What Stops Employees from Applying for Internal Roles

More than 4 million workers are quitting their jobs each month in the US alone. One reason is that people are reexamining what they want out of their job and career. In an October 2021 Gartner survey of 3,515 employees, 65% reported that the pandemic has made them rethink the role of work in their lives. For many employees, the result has meant leaving their employers for a new role elsewhere.

Unfortunately, most employees don’t think of their own organizations when they’re looking for a new opportunity. A Gartner survey of 3,000 candidates globally, conducted in May and June 2021, found 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:

Awareness

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

Access

Even when employees are aware of a job opening, they may not believe they have access to it. The top barrier is the perception that another employee is already favored for the role. Organizations and managers often prioritize opportunities for high-potential talent. Of the candidates who focused their search on external jobs, 32% said they did so because it was easier to achieve career growth elsewhere.

Support

Employees don’t feel supported in pursuing internal roles by their managers, peers, or the organization as a whole. According to Gartner research, only 17% of employees feel their manager facilitates the process of applying for internal job openings, and only 20% feel supported by their peers and team. Many employees find it easier to look externally, because they can avoid the awkwardness of expressing their interest in changing jobs and the potential hint at dissatisfaction.

Simply put, the internal labor market does not work fairly for everyone. Women are 55% more likely than men to say they were not aware 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 more equitable? We’ve identified three strategies:

1. Democratize awareness through technology.

Organizations should start treating employees as they do potential external candidates. In-demand talent receive multiple notices every day from organizations trying to hire for open roles, yet employers don’t do this with their current employees.

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

Internal job platforms should also allow employees to signal which roles they are interested in, whether or not they’re available at the moment. This can both keep employees from missing opportunities and help HR leaders ascertain interest in and the quality of the internal pipeline for a particular role. Organizations can also use this knowledge to create informational sessions or development opportunities related to roles of interest.

2. Open universal access to opportunities.

Leaders often give stretch projects to employees they see as high potential, which in turn gives these employees greater opportunities in the company. But the reality is that many employees have high growth potential if given the right development opportunities and mentorship. And today, employees expect these 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 in-role growth, progressive organizations work to surface employees’ aspirations beyond their current position or job trajectory. They provide career coaches or mentors who work with employees to uncover their interests, passions, and motivations and explore career opportunities.

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

Employees connect with the company’s internal career coaches during regular coaching sessions. Together, they explore the employee’s aspirations, motivations, priorities, values, and identify steps to hold personal. Over two years and 1,700 coachees later, outcomes vary from finding internal opportunities, short-term stretch assignments, relocation, promotions, or external roles. Feedback has been positive, with one coachee highlighting that “having a career coach provided me a sounding board to raise ideas without judgment and talk through scenarios/possible paths forward to investigate.” S&P Global’s Career Coaching Program, developed by Chief Purpose Officer Dimitra Manis, is a critical part of its people-first philosophy and one of the many ways that the company helps employees to forge their own career paths.

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

3. Express support for mobility.

Applying for an internal job can feel like cheating on a partner — employees may be concerned they’re betraying their manager and team in search of something better. This discomfort is made worse by policies that force employees to tell managers before they apply. External jobs avoid this entirely discomfort.

This is why manager, team, and organizational support are so critical to internal mobility. In truth, many managers would rather lose their star employee to another department than another company, but it can be hard when emotions run high.

Managers should normalize conversations with employees about their next role, building discussions of potential career options into goal-setting and performance conversations. HR leaders can facilitate this by putting together potential career paths for each role, including lateral moves with similar skill sets. These guides can help managers narrow down their employees’ interests and track potential openings. After laying out the options, managers should ask questions like, “If you were to take a different role at this company, what would it be and why?” Managers also can share the career paths that 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 eventual move — more time than with an external role change. And potentially, they can help employees feel more confident in staying where they are, if they feel supported and have growth opportunities in their current role.

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

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

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