When filling a vacant role, many companies are inclined to promote a current executive. This is not surprising given the number of benefits that make this approach attractive:

  • An internal candidate has established credibility as well as institutional knowledge about key stakeholders, company processes, and the industry in which they function;
  • Promoting an internal candidate can be a relatively quick and cost-efficient process;
  • Promoting from within shows goodwill. Employees appreciate company loyalty. Knowing that internal succession is possible will decrease turnover at all levels of your company;
  • Most importantly, an internal candidate understands your company culture and most likely already fits well within that culture.

External candidates are unknown, so many companies assume that they are making the right choice by promoting within. However, before you fill any role, you should always consider if an external search would be a worthwhile pursuit.

For example, if your company is in a disruptive industry, an external candidate might be the change agent and innovative thinker you need to pivot your company in a new direction. Or, if your company is currently experiencing slow growth, an external candidate may be the turnaround specialist you need to help push reset and find new footing within the marketplace.  Your company may prefer conducting an external search simply because an outsider brings a needed fresh perspective.

One of the biggest concerns (and often the biggest indicator of success) is how well an external candidate fits into a company’s existing culture. If you’ve decided to pursue an external hire, there are some steps you can take to mitigate the risk and find a cultural match.

A Clear and Concise Job Description

Before you begin any search – internal or external – it’s imperative that you have a clear and concise description of the job, including the professional qualifications and the personal qualities the candidate should possess.

Professional qualifications ensure that the candidate has the necessary skills and experience to succeed in the position. They do not ensure success, though. The personal qualities and cultural fit attributes relate to how well that person will function in your company’s environment and are where you will increase the candidate’s probability of success – and where an external hire can build positive morale versus destructive churn.

A Definitive Evaluation to Promote Alignment

As a complement to your job description, you should have a way for your interviewers to evaluate the candidates based on the position description. Each interviewer should have an evaluation matrix that corresponds to the personal and professional qualifications in the position description. The evaluation matrix can also be used to help align the hiring committee on the qualifications that are most important for the organization. For example, while your organization may wish to hire someone that is both collaborative and results-oriented, a results-oriented leader may be of higher importance. An interviewer may be able to gain insight on these personal qualities by asking the candidate, “How do you manage your team?,” “How do you work with your peers?,” and “How do you measure your success?”

The personal qualification “scores” will better illuminate which candidates are a more suitable match for your culture. This is a very straightforward and unbiased method of evaluation, and it ensures that the candidate you hire will be a cultural fit.

Reference Audits

One of the best ways to ensure a candidate will thrive in your culture is to talk to people that worked with the candidate, including bosses, peers, and direct reports. Reference audits are a critical step and should be comprehensive. In interviews and formal meetings, candidates are not always the truest version of themselves, often because they’re nervous or trying to give a particular impression. Reference audits like these can help you discover a more realistic picture of what the candidate is like and how that will translate to your company’s environment.

Through referencing, you are able to obtain answers to questions like, “How does this person handle stress?,” “How does this person acknowledge achievement?,” “What is this person’s communication style?,” and “How does this person interact in the office on a daily basis?” Through this line of questioning to direct reports, peers, and bosses, you will start to uncover patterns of behaviors that will paint a picture of what kind of person this candidate is.

Don’t Ignore the Red Flags

As you complete or review the evaluation matrices and reference process, pay attention to any red flags. The biggest mistake you can make is to ignore the warning signs that someone will not be a good fit within your company. Remember, your culture and people will not change and neither will the personality of the candidate. Thus, if it doesn’t seem like a good cultural fit, it probably won’t be.

The steps listed above are essential to the HFA process and help us to ensure that you will secure an external candidate who will succeed long after the hire. If you’re interested in working with us, contact us at search@hfischer.com or 215.568.8363.

Michelle Fisk, Principal