TestGorilla LogoTestGorilla Logo

Employee promotions: How talent assessments help strengthen the promotion process


Employee promotions are an effective way to retain top talent and send a motivating signal to employees that strong performance is recognized and rewarded.

But that’s if promotions are done fairly, transparently, and objectively.

A McKinsey report showed that 35% of employees voluntarily leave their jobs due to a lack of development and promotion opportunities.[1]

At a time when many industries face skills gaps, it’s more important than ever to recognize and retain your top team members, and avoid the consequences of a biased and unstructured promotion process.

This is where using talent assessments can have a transformational impact, bringing objectivity and data-driven decision-making into your promotion strategy.

In this article, we discuss the challenges of employee promotions and several ways you can use talent assessments to identify and retain your best employees while providing your teams with the fair and objective development pathway they deserve.

What are employee promotions?

Employee promotions take place when employers officially elevate an employee’s position, often with increased responsibilities, authority, and compensation to reflect their proven capabilities. 

Employee promotions are a strategic tool to recognize and advance the careers of top-performing team members.

There are four main types of employee promotions, and we’ve categorized them based on the level of benefits and career advancement each type offers. 

4 main types of employee promotion graphic

1. Vertical promotion

This moves the employee up the organizational hierarchy, so they’re elevated to a position with more authority, increased responsibilities, a more senior manager to report to, and usually a higher salary. 

For example, a developer is promoted to a “Team Lead” where they manage a team of developers and report to the head of department.

2. Horizontal promotion

An employee who excels in their current role stays in the same department but receives additional responsibilities and compensation to reflect their advanced skill set.

For instance, a senior developer is promoted to “Senior Java Developer.” This new role involves working on more complex Java-related assignments, training new developers, and being responsible for project outcomes.

3. Dry promotion

These reflect a new job title and/or responsibilities without a pay increase. 

Employers see them as a way to recognize employees' commitment and effort, especially if they’re motivated by a title change. These types of promotions tend to be less favored by employees.

4. Open and closed promotion

As the name suggests, open promotion allows all qualified employees within an organization to apply for the position, so it becomes an internal hiring process. 

On the other hand, closed promotion only considers a specific, informed group of employees within the company to apply.

The benefits of employee promotions

There are many far-reaching and interconnected benefits of employee promotions, but let’s take a look at the six most important ones for HR professionals and employers to consider.



1. Improved employee retention

When employees see a clear path for growth and development in an organization, they’re more likely to stay – leading to lower attrition and turnover rates.

2. Increased employee engagement, motivation, and productivity

When people see their own or their colleagues’ work recognized and rewarded, they feel motivated. As employees continue to develop and advance their seniority, they become more skilled and productive.

3. Enhanced employee loyalty and employer reputation

Promotions are a tool to strengthen company culture and make employees feel like their employer is invested in them. They also become advocates for your organization, helping you attract more top talent.

4. Skills development and knowledge transfer

Promotion of an employee exposes them to new challenges and opportunities that can stimulate their skills development. This strengthens capabilities across the company because promoted employees pass on skills through training and mentorship.

5. Cost savings in recruitment and training

Promoting existing employees into open positions is more streamlined and cost-effective than hiring new employees.

6. Stronger succession planning

Continually promoting talented employees into higher-level roles gradually strengthens your succession pipeline, so you have a pool of qualified people to fill key leadership roles.

Every human resources team wants to take advantage of these benefits – but what if your approach to employee promotion isn’t working

Let’s take a look at some common challenges associated with promotion processes and why that might be.

The difficulties with the employee promotion process

Unfortunately, traditional promotion processes and pathways come with major problems that impact employee morale, hiring efficiency, and productivity. 

These problems can often be traced back to a fundamental lack of structure, objectivity, and transparency between leaders and employees across the organization.

Lack of consistency and objectivity

Much like with hiring, traditional promotion processes are often driven by the subjective and qualitative judgments of managers rather than measurable performance criteria.

This reliance on subjectivity can lead to promotion decisions that are driven by unconscious bias and favoritism in the workplace rather than merit. 

