What to Do When Favorites Get All the Promotions

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BeersWe may find it hard to believe that favoritism still exists in our “more enlightened” age of equal opportunities and transparent internal job markets — but yes, favoritism is real, and it does happen. We’re not just talking about superficial forms of favoritism, where some people are allowed to sit with the boss at lunchtime, either: we’re talking about the kind of career-corrupting favoritism where mates and cronies are given jobs ahead of other, more deserving candidates.

This study from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business produced some worrying statistics on favoritism, including:

  • 29 percent of senior executives “said their most recent promotion only considered a single candidate”;
  • 56 percent said that when there was more than one candidate for a promotion, they already knew who’d get the job before deliberations were made;
  • and 96 percent said they promoted the pre-selected individual.

There is plenty of favoritism going on out there, and it could negatively impact your career. So, what can you do to counter it?

Start With a Reality Check

Before you make accusations of favoritism — an act that can in itself damage your career, if you don’t handle it well — you need to make sure that favoritism is really occurring. Was that latest promotion really favoritism, or are you dealing with a case of sour grapes on our own behalf (this is not always easy for us to admit to ourselves, of course).

Put yourself in the managers shoes and take an honest look at the “favorite’s” achievements, your own achievements, and the achievements of your peers. When you consider everyone’s achievements, ask yourself: would you honestly have selected yourself (or another person) over the “favorite”?

You may also want to arrange a meeting with the hiring manager and ask them for feedback on why you did not get the job. Find out what qualities the successful candidate had that made them superior to you.

After a second look at the situation, you might find that the best candidate received the job after all, in which case you just need to let it go. Otherwise, if you feel favoritism has occurred, the following options may be open to you.

Find Out if  Company Rules Are Being Breached

Does your company have an equal opportunity/open advertising policy on internal vacancies? If the answer is yes, and you feel an internal promotion that occurred (or is occurring) failed to follow this policy, you may want to raise the issue with HR or an appropriate superior. Be tactful and avoid going straight to “DECON 1.” You may find that a gentle word in the ear to the right people is enough to nudge the organization in the right direction.

Other examples of breached rules may include a failure to produce a job description and qualifications list or failure to use stipulated assessments when considering candidates, depending on your company’s specific policies.

It’s best to catch these kinds of rule breaches while they are happening so that the hiring process can be corrected before any damage is done. Still, even if the promotion has already gone through, you can still bring attention to a sham hiring process in order to prevent it from occurring again.

Request a More Transparent Hiring and Selection Process

If your business doesn’t have an open advertising policy, then you could lobby for one –which means that you don’t have to make any direct accusations of cronyism.

Start by simply asking for such a policy. If that doesn’t work, get the support of as many colleagues as possible and offer your request as a petition to the business. If you can raise a thorny issue in a reasonable manner, you will hopefully avoid being christened a “troublemaker.”

If your company already has guidelines for internal hiring, they may not be clear enough, leaving them open to misinterpretation and abuse. You may be able to make ground by asking for further clarity on these guidelines.

If, after trying all of these approaches, you still can’t get your company to commit to an open, transparent, and fair interview process, you may want to ask yourself if this is the right culture and environment for you. It could be time for you to move on to a company that is committed to fair and open career progression.

By Kazim Ladimeji