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Look Inside: Identifying Employees You Should Be Promoting From Within

Updated Mar 22, 2023

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The best candidates for open positions are often internal, but it’s not always easy to identify people with the talents and skills you need. However, finding excellent internal candidates is crucial to building and strengthening your team. We’ll examine how to identify promotable employees and explore how promoting from within benefits your entire organization. 

How to identify internal employees who are ready for a promotion

Here are six tips for singling out employees you should consider promoting.

1. Promotable employees take responsibility proactively.

Employees ripe for promotion are often the ones who volunteer to spearhead projects or ask for more responsibility. They’re your staff members who consistently do what it takes to get the job done. They don’t come up with excuses.

These employees don’t necessarily skip lunch and stay late; it’s more about individuals who consistently choose to go beyond a task’s exact specifications. Also, keep an eye out for employees who refer to things as “ours” versus “mine.” This phrasing is an excellent indicator that they think about shared organizational goals, not just their own agenda. 

Employees who are ready for promotions demonstrate a consistent ability to take responsibility for themselves and their team even before they’re officially in charge.  

2. Solution-oriented employees may be ready for a promotion.

Leaders focus on solutions. When identifying employees who can handle positions of great responsibility, look for solution-oriented people. Employees who consistently approach you with problems without brainstorming solutions aren’t ready to be promoted.

While it’s OK – and even healthy – to share concerns, someone with leadership skills will begin the brainstorming process independently to identify a solution to the problem. 

In your performance management process, look for team members who bring and offer answers alongside questions or problems. They may not always have the right answers or solutions immediately, but it shows they’re willing to try to resolve issues without looking to others for all the answers. 

Did You Know?Did you know

According to LinkedIn, the most important consideration in a job offer is the employee compensation package.

3. Co-workers already respect promotable employees.

Promoting from within isn’t just about finding people your team likes. Instead, focus on people the team respects. Being respected and well-liked often goes hand in hand, but there are crucial differences between respect and popularity.

Respect is the foundation that makes collaboration and teamwork possible. Without the respect of employees, a leader won’t be able to foster teamwork or collaboration with other departments. 

Employees respect level-headed and professional peers who don’t shirk work and often go above and beyond.

4. Potential internal hires support others.

Good leaders help others grow and develop. Most successful leaders attribute some of their success in life to mentors and helpful managers who shaped their experiences along their career paths. 

Your excellent internal candidates are likely known for being helpful to others and are likely effective at developing talent within the organization. They take the time – and have the desire – to improve other employees’ performances through feedback and coaching. You can see this directly when the candidate proactively offers to help others or when other employees seek out this person for help and advice. 

Author Dan Schawbel partnered with American Express to poll more than 1,000 managers about which qualities they sought in internal candidates when considering a promotion. The study found that 86% of managers said teamwork skills and support were among the most important criteria. 

5. Promotable employees handle stress well.

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

A ZenBusiness survey found that nearly 25% of managers reported extreme stress and that 62% reported moderate stress due to maintaining a work-life balance, managing employee conflict, shouldering increased responsibilities and more. Even more challenging is that managers reported feeling the need to hide their stress and emotions. 

When assessing potential internal hires, look at how they handle conflict and stress, and consider how increased responsibilities would affect them. 

6. Promotable employees consistently overperform.

If an employee consistently exceeds challenging goals or benchmarks, it’s probably time for a promotion. High performers demonstrate that they’re ambitious, interested in the company’s success and have high standards for themselves.

If you don’t promote this high performer, they’ll likely grow dissatisfied with their current position and may start to look elsewhere for career advancement opportunities. 

Did You Know?Did you know

Research commissioned by cosmetics company L’Oreal found that up to half of employee engagement comes from being a good fit with a company’s culture.

Benefits of promoting from within

Promoting from within brings many benefits to an organization, including the following:

  • Cost savings: The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania found that external hires get paid nearly 20% more than internal employees for the same job but consistently get lower performance reviews. An Organization Science study also found that internal hires drastically outperformed external hires.  
  • Employee retention: Organizations experience higher employee retention and lower turnover when employees are engaged and happy, which promotions can foster. Outside hires may be fired more often because their personalities and abilities are largely unknown. Existing employees, however, have already demonstrated their skills, and upper management has had a chance to get to know them and their work habits and personality. 
  • Less onboarding time: In the hiring process, internal hires are already familiar with the company and its goals and mission, while new hires start from scratch. While you must train internal hires in their new responsibilities, the onboarding process is much quicker than with an external hire because you’ve already invested in your employees’ training.
  • Good fit with company culture: Existing employees have already figured out the company’s culture and its unwritten rules. They’ve carved their niche and are comfortable operating in this environment. They also are familiar with the other employees and managers and how everyone operates, so they’re much less likely to be a bad hire.
  • Employee morale: When employees see their peers getting promoted, it lets them know that the organization values its internal talent and that they have the opportunity to advance. This motivates them to work harder and take on more responsibility.
Did You Know?Did you know

Research shows that it’s twice as likely that employees will quit if they’ve been passed over for an internal promotion compared to those who were hired or didn’t apply.

When is it better to look externally for new hires?

When you have an open position, it’s always a good idea to consider your internal talent pool first. However, you may decide to recruit new employees when your company finds itself in need of the following.

  • Fresh ideas: It’s easy for employees to get into a rut. If you want to shake things up and fire up creativity, a new hire might bring a different perspective to the team.
  • New skills: You may be transitioning your company to advanced technology or a new way of operating. Outside hires may have experience and specialized training, helping jump-start your transition.
  • Decreased workload: Your company may be growing quicker than it can support, causing overwork and strain on existing employees. Hiring someone from outside the company can relieve some of the burden by adding another person to the mix.
  • Someone more qualified: Sometimes your company doesn’t have an employee with the necessary qualifications to do the job. Your current employees might not have the education, experience, skills or desire to fill your new position, leading you to recruit externally.

An internal candidate promotion won’t be suitable for every open position. However, an internal promotion is often an excellent opportunity for your business and employee. The key is to clearly identify the right candidates to set them up for success in their new roles.

Adam Toren contributed to the writing and research in this article.

Jennifer Dublino
Contributing Writer at
Jennifer Dublino is a prolific researcher, writer, and editor, specializing in topical, engaging, and informative content. She has written numerous e-books, slideshows, websites, landing pages, sales pages, email campaigns, blog posts, press releases and thought leadership articles. Topics include consumer financial services, home buying and finance, general business topics, health and wellness, neuroscience and neuromarketing, and B2B industrial products.
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