HR recruiters and business aviation hiring managers frequently contact us at Aviation Personnel International (API) to conduct an external candidate search on their behalf.

They often do so because they feel they don’t have the in-house talent, or because they’ve reasoned that an “outsider” might be able to offer broader industry experience and fresh ideas. Yet, they say that there are internal candidates, as well, who need to be considered.

Based on my 20-plus years in aviation recruiting, I strongly believe that hiring managers must weigh internal vs. external candidates very carefully.

The decision to hire internally or externally should be made long before the recruiting process starts. You can do so by reviewing your organizational structure and current talent is to help you decide what gaps you need to fill. Ask yourself:

  • What are the technical needs of the open position?
  • Does the role require substantial collaboration with the main clients (travelers) and/or the corporate office?
  • What level of support can the manager/supervisor of this role provide?
  • How will our department evolve in the next one to five years?
  • Who’s planning to retire?
  • What communication and leadership skills are needed?

Conducting a simultaneous internal and external candidate search has its pros and cons, but, in my opinion, it’s only viable when there are truly qualified internal candidates. So let’s take a look at the issue in some detail.

Promoting Internal Candidates: The Pros and the Cons

API has helped facilitate searches where a full slate of excellent external candidates was considered, but, in the final analysis, an internal candidate was selected. One might say that’s a waste of time and money, but, in one memorable case, the aviation reporting executive with whom we worked took an opposing point of view. In fact, he said it was the best money the company had spent because the process helped him to more objectively benchmark the strength of the department and its people. The process also validated the leader who emerged from his peer group. That’s a very important and valuable outcome.

We’ve often been asked to include internal candidates in our research and present them along with external candidates, when, in confidence, we learn that the company has no intention of hiring someone from inside the company because, as we’re told, the internal candidate “just doesn’t have what we need.” Considering candidates in this manner does a flight department no favors. Whenever we see it occurring, we encourage our clients to be frank with those internal employees who have applied and “release them from consideration” before an external search begins.

I strongly recommend being completely clear and upfront with each individual. Tell him or her exactly why they weren’t selected to move forward in the hiring process. Maybe it’s because his communication skills aren’t as developed as the job requires. Or it might be that her business acumen isn’t fully up to speed. Whatever the reason, however, if it’s communicated effectively, this counsel can be documented in the internal employee’s Individual Development Plan, and used to help him or her set goals to help them move forward within the organization, preparing them for another, future position.

Bottom line: the more honest the organization is with its employees about the hiring process, the better will be the outcome of the ensuing organizational change.

Thinking Outside the Box

One of the biggest struggles aviation hiring managers face when managing an internal candidate for a position in a flight department is the possibility that he or she will simply carry on the way they’ve learned to, rather than approaching the elevated position from a new, broader perspective. Too often, internal candidates will continue along the only path they know and have a difficult time breaking away from doing things the way they’ve always been done.

To be seriously considered, internal candidates should exhibit a keen ability to think outside of the box. Thus, you should engage them during the interviewing process and present hypothetical situations to them, in order to gauge just how willing (and able) they will be to bring new approaches to the position and your organization.

If the job they’re interviewing for requires them to be responsible for the performance of those who currently are their peers (and likely their friends), then it’s critical that they’re capable of making the necessary emotional shift to alter the nature of their relationships with their (soon-to-be) former peers.

Managing Emotions

Regardless who gets hired, it’s important to recognize the full impact that the final hiring decision will have on those who were not selected for the position. That way you’ll be able to effectively deal with the feelings of discontent that may linger by the rejected candidates, and gauge how well they are likely to interact with the individual who eventually is selected for the job.

For example, if you have an internal candidate who is competing against someone from outside the company, and the internal employee isn’t selected for the job, he or she might always feel that “lost out” to the person who may become their new boss. The situation becomes personal to the employee, and can color their future relationship and their overall job performance. But if you’re clear to the internal candidate that you’re moving in a different direction than their background or skills address, the intensity of that “personal” feeling is often diminished. It no longer becomes a “him or me” decision.

How Do You Decide When to Look Outside?

According to the Society for Human Resources Management, of which API is a member, “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to deciding whether to hire externally vs. internally.” The organization does, however, offer the following scenarios for those occasions when it might make sense to consider one approach over the other. They advise hiring organizations to:

Look Outside When:

  • Tough corporate or departmental turnarounds or strategy shifts are necessary or already underway.
  • Succession planning and performance information is inconsistent, absent or hard to access.
  • Specific skills are needed that are not readily available within the organization.
  • The organizational culture welcomes multiple perspectives and new energy.
  • Processes are in place to support job specific training and full integration into a position.

Look Within When:

  • An organization is thriving, and the future vision is clear, fully articulated and committed to by their team.
  • Succession planning and performance reviews are consistent and transparent.
  • The skill sets needed are already in the organization or can easily be developed either within the company or with some external help, such as a professional coach/mentor or outside developmental resources.
  • A unique and strong organizational culture might be hard to understand or fit in with.
  • No or few processes are in place to support job training and integration into a position.

To Pay or Not to Pay

A six-year analysis by a prominent Wharton School management professor revealed that external hires tend to have more experience and a higher level of education and, because of this, are initially paid nearly 20% more than what an internal candidate would be offered for the same job. Don’t think that your internal candidate for that pilot job hasn’t done his or her due diligence and stumbled upon this fact as well.

Be prepared to justify the salary range you have in mind for the job and make your internal candidate feel appreciated, even if the salary you had in mind is less than you might have been prepared to offer an external candidate with similar qualifications.

It can be a tremendous challenge for an aviation leader—as well as his or her internal HR partner—when faced with having to choose between an internal or an external candidate for a pivotal flight department vacancy. In many cases, the expertise of a professional aviation search professional can come into play to help smooth out the selection process. We all know the huge expenses an organization incurs when the selected candidate turns out to be a disappointment and fails in his or her role, so it’s critical that the selected candidate—whether internal or external—be the right person for the job.

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