Situation vacant, but don't bother if you're staff

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The accounts department needs a new supervisor. An internal advertisement is displayed. What could be fairer? Quite a lot, according to a new report by the Institute of Employment Studies, which found that most systems advertising jobs internally are deeply flawed.

The accounts department needs a new supervisor. An internal advertisement is displayed. What could be fairer? Quite a lot, according to a new report by the Institute of Employment Studies, which found that most systems advertising jobs internally are deeply flawed.

Until the 1990s, internal recruitment either didn't exist or went relatively unmonitored. Indeed, in some companies, employees weren't aware there had been a position vacant until they spotted a new face in the office.

Dr Wendy Hirsh, an associate fellow of the IES, says that all changed with the devolution of personnel functions down to line managers; the fashion for "open and honest" cultures; and growing legislative pressure on firms to prove a commitment to fairness and diversity.

But, she adds, a range of problems has accompanied this shift, chiefly that many vacancies are advertised when the successful candidate is already a foregone conclusion.

Angela Ishmael, head of Dignity at Work at the Industrial Society, says: "Discrimination legislation suggests you go through a rigorous selection procedure, but it doesn't say you must. However, if you're challenged, you have to prove that the individual was the best person for the job." Companies do it, she says, because they know they can usually get away with it, while seeming to be fair.

Other firms - particularly in the media - don't even pretend to offer jobs internally, finds the IES. One human resources manager at a magazine publisher says: "Usually the first I hear of a new appointment is 'X left today, Y starts on Monday'." He blames this on "the emotional demands of creative people who need to chime with each other. Also, they find internal recruitment procedures too slow."

Media folk are not alone in feeling frustrated by the bureaucracy of internal advertising. Chris Maloney, HR manager at British Gas Trading, who took part in the IES survey, says: "Our managers felt there was too much paperwork because every step had to link back to the HR department. It took three months to appoint someone."

To streamline the process, the company has adopted a new approach. "Instead of every application being fed through the HR department, candidates fill out an online application to which managers have access," says Mr Maloney. "Then HR monitor for fairness by regularly checking random samples."

Nevertheless, the ISE report found, staff often fear managers pay lip service to diversity. "At the Department of Trade and Industry, there was a perception that women and ethnic minorities were not well served. Although our analysis showed this not to be the case, the DTI has now appointed an independent member from another department to sit on every recruitment panel," says Dr Hirsh, who recommends other organisations consider this approach.

Ms Ishmael adds that since some jobs are seen as "no-go" areas by candidates, employers should be more pro-active. "They need to think less linearly about skill requirements and really push for diversity, not only at interview but at application stage."

Ironically, though, workers in some companies feel the odds are against them precisely because their employers are too keen to go by the book. "They become so hidebound by the application procedure," says Dr Hirsh, "that they ignore the real track record of candidates."

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