What’s Keeping Employees From Applying for Internal Roles

More than 4 million workers quit their jobs every month in the United States alone. One reason is that people are increasingly re-examining what they want from their jobs and careers. In an October 2021 Gartner survey of 3,515 employees, 65% said the pandemic had caused them to rethink the role of work in their lives. For many employees, the result has meant leaving their employer for a new position elsewhere.

Unfortunately, most employees don’t think of their own organization when looking for a new opportunity. A Gartner survey of 3,000 candidates worldwide, conducted in May and June 2021, found that only 33% of employees who searched for a new opportunity in the past 12 months searched internally first.

Further analysis shows three main barriers that discourage employees from applying internally:


It may be easier to learn about opportunities with a competitor. Gartner analysis reveals that only 51% of candidates are aware of available internal job openings, which are often communicated informally. This “tapping on the shoulder” approach gives the advantage to employees with stronger social ties and can perpetuate DEI challenges.

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Even when employees are aware of a job opening, they may not believe they have access to it. The main obstacle is the perception that another employee is already favored for the position. Organizations and managers often prioritize opportunities for high potential talent. Among candidates who focused their search on outside jobs, 32% said they did so because it was easier to move their careers elsewhere.


Employees do not feel supported in pursuing internal roles by their managers, peers, or the organization as a whole. According to a study by Gartner, only 17% of employees believe that their manager facilitates the process of applying for internal vacancies, and only 20% feel supported by their peers and their team. Many employees find it easier to look outside, because they can avoid the awkwardness of expressing interest in changing jobs and the possible hint of dissatisfaction.

In other words, the internal labor market does not work fairly for everyone. Women are 55% more likely than men to say they were unaware of internal job openings, and women from underrepresented backgrounds are three times less likely to be formally identified as high potential.

So how can organizations do a better job of making their internal labor markets fairer? We have identified three strategies:

1. Democratize awareness through technology.

Organizations should start treating employees as potential external candidates. In-demand talent receives multiple notices every day from organizations trying to hire for open positions, but employers are not doing so with their current employees.

While internal job boards are a good start, progressive organizations are taking it a step further, guiding employee exploration with platforms that match people to jobs based on their skills. The best platforms can help employees create a development plan that prepares them for roles that interest them.

Internal job platforms should also allow employees to flag positions they are interested in, whether or not they are currently available. This can both prevent employees from missing opportunities and help HR managers determine the interest and quality of the internal pipeline for a particular role. Organizations can also use this knowledge to create information sessions or development opportunities related to roles of interest.

2. Open universal access to opportunities.

Leaders often assign ambitious projects to employees they see as having high potential, which in turn gives them greater opportunities in the company. But the reality is that many employees have high growth potential if given the right development and mentorship opportunities. And today, employees expect those opportunities—nearly 75% of candidates told us that growth opportunities are more important to them today than they were three years ago.

While most organizations have goal-setting processes to chart growth in role, progressive organizations strive to highlight employee aspirations beyond their current position or career path. They provide career coaches or mentors who work with employees to discover their interests, passions and motivations and explore career opportunities.

S&P Global, a leading provider of credit ratings, benchmarks and analysis in the capital, commodity and automotive markets, offers one-on-one professional coaching to all employees worldwide . These confidential and focused coaching sessions allow employees to explore their own strengths and interests with career opportunities across the company.

Employees connect with the company’s in-house career coaches during regular coaching sessions. Together, they explore the aspirations, motivations, priorities, values ​​of the employee and identify the steps to take personal responsibility. Over two years and 1,700 coachees later, results range from seeking internal opportunities, short-term assignments, relocation, promotions or external roles. Feedback was positive, with one coachee noting that “having a career coach provided me with a sounding board to raise ideas without judgment and talk about possible scenarios/pathways to explore.” S&P Global’s career coaching program, developed by Chief Purpose Officer Dimitra Manis, is a core part of its people-centric philosophy and one of the many ways the company helps employees forge their own career paths. career.

For employees, exploring a new career in their current organization may seem less risky than changing employers and roles at the same time.

3. Express mobility support.

Applying for an inside job can feel like cheating on a partner – employees may worry about betraying their manager and team in search of something better. This unease is compounded by policies that require employees to tell their superiors before applying. External jobs avoid this discomfort entirely.

This is why the support of managers, teams and the organization is so essential to internal mobility. In truth, many managers would rather lose their star employee in a different department than another company, but it can be difficult when emotions run high.

Managers should normalize conversations with employees about their next role, integrating discussions of potential career options into conversations about goal setting and performance. HR managers can facilitate this by laying out potential career paths for each role, including lateral moves with similar skill sets. These guides can help managers hone in on their employees’ interests and track potential openings. After presenting the options, managers should ask questions such as, “If you were to take on a different role in this company, what would it be and why?” Managers can also share the career paths other employees have taken and help expand their employees’ networks beyond the immediate team or department.

These conversations give managers time to prepare for an employee’s potential move – more time than with an external role change. And potentially, they can help employees feel more confident to stay where they are, if they feel supported and have opportunities for growth in their current role.

Employers should also consider relaxing notification requirements so employees can more freely explore opportunities. For example, policies can be adjusted so that employees don’t have to tell their manager until they reach the interview stage and know they’re being seriously considered for the position.

Today’s hiring challenges mean it’s time for organizations to take a hard look at the barriers that are driving employees away. These three strategies – democratizing awareness, expanding access to opportunity, and expressing support for mobility – will give forward-thinking organizations an edge by helping them fend off competitors and retain talented employees.

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