External Hiring vs. Internal Promotion

Upskilling and promoting existing employees—instead of hiring externally—can improve morale and increase retention of high-performing staff.

How does being passed over for a promotion or desired lateral move affect an employee’s morale? And the morale of other employees who saw it happen?

There are advantages to hiring externally, according to an article by the Editorial Team at Indeed. The advantages cited in this piece include the opportunity to bring new skills to the company, providing an opportunity for the company to grow, better management of employee workload, and the development of a larger talent pool.

But to my mind, another way—perhaps a better way—to bring new skills to a company is to upskill and promote your existing employees. Doing so gives you a chance to provide career progression and expansion opportunities that encourage high-performing staff to stick with your organization for many years.

Grow from Within

The advantage of an external hire enabling a company to grow can equally be an advantage of internal promotions. The difference is you are promoting from within for the new or higher-level, usually more advantageous job role, and hiring a new employee for the lower-level, often less exciting role.

When you grow by hiring at a lower level, rather than from a more senior position, you are implementing a culture that prioritizes employee learning and development. You are endorsing the idea that you want to help your employees learn and grow in their positions, so that when new opportunities arise, you can slot them into those roles.

You are providing proof that your learning and development and training programs really work. They work well enough that you can identify an employee with high potential, and then give that employee the resources they need to move into a higher-level role, or one that is more desirable to them.

Hire to Free an Employee for Promotion

Likewise, in terms of management workload, hiring a lower-level person or a person with fewer existing skills to handle the work the promoted employee used to do will free the promoted employee to engage fully in their new role. They mastered the skills of their old job, and now are ready to move onto something new with hopefully higher pay and greater opportunities for advancement. Meanwhile, you are bringing in new talent to develop, and in a few years’ time, perhaps do the same for that person that you did for the one you currently are promoting.

Expand Your Talent by Developing Your Existing Talent

The last advantage cited by the Indeed article related to external hiring is the chance to enlarge your talent pool. You are equally enlarging your talent pool by hiring people with raw talent for lower-level positions as you are when you hiring a person who is already at a senior level. You also are enlarging your talent pool by developing the talents of a high-performing employee, so they can be promoted.

Negative Impact on Employee Morale When Hiring Externally

It is worth considering that internal promotions sometimes can be even more advantageous because they safeguard and elevate employee morale.

When a high-performing employee who consistently receives positive feedback is passed over for a promotion, a sense of futility is generated. That feeling is felt not just by the passed-over employee, but by all their colleagues, who see what happened and think: “Why should I bother trying my hardest and giving it my all, if I have no chance of career progression at this company, if the growth opportunities are going to go to new employees?”

Been There, Done That

I know firsthand the effect of being passed over in favor of hiring an external employee. Early in my career, I was a high-performing entry-level employee, who even received an award for doing such a great job. Within a year’s time, I was given expanded responsibilities. At around the two-year mark, an additional writer needed to be hired. Instead of moving up the mid-level writer, who was ahead of me, and then moving me up to the mid-level role, my then-boss decided to hire someone who was already a senior writer.

More than 10 years later, I was an upper mid-level/lower-senior-level employee at another company. A position at my same level opened at a sister publication, where I wanted to work. Now, I thought, it’s finally my turn to be the beneficiary of an internal move. Instead, the hiring manager decided to turn the job role into an entry-level position!

Fast-forward five years after that, and the more senior position above me at the same publication I was working at opened following the retirement of my boss. I learned the company was primed to offer that position to an outside candidate (albeit one who previously worked for our company). I was smart enough to let them know I would reevaluate the future of my career at the company if I were passed over. They didn’t want to lose me, so they finally gave me a promotion.

Are there high-performing employees at your company with a history of getting passed over, who are only given a promotion after threatening to leave? A company with a strong learning and development program and culture should never have employees who must give an ultimatum to progress.

Do you prioritize internal promotion at your company? If so, what programs and resources do you use to ensure you are able to promote from within most of the time?