Internal hiring makes sense, including when it comes to filling executive-level roles. One 2017 study found internal hiring to be six times more effective than all other sources of hiring, and its popularity may have increased during the pandemic, in particular. LinkedIn reported in October that, while hires overall were consistently down throughout the pandemic, the number of hires made internally remained stable.
If you’re hoping to be hired into an executive role at your current company, there are a few things you should be doing now to increase your odds, according to the career coaches and experts we heard from.
1. Activate your internal network of mentors and sponsors.
You’ll need advocates to make a leap like this, and those aren’t created overnight. Ideally, you’ve already been building strong relationships with leaders at your company who can serve as mentors and sponsors to you. When the time comes to make your bid for an open executive role, they’ll already be in your corner, explained Lisa DeAngelis, Ph.D., of DragonFly Coaching.
“Build relationships with internal sponsors. This involves identifying those senior executives who will be in the room where these (hiring) decisions are being made,” DeAngelis said. “Meeting with them regularly, sharing with them your career aspirations, seeking their counsel — and implementing their guidance — provides a strong foundation that makes it easier for them to advocate on your behalf.”
2. Make sure you’re thinking like a leader.
To prove you’re leadership material — not to mention a stronger choice over external candidates — you’ll need to demonstrate a deep understanding of your company’s goals. More than that, you should be knowledgeable about industry trends as a whole. Feel a need to brush up? Take part in whatever trainings and continued education your company offers, or consider taking the time to get an external certification.
As leadership coach Phyllis Sarkaria puts it, it’s about showing you “understand the key drivers of success in your organization.”
“Be able to articulate how the work you do and the skills you demonstrate contribute to the organization’s success,” she said. “Raise your hand to assist with projects that will have visibility to key decision makers. Listen for senior leaders’ pain points — the things that keep them up at night — and continue to solutions if you are able.”
3. Make sure you’re presenting like a leader.
How aware are you of your professional image? If it’s been a little while since you’ve realistically assessed your image, Harvard Business School professor Laura Morgan Roberts recommends doing the following temperature check:
“Ask yourself the question: What do I want my key constituents to say about me when I’m not in the room?” she told Harvard Business School Working Knowledge. “This description is your desired professional image. Likewise, you might ask yourself the question: What am I concerned that my key constituents might say about me when I’m not in the room? The answer to this question represents your undesired professional image.”
Not happy with the current state of your image? An easy way to start improving it is by taking more initiative, leadership coach Lauren LeMunyan said.
“Get involved and take intentional initiative,” she advised. “Volunteer for new and exciting projects. Take advantage of internal training. Seek out external learning and make sure you post your completion badges on LinkedIn with a tie back into why it matters to you — and with subtle notes of why it matters to your organization.”
4. Be transparent about what you want.
This starts by having a frank conversation with your direct manager; state your intentions, and ask them for any feedback they think you’ll need to ascend. To take things a step further, you could also try sitting down with the person you’d be reporting to should you get the new role, suggested Evan Tarver, CEO of Selling Signals.
“Speak with the manager of that position, likely the CEO, and discuss with them the skills and abilities needed to excel in the executive role,” Tarver said. “Then, work on mastering that skill set while making it clear that you desire the position and can help the business succeed by filling it. The key here is open and honest communication with the CEO or a similar manager as you pursue the lofty position.”
5. Get your pitch ready.
Even before you’re officially interviewing for the role, it’s good to have your pitch fine-tuned. That way, you’re presenting a consistent message when talking to everyone from your current manager to mentors and sponsors about what makes you the right fit for this position.
When formulating your pitch, Ray Luther, a career coach and executive director of the Partnership for Coaching Excellence and Personal Leadership at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, recommends asking yourself a few questions.
- “What does the organization need from the executive role, and how have I demonstrated those skills and capabilities in the work I’ve already done?”
“Your organization will most likely have ideas of the top priorities for this executive role before they post the job, and while you might have the leadership potential to fill it, you’ll also need to be prepared to share experiences that demonstrate some degree of existing competence,” Luther said.
- “What is it about the executive role that interests me, and how is that different from what interests me today?”
“Being an executive comes with a lot of great perks, but it also comes with more headaches and challenges,” he said. “How would you make the case that the challenge of leading the organization is where your interests lie, and that it’s beyond what you can do in your current role today? They’ll want to know that you’re internally motivated.”
- “What’s my vision for the organization, and how would sitting in the executive chair enable me to work on that vision?”
“Being an executive means leading the organization into the future, providing direction, and aligning multiple stakeholders to your vision for the future,” he said. “Put some thought against where you think the organization might need to go for its own growth and success. Outline how you’d learn more and what challenges you see for the firm in whatever market you compete.”