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Look Inside: Identifying Employees You Should Be Promoting from Within

Adam Toren

Often the best candidates are internal, but they aren’t always the easiest to identify. Promoting from within is great for many reasons both for your company and for your staff.

The Wall Street Journal reported findings from a study, conducted by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, that on average external hires get paid nearly 20 percent more than internal employees for the same job, but consistently get lower performance reviews. Furthermore, the study found that external hires were 61 percent more likely to be fired vs. internal promotions, and 21 percent more likely than internal hires to quit.

The Society for Human Resource Management reports that internal hires offer the advantage of already having company knowledge, which reduces ramp-up time new hires would require. It also increases employee engagement both with the promoted employee and with other coworkers.

Knowing the advantages that internal hires can offer your company, how do you identify the right ones for promotion?

Here are five tips for singling out the employees you should be promoting.

1. They Proactively Takes Responsibility

Employees that are ripe for promotion are often the ones that either volunteer to spearhead projects or those who proactively ask for more responsibility. You will recognize them as your staff members who consistently do what it takes to get the job done. They don’t come up with excuses.

As Avery Augustine writes for the employment site The Muse, it’s not that they need to skip lunch and stay late, it’s more about those who consistently choose to go beyond the exact specifications of what’s asked of them.

An article in Inc. further clarifies this character trait saying you should be watching out for employees who refer to things as “ours” vs. “mine” which is a great indicator they are thinking in terms of the big goals, not just their own agenda. The true sign of an employee ready for promotion is one that demonstrates their consistent ability to take responsibility for themselves and for the team, even before they’re officially in charge of a team.  

2. They're Solutions-Oriented

Leaders need to be solutions oriented.

You already know this and it’s an important quality in the employees you look to promote into positions of great responsibility. Employees who consistently approach you with problems and don’t bother trying to brainstorm solutions are not ready to be promoted.

Augustine voiced this in The Muse article clarifying that it’s okay to complain or voice grievances, in fact that’s healthy, but a true leader on your team will voice the issue, and then start the brainstorming process to solve the problem.

Mina Chang writes for Inc. that you should always be on the lookout for team members who bring and offer answers, alongside questions or problems. They may not always be the right answers or solutions, but it shows a willingness to try to solve problems vs. looking to someone else to solve them.

3. They Are Respected by Their Coworkers

Notice this advice is not to promote someone who is well liked by their peers but rather someone who is respected. The well-respected internal candidate on your team should be liked and a team player, but there’s a difference between respect and popularity.

In an article for Forbes, businessman Jack Zenger writer that collaboration, teamwork and respect are the holy trinity of the top five signs an internal candidate is ready for promotion.

As he puts it, “The world has moved from a culture of fierce competition and rivalry to greater emphasis on collaboration and teamwork, especially within firms.” You need an internal employee who can collaborate with their coworkers and who is well respected enough that the staff will follow them. 

4. They Supports Others

Good leaders grow and develop others. You are likely where you are in your own life as a result of some mentoring and helpful managers who shaped your experience along the way.

A great internal candidate will be the one you can identify as being helpful to others. Mr. Zenger lists this as a crucial promotion quality in his Forbes article, saying that the best potential internal candidates will be effective at developing talent within the organization. They should demonstrate taking the time and having the desire to develop others, including feedback and coaching.

Author Dan Schawbell partnered with American Express to poll over 1,000 managers about what qualities they sought out in internal candidate who would be ready for promotion and 86 percent said that teamwork skills and support were among the most important criteria. 

5. They Handle Stress Well 

Stress is an inherent part of managing and leading. Whether you’re looking to fill a management position or to promote an employee into a larger role with more responsibilities, consider their ability to handle ambiguity and stress in their current position.

In fact, a study conducted by the Institute of Psychology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark polled over 100 managers and nearly 2,000 employees about stress levels and found that stress is a crucial factor for roles like management. Managers experienced higher demands, higher level of conflicts, and lower degree of social support from their peers than employees. 

Hiring from within can be a great way to maximize the skills and knowledge of your existing talent pool, as well as a cost savings and retention tool for your business. The key is to clearly identify the right candidates to set them up for success in their new roles.

An internal candidate promotion won’t be right for every open position, but it can under many circumstances be a great opportunity for your business and for the right person.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Adam Toren Member
Adam Toren is an investor, advisor, growth strategist and co-founder of and He is co-author, with his brother Matthew, of Kidpreneurs and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right.