gone; staying with my current employer allowed for a longer transition to the new job (based on negotiation with my new management), and I’ll still be around for lingering questions from the old team that come up in the upcoming months, and because I still work for the organization, I’ve got more of an incentive to continue to help the old team (within reason).
There was a little political in-fighting between the two teams about my start date, but no one made any attempt to actually stop me from accepting the new position.
@KC: That’s a good point. An internal transfer allows for a more orderly transition because the two managers at least have a chance to negotiate it. Imagine your old boss asking your new boss (at another company) to let you stay a bit longer, or maybe spend a day a week for a month at the old job…
Great article! Especially telling was this part:
“As soon as they kicked off the project, the company’s managers freaked. Everyone wanted to hire internally, but too many managers objected to having their employees hunted.”
What this tells me is that the managers were not very good at their jobs. A great employee will want to work for a great manager, even for less money. If a manager’s team is getting picked clean, then that tells me there is little loyalty or intangible incentives for working with that particular manager.
Also, teams that have high turnover (but keep the manager) raise a HUGE red flag; I am wary of going to work for someone in such a situation.
What if part of a manager’s evaluation was how many people she or he “lost” to other teams or companies?