How to make an internal move up

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Gerry Crispin, a human resources consultant at CareerXroads who strategizes with firms including J.P. Morgan Chase and Merrill Lynch, says the rate is probably even higher in Europe, where there is more focus on retaining employees and a diminished external job-hopping culture.

It's not hard to see why companies often turn to insiders first. Crispin, a former board member of the Society for Human Resource Management, says, 'There's a recognition of the value of retaining knowledge and experience, and the employer is always going to get better references about an internal employee through access to performance ratings and prior supervisors.' Another incentive to hire from within? The recruitment fee is nil.

Where the jobs are

Many firms, including Deutsche Bank, Brown Brothers Harriman, Merrill Lynch and J.P. Morgan, post positions on an internal job board and consider their own employees first. But like most things in life, the process is rarely as simple as it seems.

Maggie Craddock, a portfolio-manager-turned-executive-coach and president of Workplace Relationships, Inc., works with senior executives at companies including Credit Suisse First Boston, Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch. She says, 'Applying online can be impersonal. Getting through the early rounds may depend more on your paper credentials than your personal value-add.'

Craddock advises the following strategies when making an internal move:

  • Asking a friend to put in a good word for you can help
  • List former supervisors and 'A'-list colleagues as internal references
  • Understand what your skills are and how they apply to ancillary departments
  • Learn how the job is performed at other companies, too, to show you understand the competition
  • Know what additional skills you need and where you're going to get them

This may also be the time to tip off your boss that you're looking. 'Very few companies allow internal candidates to be interviewed without the boss of the candidate being made aware of that,' Crispin says. 'If nothing else, it puts your current boss on notice to treat you really well.'

A final warning: senior positions usually aren't listed. Says Crispin, 'Most financial services firms of any size have a fairly detailed succession plan that goes down a number of levels, and people who are on that plan are usually told.' When a managing director level (or higher) position opens up, you want your name to be on that list.

Set yourself up to be tapped

The best way to find an internal job is to help it find you first. Kelly Mathieson, a managing director at J.P. Morgan Chase and president of the Financial Women's Association, says she never used the bank's job board to engineer her moves among four divisions (and multiple positions) during her 14 years at the bank.

Mathieson says, 'Establishing a network is the one key to knowledgeably figuring out career choices and tap into opportunities as they are forming.'

Become a magnet for opportunity-and a prime candidate for the succession list-by establishing a reputation as a valuable resource, a strategic thinker, problem solver and someone who gets things done.

Craddock says, 'Identify people you think are smart and using their brains in an interesting way, and find a way to build a relationship with these people. It's kind of like playing tennis with someone who is better than you.'

Cultivate original thinkers outside the company, too. They can help you become a 'thought-leader' inside your own beltway. To find them and extend your own network, look at who's speaking meaningfully in the press, and check out important professional organizations. In New York, these include the National Association of Securities Analysts (especially if your job involves research), the Securities Industry Association, and the Financial Women's Association.


When opportunity knocks, your current boss may be your biggest obstacle. 'You almost can't make it without your boss's sanction, because one department head isn't going to accept you if they're going to get into a political catfight,' Craddock says. 'You better have a good relationship with your immediate boss.'

Craddock recommends saying something like, 'I've really enjoyed working with you and it's been tremendously rewarding, but I think this opportunity is the right thing for me. Can you help me make it happen?' Your boss might resist your move because he or she values you (or a high departmental headcount).

Ask what you can offer as persuasion, then work with your new boss to barter a solution. It may be as simple as an extended notice period or your agreement to be 'on call' for questions. Mathieson at J.P. Morgan says she takes steps to lower resistance from a boss: 'I create a plan, transfer my responsibilities to someone who has been named my successor, and give both sides a chance to ramp up and ramp down.'

If all else fails, your HR department can remind your boss of his or her responsibility to develop leaders within the company.

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