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Your guide to everything internal recruiting

January 28, 2021
iCIMS Staff
9 min read
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What is internal recruiting?

Internal recruiting is the process of hiring someone from your existing workforce for a new or vacant position. An internal hiring process works – or should work – much as it does for external candidates. The real difference is that the organization looks inward for existing talent, rather than seeking new talent elsewhere.

Types of internal recruiting

There are a few main ways to advance (and keep) talent using internal talent mobility platforms within your organization.

  1. Internal promotions. Most organizations use an internal system to measure seniority. Some teams use numbers or letters. Others use more overt titles such as ‘assistant,’ ‘associate,’ or ‘specialist’ to denote rank (an assistant vice president of talent acquisition, for example).This type of promotion usually corresponds with a new salary range but is not necessarily a change in role. In the context of internal recruiting, a promotion is a significant upward change in responsibilities. Think of moving from an individual contributor to a management position.
  2. Transfers. These are most common with large companies that have multiple locations. A transfer typically results from a change in business needs or an employee’s personal desire to make a change. Transfers can sometimes mean promotions, but they don’t have to. For example, an employee in San Diego, CA may see a similar opening at the Tucson, AZ branch and decide to move.
  3. Reorganization. Businesses grow, change, and merge all the time, making reorganization a normal part of working life. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of change, often in unforeseen ways. For example, many event coordinators were shifted to other teams, while corporate leaders found themselves on manufacturing lines fighting to keep up with demand.
  4. Role changes. Sometimes internal recruiting doesn’t mean a promotion. Employees can be recruited laterally, retaining a similar level of authority but operating in a completely different role. This can be an effective strategy when an employee shows ability and interest outside their existing role.

Benefits of internal recruiting


Sourcing internally saves time and money

Sourcing internally can save a lot of time and money, especially if the role you’re filling is difficult to find external candidates for. Internal hires are already part of your team, so finding them doesn’t require tapping into your recruitment marketing budget.

Internal candidates may also express interest in a new role your organization is creating but isn’t ready to advertise just yet. Sharing new roles with your workforce first creates an opportunity to source early. You may even find candidates with related experience who can help shape the role, always an indicator of success.

Hiring internally boosts morale

Worried about losing a high performer? Sometimes people feel they’re no longer being challenged and are ready to try new things. Internal recruiting creates an opportunity to keep their knowledge and expertise within the organization, rather than losing it completely (perhaps to a competitor).

Recruiting internally can boost employee morale, not only for the individual, but for the organization as a whole. Employees want to know they have an opportunity to do meaningful work and advance when the time is right; internal promotions, transfers, and role changes all prove this possible and valued by leadership.

Less time spend onboarding

Internal recruiting also means the employee being recruited can bring their insider’s knowledge with them. There may be fewer barriers to getting that employee into a productive posture as they are already familiar with the business. It can also reduce the time a position remains unfilled, as internal hires can be vetted much faster.

Promote diversity and inclusion

Difficulty sourcing is one of the biggest obstacles to creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. It’s an uncomfortable truth that often gets overlooked. Talking about our willingness to embrace D&I, along with all the things we’re doing to make that happen – that’s the easy part. It’s much less easy to admit when those efforts don’t yield any new faces.

Alone, internal recruiting won’t make your workforce more diverse. But internal recruiting can make your organization more inclusive by providing employees new opportunities, skills, and experience needed to grow their careers.

Attract more external candidates

While internal recruitment is desirable, you still need a strong pipeline of external candidates. At a time when the majority of employees are considering new positions, one of the best ways to attract external talent is to give them a place to advance their careers. Organizations that actively promote internal mobility and share success stories are telling job seekers that they care about their employees and their long-term success. That’s a major advantage when it comes to differentiating yourself from other employers. 

The one drawback to internal recruiting (and why it may actually be a good thing)

We should talk about the elephant in the room: arithmetic. Basic principles of math suggest that when we fill an empty role with an internal hire, we still have an empty role to fill. This is perhaps the biggest drawback to internal recruiting, and the reason why it isn’t more popular. Essentially, you’re filling two roles instead of one.

That said, you can be reasonably sure your internal hire already knows the business inside and out. All else being equal, this gives him or her a leg up over an external candidate. Employees also grow and develop new skills, meaning someone you hired for an entry level position may be a great fit for something more advanced. Entry level positions are typically faster and cheaper to fill than something higher up the ladder.

How to recruit internally

Many of the same software applications you use for external recruitment can help to improve the effectiveness of internal recruitment.

  1. Set up an internal career page. Post career opportunities internally and ensure they are advertised to your entire workforce. Many organizations accomplish this with a dedicated internal career page.
  2. Create an opportunity marketplace. The difference between an internal career site and an opportunity marketplace is the latter helps engage employees proactively and inspire new possibilities. Say you work in sales but you’re ready for a change. You’re interested in software development, but that seems like a big jump. You know you’ll need to learn new skills, but how will you get them? The field looks interesting from the outside, but what if it’s not a good fit for you? An opportunity marketplace helps expose employees to new roles, training, and experiences that can help them figure out their next step – and how to get there.   
  3. Track skills and interests. Use your HR software and applicant tracking tools to keep track of your employees’ skills. You can also use these systems to identify viable internal candidates and even vet applicants. Integrate your talent acquisition system with your HCM so the information contained in candidate profiles follows them when they become employees.
  4. Keep employees informed about opportunities. Leverage your candidate relationship management (CRM) platform to communicate with employees open to the idea of moving internally. Organize talent pools as you would for external candidates, with emphasis on skills, job type, location, etc.
  5. Communicate using text. We’re long past the days when texting was seen as unprofessional. We all use it in our personal lives, and texting makes scheduling and following up with internal candidates easy and personal.

Want to learn more about successful internal recruitment strategies? Check out the Guide to Talent Mobility and Advancement.



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