The Courtesy Interview

Have you ever applied and interviewed for an internal position where you left the interview feeling that the hiring manager already made his or her decision and your meeting was more of a “check the box” activity? That’s what we call the courtesy interview.

Some organizations have policies that require all internal candidates to be interviewed. Some hiring managers like to give everyone an opportunity.

For the record, I dislike courtesy interviews for many reasons.

First, I believe in transparency. If a candidate does not have the necessary skills, has performance concerns, or has a negative attitude, they are not going to get the job. Period. In this scenario, either the employee’s current manager or the potential new manager should have an open, direct meeting and provide valuable feedback. Examples should be given on steps needed to take to get to the next level and any areas of improvement should be discussed. Unfortunately, this approach involves confrontation and a potentially uncomfortable meeting, so managers skip it and go ahead with the courtesy interview instead.

Second, the employee spends time applying and preparing for an interview that he or she has no chance getting. People have busy lives. This preparation is taking time away from family and friends. We should value other people’s time away from work.

Third, if this is a consistent process at your organization, other employees will begin to notice and may stop applying for promotions or new roles. This is especially true if the already chosen new hire is an outsider. For example, if the hiring manager keeps bringing in former colleagues for the open positions, internal candidates will definitely feel like they have no chance. This practice affects morale over time.

Fourth, and most importantly, you are getting people’s hopes up and creating excitement for a job that they never had a chance at in the first place. I find this to be particularly cruel. They are probably sharing the opportunity with family and friends. I value people too much to put them through these hoops for an ultimate let-down.

But, interviews are good practice for the employee, you might be saying. The negatives outweigh the positives on this point. People can find friends, family, or even their local HR Manager who would be happy to conduct mock interviews with them if they are looking for practice.

So, if you absolutely must conduct courtesy interviews, at the very least, schedule a follow-up, preferably face-to-face, meeting with the employees who did not get the job to give them the news and feedback. This is not negotiable. The employee needs to hear it from you and not through the grapevine or by meeting the new person in that role. Treat them with the respect you would expect if you were in their shoes.

What do you think about courtesy interviews? Do you think they serve a valid purpose or would you rather have the upfront feedback?