In defence of the inside man

A friend of mine is an FD. He’s not the only one I know, of course, but I can
have completely open conversations with him. It’s useful, for me certainly, and
for him occasionally.

He has just been through a recruitment process where he was an internal
candidate. As has become the norm, he was being taken through an externally
mandated process.

We were discussing his chances, and I was horrified to hear him being very
cynical about the process. The gist of his argument was: “Well, no headhunter is
going to recommend me, are they? They want the external candidate to get the job
because that’s the only way they get paid.” I was horrified because that view
couldn’t be further from the truth.

I am not going to bore you with a long and impassioned justification of the
place of headhunters in a process. All I will say is that we are different to
contingent recruitment companies in that we get paid for the process rather than
the result. Internal or external, the only thing that matters is that the right
person gets the job.

So, on that basis I thought it might be helpful to give you some advice on
how to present your credentials as an internal candidate. When you’re an
internal candidate, you have to imagine your external rivals are currently
filling a similar role for your biggest competitors. While it’s unlikely the
shortlist you are on will be exactly like this, it creates the mindset you need
to have. On that basis, you then need to think about your relative strengths and
weaknesses. If the externals are all doing a comparable role, it is likely they
will be able to evidence slightly better skills in terms of fitting with the job
spec. For example, if the role in question is a group FD, and one of the skills
required is exposure to investor relations, other group FDs may be able to
demonstrate that skill better than you.

However, you as the internal candidate have a unique ability to demonstrate
cultural fit, relationship management, visible ability to step up and meet a ch
allenge and no requirement to learn about the organisation and its
idiosyncrasies. Often the decision comes down to whether it will take longer for
someone to learn enough to do the role effectively than it will for someone to
learn how the business works?

As the internal candidate you have an advantage. The time it will take for
you to learn the role tends to be less than it will take an external candidate
to learn about the organisation. You need to make sure you are constantly
assessing what your next promotion could be, and that you get the experience
that lets you close the gap.

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Berndtson.

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