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Career Advice

How to Apply for an Internal Promotion

You like your organization, but you’re ready to try something new? Applying for an internal promotion is a great way to grow your career by gaining new responsibilities and skills.

Companies like to hire internally: it boosts engagement, lowers turnover, costs less than going to the job market, and almost ensures they get the right cultural fit for the role.

At the same time, internal promotions are competitive. You need a strategy even before you throw your hat in the ring.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through what it looks like to apply for an internal promotion, from talking to your manager to acing the interview.

What’s Difference Between Applying for an Internal Job vs. a New Job?

Are you ready to apply for your first promotion? You might wonder about the differences between applying for an internal job vs. an external job. Here are some of the nuances that make the process unique.

5 Steps to Applying for an Internal Promotion

The promotion is in your sights. All you need to do is apply. Follow these steps to initiate, manage, close out the process and build some strong relationships along the way.

1 - Identify Your ‘Why’

Before you aim for a promotion, you need a clear vision of your ‘why’. In other words, why do you want this promotion? And why now?

The answers to these questions are important firstly because it will help you determine whether the role is the right fit for you at this moment. But ‘why’ is the first question both your current manager and the hiring manager will ask you, so you need a good answer.

Most of us have a good idea of ‘why’. To elucidate it as part of your strategy, you can ask yourself questions like:

  • Is the role a natural progression from your current role?

  • Does it offer a challenge that you look forward to?

  • How do your current skills lend to the new role?

  • Does it fit into your career plan? Where?

  • How does the move help the business?

Another reason your ‘why’ is important is the impact of office politics. Whether your company’s office politics could inspire a whole new Ricky Gervais-sitcom or your team keeps it pretty low-key, you want to make sure you’re using your social and political capital strategically. 

Because at the end of the day, a promotion means your current manager and other team members are going to bat for you.

In other words, you want to avoid going for promotions that you won’t be a good fit for, because unlike an external role, you’ll take up time and effort from your current team.

2. Look at Your Company Handbook

With your motivation and strategy in hand, it’s time to figure out the ‘how’. In most cases, you’ll turn to your company handbook. Internal promotions are (hopefully) a regular occurrence at your company. Larger companies, especially multi-nationals, will have written rules for internal hiring and promotions; if you’re unsure, talk to HR.

For example, some companies require you to discuss an internal application with your current manager before you put feelers out, or you could be automatically disqualified from the new role. Other companies are less strict, but may still have some common cultural do’s and don’ts.

Following your company’s rules will simplify the application process, give you more confidence, and avoid losing out because of a technicality.

3. Talk to Your Current Boss

Telling your boss is, in some minds, the hardest part of going for an internal promotion. 

But it shouldn’t be. 

When their team gets promoted, it’s a win that reflects well on your boss. So in many cases, team leaders and managers can be a great ally — if they feel you’re the right fit for the new role.

Your first step is to make your intentions known to your manager. Here’s where your ‘why’ comes in: a keyed-in manager will want to know the answer to questions like: why this role? why right now?

If you can provide a strategic answer, you will be at least halfway to making your boss your ally.

Tip: Whether it’s this promotion or the next, a good manager will help you develop the skills you need to level up. Have conversations with them about what you need if you don’t already have a career development program in place. Even if you do have a structured plan, keep the lines of communication open. They might hear about roles before you do and can start preparing you to step into a new job before applications open.

4. Follow the Application Brief

It’s now time to apply for that promotion! Your next steps are likely unique to your organisation.

Some companies or roles will require you to apply as if you were an external candidate through the company’s hiring software. In other cases, you might simply hand over your updated CV to the hiring manager. You might find you’re at the mercy of company policy, or the process may be dictated by whether the hiring manager wants to hire internally or generate a wide pool of candidates from the job market.

Either way, be sure to follow the instructions provided to you. And as always, treat it with the same seriousness that you’d use to apply for an external job by crafting the perfect CV.

Update and Hand in a Promotion-Winning CV

You want a great resume to hand over for a promotion, just as you would an external job application. 

Your current resume shows why you’re great for your current role, so the next step is to write a resume that shows where you have been and where you want to go, based on your time at the company.

Other great CV tips to help you land an interview for a promotion include:

  • Tailor your CV to meet the role.

  • Use specific, concrete examples in your descriptions.

  • Add keywords in from the role description provided by the hiring manager.

  • Leverage your new UCD Professional Academy qualification to demonstrate your new skills and commitment to learning.

  • Include any related activities. For example, if you work in marketing and gained external experience with podcasts, add it to your CV.

Build a List of Internal and External References

As you update your CV, you should also make a priority to go out and grab a list of internal references. 

Your current manager will be a solid reference, but as you progress, you will interact with more stakeholders in the company. So, it’s good to demonstrate that you have strong relationships already. So, go out and ask collaborators, project managers, and your mentor for more references to help you stand out from the crowd.

Have you worked on other projects outside the office? Add volunteering, creative, or collaborative, references, here too!

5. Show off Your Progress During the Interview

HR and the hiring manager already know who you are. And with your current manager as an ally, you have a strong chance of winning that new role. However, you still need to pitch yourself as the right candidate. After all, you have grown and developed your skills (and maybe even your goals) since you first started your current job.

So, how do you succeed in your interview?

Here are some of our best internal interview tips:

Focus on the Big Picture

Start by researching the role and reading up on your field and your industry. As you progress up the company ladder, you take on more responsibility within and for the organization’s success. 

Demonstrating a deeper knowledge of the ‘big picture’ than you needed in your previous position is a great way to share your interest and commitment to the role.

Think About Your Goals and Your Timeline

The hiring manager is as concerned with why you want the promotion as what you’ll do if you get it. So, think about your goals for the next three, six, or twelve months.

What do you hope to achieve for yourself and the department? Tie your thoughts into the ‘big picture’ discussed earlier to demonstrate why your goals are both professional goals and how they could impact upcoming projects and the organisation.

Prepare to Discuss Your Wins...and Mistakes

Next, think back about your wins and losses. As important as it is to demonstrate how you’ve grown in your field and added value to the company, you should be equally prepared to discuss instances when you missed the mark. Whether it was a missed deadline, an admin mistake, or even a conflict, be prepared to talk about things that might make you uncomfortable.

How do you tackle criticism? Remember that the hiring manager isn’t looking to drudge up the past. They want to see how your past will reflect your future. So, take ownership of past mistakes; everyone makes them. Use your mistakes to show the hiring manager what you’ve learnt in the meantime and how you can avoid making similar mistakes in the future.

Highlight Very Specific Wins

One of the joys of an internal interview is the opportunity to be specific in ways you can’t be with a new organization.

You can better share specific projects, results, and figures, and the hiring manager will have more context for them.

Strategise with your current manager to find the right story to tell from your time at the company. Maybe you contributed to a project that changed the customer experience or had a real impact on the department or company’s bottom line. Find it and be prepared to pitch it!

Looking for more? Here are some great resources for promotion interview questions:

Remember, Not Getting the Job Isn’t the Worst Thing

Applying for an internal promotion can be more wrought than an external job, but it can equally be more rewarding. It’s important to remain professional throughout and let the hiring manager complete their work.

We hope that you get the job you prepared for, but that doesn’t always happen. And even when you don’t get the promotion, applying was still worthwhile. You had a chance to make an impression, build your reputation, and reiterate your career goals.

It may be hard to see in the first few hours, but being passed over for an opportunity can put you on your way to landing the next one.

What do you do next? Keep it professional. Go out and continue to be a good colleague, build your professional relationships, and get back to work on your career development plan.