By Barbara Mitchell
Q: I have a difficult time giving feedback to internal candidates who aren’t selected for an opening. How can I be upfront about why I didn’t pick them without discouraging them?
A: I’m pleased that you want to give feedback—so many managers shy away from this important part of the process. It’s never easy to share bad news, but this is a great opportunity to give an internal candidate feedback on what he needs to do to be selected for a new role in the future.
Clear job descriptions can help you. They should include the skills, knowledge, and abilities required for the open position. To begin, show the internal applicant where he missed the mark. Let’s say the job requires that a candidate have five to seven years of progressive experience as a manager of 20 to 25 direct reports, but this person is new to management and has only three years of experience managing a small team. That’s an easy one to explain, and he can see quickly that, with time, he will have fulfilled that requirement.
It's never easy to share bad news, but this is a great opportunity to give an internal candidate feedback on what he needs to do to be selected for a new role in the future.
It’s more difficult when the issue is less objective. For example, a job may require a successful candidate to have demonstrated negotiation skills, but when you interviewed the internal candidate, he didn’t have any examples of when he’d been involved in a negotiation. You should explain why this is an important part of the job and suggest ways the candidate can improve and gain experience, such as by taking a negotiation class and then volunteering for some negotiating teams where he can use his new knowledge.
Don’t forget that anything you share must be job-related. It’s a good idea to get an objective third party’s reaction to your feedback beforehand by consulting HR. You want to be sure your feedback is fair and legal.
Finally, don’t give false hope. Don’t tell the candidate that if he just hangs on for two more years, the next promotion will be his. That could get you in a world of trouble. You want to be clear that continued good performance and development of additional skills will allow him to apply for open positions, but you can’t commit the organization to promoting him.
Honest feedback is a gift we can give our employees. Continue to follow your instincts and you will build a successful team.
Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].