Managing Expectations Between Two Internal Candidates

You have an open position. You have two internal candidates. You’re going to hire one of them. (See Two Candidates, One Position.) Now you have a problem. You have one person who will not be happy. This often occurs when you have two candidates for technical leadership or management positions.

You might have a political problem. You certainly have a challenge. How can you “save” both people?

This is a management and expectation problem.

You need to clarify to yourself first, why you want to hire one person over the other. Once you understand your thinking, you can set expectations with both candidates.

Here are some scenarios:

  1. One candidate is ready for the new position. That candidate has demonstrated that he or she can already do the work required. The other candidate is not quite ready. In this case, you owe the not-quite-ready candidate coaching, if the candidate wants it. You also owe the candidate specific examples of what he or she can do to be ready the next time.
  2. Neither candidate is quite ready, but you think one candidate has more potential. In this case, you might need to change the job description. You will have to coach the candidate you hire. You will have to manage expectations with the other candidate and offer coaching.
  3. Neither candidate is good enough for the role. You will expand the search outside the organization. In this case, both candidates need feedback and coaching.

Note that in all cases, you can reset expectations and “save” the other candidate with feedback and coaching. That’s just the first step.

You can fix these problems if you have an expertise criteria chart for all your positions, individual contributor and leadership/managerial.

An expertise criteria chart explains what people need to have demonstrated to achieve a certain level. These criteria are all about the non-technical skills, qualities, and preferences for the role. Sometimes, HR wants to put an education component in the role. I find education is irrelevant. These criteria are about accomplishments.

The expertise criteria arise from your job analysis. What qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills do you want people to have in your organization? Here is an example:

You might value the ability of someone to coach other people. In that case, a junior person can be coached. A mid-level person can coach one or two people about something he or she knows well. A senior person can coach a team, regardless of the domain. A manager would be able to coach about career development in addition to the other coaching.

Now, people can see where they fall in the criteria. Someone who has not tried coaching peers is not ready for a senior position, regardless of other experience—if that is what is valuable to you.

What do you do with the candidate who didn’t get the job? Offer to provide coaching for the pieces of the job that the candidate was not qualified to perform. it doesn’t matter if that candidate wants coaching from you or not. It’s about providing coaching.

Whatever you do, do not say, “You’re too valuable where you are.” A manager said that to me years ago, and I was almost out the door when my new boss started. She had gotten the position.

She said, “Let me coach you and give you feedback so you can do this job in a year.” I agreed, and she showed me what great managers do and don’t do. I learned a ton under her tutelage. I worked for her for more than a year, quite happily.

Know that you will have a disappointed candidate, as well as a happy candidate. Prepare for the conversations and make sure you have internal candidates who can meet the criteria. Don’t lose the disappointed candidate—offer feedback, coaching, and a knowledge of the expertise they need to show before you consider them for another position.

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