Internal recruitment — essentially, promoting, advancing, and hiring from within — seems like a pretty fraught concept at a lot of companies.

I think the big thing here is FOMO, or fear of missing out. It’s kind of the same logic behind why companies hire consultants. The idea is that “fresh blood” is good. These people will have new ideas. They might even be poached from a competitor, so that gives you a leg up on the enemy. I also think a lot of executives know (but don’t admit) that people start to get burned out and recycle the same 3-5 ideas once they’ve worked somewhere a few years, so an infusion of new human capital could be a good thing. All this has some validity, although it’s also a bit wrong. More on the FOMO part later.

On surveys, employees often talk about wanting “opportunities for growth.” That usually means “a higher salary,” if we’re being 100 percent honest. One of the most demoralizing things ever is working for a place with poor internal recruitment. In that type of setting, you hit target after target for a boss man — and then when you’re up for a promotion, it goes to someone they found on LinkedIn. After that happens 2-3 times, why would you care about your job anymore? Clearly there’s no chance for growth. This is the dangerous side of the career ladder.

I can think of about 127 ways that internal recruitment makes sense and adds value, but let’s start with six. Seems reasonable.

Internal Recruitment Value No. 1: The FOMO Case

The most often use of “FOMO” is probably around social media. Let me be pretty upfront here. Most of social media is curated bullshit. Let’s say you see a picture of a beautiful family of four and a dog. OK? You look at that picture and say, “Their life is going well.” You have no ideawhat their life is like. 13 seconds before that picture, they could have been in a huge fight. You don’t know. Social media is snapshots in time, and it’s relative comparison on steroids. You see pictures from a party. It looks fun. FOMO! But … the party could have sucked. You have no clue. It’s a moment in time meant to convey something. It’s not necessarily real.

That’s the same problem with FOMO-driven hiring, or the opposite of internal recruitment. “Look at that big swinging dick at our competitor,” an exec bellows. “Let’s get after him.” That guy could sink your sales culture in 5.8 seconds flat because once he’s hired on, he’ll alienate every single other person you already have.

Look: you will absolutely never know how a person fits with you until he/she works with you. And because “sample days on the job” aren’t commonly part of the hiring process, everything’s essentially just a guess. Why not reduce the guess by using someone who already works there? You have a read on how they relate to the culture. With FOMO hiring, you do not.

Internal Recruitment Value No. 2: Your hiring process is a mess anyway

Your hiring process probably is not great. It’s likely set up in a way that alienates the best candidates. So why rely on that when you can rely on internal knowledge you already possess on people who already understand how your systems work?

Internal Recruitment Value No. 3: It makes people feel good

This is a fluffy reason, sure, and I can imagine some executive screeching “The point ain’t to feel good, the point is to rake in the cash!” OK. Maybe that’s true. Here’s the funny part, though: almost every executive is absolutely terrified of being seen as incompetent. They have a good deal in that most of ’em can be force-fed competence via hierarchy. “I wouldn’t have known how to do that without you, boss!” 

Executives want to feel good too. They want people to say “You’re worthwhile” and “You’re relevant” and “You’re on the right track.” We’re all human beings and we all want that. It’s demoralizing to toss 10 years in at a place and be making about $3,000 more than you did a decade ago. Then some manager is telling you 24 different things are a priority, but if you bring up promotions, he says “We don’t have the resources right now, Robert.” Meanwhile, he just bought a fucking Mercedes. We all know the game. Internal recruitment can help people feel a little bit better about said game.

Internal Recruitment Value No. 4: You chasing process?

Most companies drown absolutely everything in process, to the point that it means more than results do. If you work at that type of place, you need to prioritize internal recruitment. It’s simple math.

A new hire from outside will take at least 1 month to learn all the processes — and honestly, it’s usually longer. I’ve worked with people who came in to a company at a high level and took 9-12 months to figure out WTF was happening. That’s a year. If you’re big on quarters, that’s 4 quarters. Other higher-ups will grouse about that person within maybe 3-4 weeks. This happens all the time.

If you value process, why wouldn’t you use internal recruitment to advance someone who already understands the processes?

Internal Recruitment Value No. 5: It’s motivational

My last gig was a B2B travel consortium. Last summer, I had a few beers after work with the CFO. This place had a huge degree of homophily— people working together for years — which is a good and a bad thing. Good: feels like family. Bad: new ideas always seen as a threat. “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.”

Me and the CFO are talking, and he admits this stunning fact: despite all the stick-around culture, only two people (maybe 3) had ever reached the top rungs via internal recruitment. Almost every SVP and higher-up at this place were from outside.

I had about four beers that night. I got home and I had 1-2 more. One of my first thoughts the next morning was “I don’t want to go to work.” It wasn’t because I was hungover. (I might have been.) It was because I saw no motivation in anything. So like, I gotta go hit target after target for someone and then I’ll probably stay around the same 1-2 levels for 10-15 years? No thanks.

Now, I got fired from that job, so that kinda worked itself out. (** Cymbal noise **) But it just underscores how internal recruitment can be an effective motivational tactic.

Internal Recruitment Value No. 6: It’s cheaper

Here’s Scenario A: someone makes $75,000. Now they make $90,000. To the best of my knowledge, a company spent $15,000 or so there. My math may be wrong.

Here’s Scenario B: you spend time recruiting someone. You spend time interviewing them. You fly them in (possibly) and put them in hotels. Your HR and hiring managers spend hours on the phone with them (that’s money too). The hire is made, and within 12-15 months, they leave or are forced out. You just spent a bunch of money for, essentially, no reason.

Scenario A is internal recruitment. If you like keeping costs down and saving money, doesn’t that make some sense?

Ted Bauer

Originally from New York City, Ted Bauer currently lives in Fort Worth, Texas. He's a writer and editor for RecruitingDaily who focuses on leadership, management, HR, recruiting, marketing, and the future of work. His popular blog, The Context of Things, has a simple premise -- how to improve work. Ted has a Bachelors in Psychology from Georgetown and a Masters in Organizational Development from the University of Minnesota. In addition to various blogging and ghost-writing gigs, he's also worked for brands such as McKesson, PBS, ESPN, and more. You can follow Ted on Twitter @tedbauer2003, connect with him on LinkedIn, or reach him on email at [email protected]