Internal Recruitment: No Longer Talent Acquisition’s Overlooked Stepchild

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Oct 26, 2021

Years ago, I was a senior editor at a newspaper in a market that had two professional basketball teams. One of the teams was famous and successful. The other team? Not so much. 

We had a guy covering the more famous team who decided to get out of the newspaper grind and go open a small pub in northern Scotland. Naturally, the veteran pro basketball reporter we had covering the less successful team in town believed he would be a great candidate to step up and start covering the more famous club. 

And why not? He was a skilled writer, a fine reporter, and knew the NBA backward and forward. His editors had worked to develop him for years and felt he was someone who could easily move into this new role. 

This was as close as newspapers got to succession planning back in those days, but promoting this guy would do something else — it would send a message to other staffers that there was a career track available for those who worked hard and paid their dues. 

Sadly, it was not meant to be. 

One of the most senior editors at the newspaper — and someone who knew very little about sports — decided that she wanted to hire someone else for the job. She recruited an inexperienced reporter from a national publication, paid her 50% more than our No. 2 guy was making, and gave her the coveted job of No. 1 basketball reporter covering our most famous and successful pro basketball team. 

That kind of stuff seemed to happen a lot in newspapers back then, and as you might imagine, the story didn’t end well. 

Less than a year later, the new basketball writer we had paid so much to get left for another job and another big bump in pay. And the No. 2 basketball writer who had been passed over left, as well. He lost all faith in the system when he didn’t get the job he had been groomed for, and the newspaper lost all institutional knowledge of our two professional basketball teams in one fell swoop. 

It also sent a message to everyone else in the newsroom: There is no real career track for people working here, and if you want a promotion, you probably need to go somewhere else because if a role does become open, we’ll probably go outside to fill it. 

So much for internal mobility, succession planning, and employee retention. 

How Much Do You Focus Employee Experience?  

However, there are hopeful signs that business leaders are finally getting serious about coaching, upskilling, and helping their employees gain visibility to potential career paths within their current organizations.  

You can blame “The Great Resignation” for some of that, because the increased focus on things like employee experience and internal talent mobility are driven, in part, by the notion that holding on to current employees is a lot easier than going out and finding new ones. 

Deloitte saw this coming way back in their 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Report, and they predicted that it would be necessary for organizations to focus a lot more on building their talent from within: 

“As we enter this new world of work, and as organizations globalize and compete aggressively for top talent, the importance of internal, enterprise-wide talent mobility has become paramount. Organizations can no longer expect to source and hire enough people with all the capabilities they need; they must move and develop people internally to be able to thrive.” 

Unfortunately, a great many businesses haven’t focused enough on their existing employee experience, because 55% of employees say that they are likely to look for a new job in the next 12 months. 

According to recent research by Fuel50, an AI talent marketplace technology company, it’s happening because half of employees believe it is easier to find a new job outside their organization than inside, and that’s despite the fact that over 75% of organizations say that they have strategic priorities to improve their internal talent mobility. 

Why is internal talent mobility — defined as the movement of employees across different roles within an organization — so terribly important? 

“It’s because the business benefits of internal recruitment and talent mobility are incredible,” states the Fuel50 report. “Internal hires cost half as much, take half the time to onboard, and are typically promoted faster. Plus, they have increased engagement and productivity and are far less likely to leave. On the other hand, external hires are 61% more likely to be fired, are paid up to 20% more, and take almost 2x longer to onboard. Not to mention, they cost well over 2x as much as internal hires to recruit.” 

But the research indicates that even though organizations know that more internal recruitment and talent mobility are big positives when it comes to existing employee experience, a great many companies simply aren’t doing much about this. 

Here are some examples, according to Fuel50’s findings: 

  • 40% of respondents said their organization lacks positions for employees to move into 
  • 37% said their organization lacks processes for managing internal mobility 
  • 26% said the culture of their organization does not support internal mobility
  • 25% said HR does not have visibility to their talent bench strength across the business  

Getting Serious About Employee Experience 

 In my experience, organizations spend a disproportionate number of resources on recruiting and hiring, and mostly pay lip service to improving talent retention through things like reskilling and upskilling, internal talent mobility, and improving the employee experience. 

That kind of thinking has been foolish and short-sighted in the past, but soon it will become terribly destructive because keeping employees will become more critical (and less costly) than beating the bushes to find new ones. 

A blog post from the onboarding company Click Boarding spelled it out perfectly: 

“As employers react to heightened employee demands, expectations and sensitivities like never before, it’s evident workers now have a stronger say in the matter. To navigate these troubling waters, the answer is clear: employers must increase their focus on employee satisfaction and well-being if they want to positively impact employee retention. 

It’s time to get onboard (pun intended) or face the consequences. If employers don’t recognize the trend and act now before it’s too late, they’ll watch their talent walk right out the door. In this critical time, the companies that retain top talent are the ones that will come out ahead…and succeed in the long term.” 

This will be terribly difficult for a great many organizations given the longstanding fixation on recruiting and hiring as the primary way to build a great workforce. That may have worked in the past, but it’s not something that will save you from the ravages of The Great Resignation moving ahead. 

Don’t get me wrong; external recruiting will continue to be an important way to fill the talent needs that organizations must fill to build for the future. But, investing more in the employees you already have and finding ways to build their careers and provide greater workforce and talent agility to meet internal needs will become much more important for those leaders who want to build a successful, sustainable business. 

I’ve heard leaders and senior managers talk about doing this for as long as I can remember, and in my experience, very little has come of it despite their continuing rhetoric. 

Things need to change, and maybe now is finally the time when they will walk the talk — before The Great Resignation eats them alive.