Why we always try to recruit from within

Why we always try to recruit from within

For years, “good practice guides” discouraged recruiting “the internal candidate”. Instead, the value of “fresh blood” was emphasised, added to which some Equal Opportunity policies had rigid requirements to advertise externally and treat everyone “the same”.

I am more and more convinced that putting every job out to advert is misguided. If you want a committed, enthusiastic workforce I suggest you step away from this strategy right now. At Notting Hill Housing over 70 per cent of those we recruit to management level posts come from within the organisation.

Over the years I have noticed that people who perform well in interviews do not always do so well in the job. And conversely some of my best appointments have frankly not shone in the interview. I have had to push quite hard for the appointment of someone I know is fantastic and the best person for the job because they didn’t do marvellously in the interview.  

We don’t want overconfident or conceited types who know how to impress – we want people who care about the customer and enjoy working in a team.

At Notting Hill Housing we have a preference for people who can do the job: who deliver every day, who are reliable, honest and kind. We don’t need lots of speeches or presentations and if we do, anyone can learn how to do it. We don’t want overconfident or conceited types who know how to impress – we want people who care about the customer and enjoy working in a team. So why would we recruit by interview alone?

How do you know how someone performs at work? Usually by watching them work, seeing how they interact with other team members, listening to what they say about customers and other departments! This is what matters in your ability to do the job, I would say, rather than your ability to talk up your achievements in a 45 minute slot.

So when someone moves on from a senior role, we always look first at the person or people just below. Can one of them act up? Can they stretch themselves? If we expect them to do well, will they? And usually the answer is yes! If your manager believes in you, encourages and supports you, you will normally rise to the challenge and try your very best to reward their confidence. When the time comes to advertise the job externally (as is good practice) the internal candidate has six months’ experience up their sleeve. If they have done well they will have confidence, insider knowledge and the support of their manager. If they haven’t done the job well, they decide the job isn’t the right fit or opportunity, or it is too much for them, we will have discussed this with him or her and they may go back to their old role or another challenge. But the ones who have done well will often impress against quite stiff competition from the market place. They have lots of advantages; knowing the job, the culture, the team, issues, etc. In my experience they almost always come out on top in the interview and other assessments too.

Now does this approach hinder or help developing a diverse, well balanced leadership? Undoubtedly I would say it helps. Over the years I have found that diversity is strengthened by appointing from within. While we have lots of women, older and younger people, BAME people, LGBT+ people and disabled people at the front line, the numbers become less balanced as we go up the tree. By continually encouraging the second in command, the person who does the work, who delivers every day, we are finding our managers and leaders are more diverse than ever before. 50% of those on our Emerging Leaders programme last year were BAME and over 50% this year. The very interview skills that we have traditionally rated are often more common in stereotypical picture of a public-school educated, middle class person. Looking rather for people who perform well and work for the good of the company and its customers means we are not giving too much credit for being good at public speaking and social skills.

It doesn’t always work out. Despite a manager believing in someone, occasionally the recruit fails to take up the authority required in the role or finds they lack the needed skills. Then, following fair and appropriate feedback they may go back to their old job, with relief, or they might try something different. But my point is that invariably it works out brilliantly. Here at Notting Hill Housing the failure rate is less than when bringing in an unknown quantity from outside.

As well as bringing more balance into our management roles the reliance on “growing our own” really helps to cement our culture:

  • We prove that we trust and believe in our staff
  • We recognise talent, and support those who want to develop their skills at work
  • We recruit from within which provides good promotion routes for those who want to progress at work
  • We understand that people are under pressure to earn more as the cost of housing, transport and child care are very high in the capital. By providing a route to more responsibility and higher pay we reward their efforts.
  • We know our staff are inspired by, like, identify with and care about our work and culture.
  • We don’t need to spend so much time inducting or supervising staff who take a step up – we can focus on developing them
  • Celebrating internal promotions gives encouragement to others who are planning their own careers
  • We encourage people to stay with the organisation using their experience, knowledge and expertise to benefit our customers
  • We know that experience gained at the front line or in more junior roles will help our staff do a better job when they get to the top

Conversely when organisations show again and again they would rather have an untried, untested (except for those psychometric tests!) person who looks and sounds good than rely on the very people they are growing and cultivating, what does that say to the staff team? You are not good enough. We wouldn’t consider you for a job like this! We need someone with more experience of the world/other industries/other countries – you only know about our company. Boards and chief executives need to think again about the message they give out to their loyal staff when they advertise jobs in their company.

Have you even recruited an external candidate who excelled in the interview but upon appointment failed to deliver? Do you favour recruiting from within? Is your organisation balanced and diverse? I would welcome your comments.

Kate Davies
Kate Davies

After obtaining a Master’s degree in Sociology, Kate Davies got her first job in Housing by chance. She embraced the opportunity it gave her to make a difference to people’s lives. In this stimulating milieu and while acquiring further qualifications, Kate’s career quickly progressed. She has now held management positions for over 30 years in both Housing Associations and Local Authorities. During that time, the nature of her role as leader has changed. The authoritative, handing-down management model of yesterday stopped working as the workforce became diverse, younger and more receptive to a consultative approach.