I’ve noticed an increase in librarian job postings, which I think means that we are entering an economic recovery–fingers crossed! Now that the hiring freezes are thawing somewhat, library workers are finally getting the opportunity to move up in their libraries–whether into an official librarian job, a full-time job, or a management job–and I’ve been asked, “You run a public library, Eva–how does moving up work?” so that they can get a better idea of how the process may go for them within their own organization. I’ve learned a lot over the years–and I’ve made my share of mistakes.
I don’t do much hiring myself anymore. They keep me in the loop, but my managers hire their employees. I guide the managers, I question them, I poke hard at their assumptions, and I do the second interviews for key positions, but by and large I trust my managers–which means I give them room to do it their way within the general framework, because every situation is different.
External vs. internal postings
We don’t have a requirement that positions are posted internally or externally or in a certain order. They don’t even have to be posted at all, if I choose to promote someone directly into a position–and I have done that, like when a back-up has been training for a position or when a reorganization leads to a reclassification.
When we post, it is usually an internal posting, an internal posting for a week followed by a wider external posting, or a simultaneous posting, inside and out.
I have posted externally only–though I think that’s weird for librarian positions. We had an accountant job open, for example, which we posted only externally because I knew no one on staff had those skills. But with librarian positions, you probably have interns and library techs and pages and clerks and volunteers who have the degree, and not allowing anyone internal to apply sends the message that you think they’re all losers. It’s a morale-buster for sure, even if you have really excellent reasons for doing it.
I’ve heard about word-of-mouth or invited postings, where an employer doesn’t want to wade through 150 applications but is interested in getting some outside applicants, so they post internally and also allow staff to pass the posting on to people they know (presumably the best ones). I saw this a lot when I worked in the private sector. I’ve seen it occasionally in public libraries, but I’m not sure it’s a valid public sector option; we are publicly-funded and have an obligation to be transparent, so an internal posting that’s also a secret external posting for the cool kids seems unfair and even unethical to me. While it may be perfectly legal, there is no good way to spin it to your staff–it is a huge demoralizer for employees who will think the internal posting was just a sham so that you could hire from your own pre-ordained pool of preferred external candidates. I’ve not seen this be too successful at the few libraries I know about–lots of resentment toward management, and also resentment toward the new hire, which leads to a tension-filled work environment.
External. vs. internal candidates
We don’t have a policy favoring internal candidates over external candidates. Some places do, and some give additional preference based on seniority. In practice, these situations can be tough calls. Maybe your internal candidate is a grouch while the external candidate is a breath of fresh, enthusiastic air. Maybe the hiring manager and one of the internal candidates have a personality conflict that you know will bring untold horrors into the team dynamic. Maybe the hiring manager and one of the internal candidates went to graduate school together or were in each other’s wedding. Maybe the senior candidate isn’t the best fit compared to the junior applicant. Maybe one owes a drug debt to the other. It can get tricky.
My baseline is: Are you following the law? If you are preferring or excluding certain candidates on an illegal discriminatory basis, then you need to stop right there. If you are looking at two candidates who are otherwise equal and then disqualifying one based on a protected status, you need to contact your attorney right away. (I’m not an attorney.)
If you are acting legally, and if the candidates are otherwise equal, then there are any number of reasons why you might go with one over the other: fit, attitude, reputation, known quantity, results of the background/credit check, really good references, nepotism, friendship, or demeanor. It’s about your own ethics and comfort level, and whether you can explain your decision clearly. This is where I poke at my managers a lot, hit them with every possible question and make sure they are thinking clearly.
My library doesn’t have a policy that we have to interview every candidate, internal or external. When you have multiple internal candidates, you may find yourself in a situation where you want to interview one or some, but not all of them. A lot of what I said above applies here. One thing you might think about doing is scheduling interviews so that the internal candidates don’t have to watch the parade of interviewees go by. Maybe you schedule the other interviews while internal candidates are off, or staffing the desk way on the other side of the building, or out doing outreach. Most of the time this is impossible, but it is nice to make an effort not to embarrass your employees or put them in the awkward position of escorting their competitor to the interview room.
General things to keep in mind
If you have a plan for recruitment of a position, say so. Be clear and transparent about it. Communicate it. If it changes, communicate it again. While hiring has to be confidential to a certain extent, if you communicate what you can, staff will feel better about the in the end. Plus, with internal candidates they are all talking about it anyway, so get ahead of the grapevine when possible.
Once you’ve made a hiring decision, I suggest talking to the “winning” candidate first, getting the signed offer letter back, and then swearing her to secrecy until you say it’s okay to talk. Take this time to meet with the internal candidates as I discuss below, and then make the announcement to the general staff. Making sure the first candidate doesn’t change her mind is key–so wait until you get the offer letter back before you turn down the other candidates. If the first candidate changes her mind and doesn’t sign the paperwork, you’ve avoided the awkward, “Hey, second-best! I couldn’t get my first choice, so I will settle for you….How about it? You in?” conversation.
If you are not moving forward with an internal candidate, you should still write a declination letter like you would with any other applicant. I think a meeting, or at least the offer of a meeting in the declination letter, is a must-do. Not for you; a face-to-face conversation gives the employee the opportunity to talk. The fact is that this is your employee, your coworker, someone you have to look at every day, so be respectful and practice some common courtesy by giving her an opportunity to talk to you, and even to vent at you. It’s better to have someone yell at you, ask you their questions, and share their concerns outright rather than have them do it with coworkers in the staff lounge or at the local bar.
Lastly, if there is any time when a manager will feel the most hated, it will be when you don’t promote an internal candidate. Prepare yourself for that. If you’ve hired the best person for the job, it’s easier for you to say, “I hired the best fit for the library” with a straight face. But you will feel guilt. As hard as it is to turn down an external candidate, it’s a thousand times harder to turn down someone you work with every day. People’s feelings will be hurt. Bitterness will bubble up. Coalitions may form. People may leave. Keep your antennae up for signs of foment and unrest, and work with your HR manager to nip them in the bud. If an employee you’ve turned down is someone with potential whom you want (and are able) to develop, you should tell them that when you meet: “Let’s talk about how I as your manager (or the library) can help you get this experience for the next job posting, whether it’s here or at another library.”
What have your experiences been with internal vs. external applicants?