What to do if an internal candidate was turned down for your post

Valerie Morton offers advice on how to manage an employee who may resent you getting the job they applied for

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: I am about to move to my first chief executive position. How do I deal with the internal candidate who wanted my new job?

A: Before we get started, there is one important question to ask: does the internal candidate - let's call him 'he' - know that you know they applied for the job? Perhaps you were given a hint when you accepted the job, but the person concerned might understandably feel their application was confidential. Make sure you find out the true situation because this will guide you.

Before you get despondent about the idea of managing a disgruntled employee, remember there could be a few different scenarios here. He might be quite relieved he did not get the job. Many people are happier in the 'Number 2' role, but apply for more senior posts because they feel it is what is expected of them, thinking it shows a lack of ambition if they do not.

If he did hope to be appointed, it could be that when he sees your CV and meets you he will realise there is the prospect of exciting times ahead. On the other hand, he could be extremely hacked off at not getting the job, feel he wasn't given the opportunity to show his true ability and be out to prove at any opportunity that the trustees made the wrong decision.

Take consolation from the fact that if this is the case, he will be hoping to make a quick exit anyway. Most new chief executives face a period of staff turnover as they start building the structure and culture that fits their style. This is a fact of life, not a sign that everyone hates you.

Looking constructively at the situation, you will need someone who can give you the inside track, and there might be some interesting projects you can delegate to him while you get your feet under the table. If he really is looking for a chief executive role, he should relish any such development opportunities. Show him you value his work by finding the budget to pay for him to have a mentor.

Don't get into a situation where you have to pull rank: it will seem as if you are rubbing it in. And don't be so sympathetic that you give the impression that the trustees should have given him the job. That will come across as lack of confidence and any such chink will be exploited. A fine line, but I am sure you will rise to the challenge.

- Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

Send your questions to Valerie.Morton@haymarket.com

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