Without objective promotion criteria based on performance, even well-intentioned managers struggle to identify and promote the best individual for the promotion. 

This is especially true for large teams where it’s impossible for decision-makers to work closely with all promotion candidates.

Talented employees may be overlooked in favor of people who’ve developed personal relationships with managers or simply spent more time working directly with the decision-making process. 

No transparency in decision-making

When employees are left in the dark about promotion opportunities and how promotion decisions are made, it’s a recipe for resentment and demotivation.

A survey into promotion criteria transparency showed that almost all candidates want employers to be upfront about promotion criteria, but only 39% had access to information about promotions.

Employees need to trust that there’s equal access to information and evaluation for promotion opportunities. 

Providing professional development opportunities

For employee promotions to be successful, you must invest in training to help employees prepare for future roles. 

Even if employers do provide training to support promotions, this training must be hyper-relevant to the competencies and scenarios an employee would face in a more senior position. 

Otherwise, you risk promoting unprepared people who then feel overwhelmed when they’re thrown into the deep end without adequate training.

This problem is exacerbated in industries experiencing skills gaps or going through rapid transformation, where the expected responsibilities for roles are constantly changing.

eLearning Industry’s State of Employee Experience 2023 report found that there’s a major disconnect between employees’ desire for continued training and the training they receive from employers, which is often outdated and not relevant to their desired roles.

Managing employee expectations

Promotions are highly sought-after and represent major milestones in your employees’ career development. 

These are delicate processes where any miscommunications around promotion criteria, responsibilities, eligibility, and remuneration can cause major problems, which, in turn, affect workplace morale and employee retention. 

Without clear documentation that’s accessible by everyone, promotion processes can become a point of contention rather than motivation.

These challenges emphasize the importance of a more objective and fair approach to promotions. 

This is where talent assessments can make your promotion practices more fair and meaningful for everyone involved.

How talent assessments help with promoting employees

Research from Deloitte shows how organizations are becoming increasingly aware of the pitfalls of traditional hiring and promotion practices that rely on subjective factors and leave room for bias and favoritism:

  • 80% of executives want hiring and promotion decisions to be grounded in skills rather than job history, tenure, and relationships

  • 75% agree that skills-based approaches help to democratize opportunity and access to promotions

Promoting employees through talent assessment pie chart

Skills-based hiring is the theoretical foundation, and talent assessments are the practical and scalable tool for implementing this framework in employee promotion processes. 

Here’s how:

  • Data-driven decision-making: Talent assessments replace subjective judgments with measurable performance data, providing decision-makers with objective metrics to identify the best candidate for promotion.

  • Fairness and bias reduction: Talent assessments enforce standardized criteria, reducing room for personal preferences in promotion decisions. This ensures promotions are based on merit rather than personal connections.

  • Emotional intelligence and cultural alignment evaluation: Talent assessments effectively identify and evaluate future leaders based on soft factors like emotional intelligence and cultural alignment.

  • Facilitating talent sharing: By evaluating measurable skills relevant to the role, talent assessments enable HR teams to broaden the pool of promotion candidates beyond departmental constraints. This fosters the development of versatile teams and addresses skills gaps.

Let’s dive deeper into how talent assessments can be implemented throughout the promotion process.

7 ways to use talent assessments to improve your employee promotions process

Talent assessments give you much more insight than simply a test score. 

You can use these assessments to evaluate a multitude of competencies, from hard skills to soft skills, helping you build a 360-degree evaluation of your employees to identify the best fit for the promotion:



1. Use talent assessments to identify potential candidates for promotion

Implement professional development plans (PDPs) that include skills tests alongside self-assessments and manager assessments to keep track of employee development and recognize if they qualify for a promotion.

2. Assess personality and culture because they’re essential promotion factors

Use personality tests to evaluate whether promotion candidates’ personalities align with the demands of the new role, leadership competencies, and your culture.

3. Monitor test scores to spot high-performing employees

Use talent assessments like skills-gap analyses, DISC tests for managerial roles, and skills assessments during performance evaluations to recognize top performers and be prepared for future promotions.

4. Remove bias from the employee promotion process

Implement standardized talent assessments. Try to anonymize candidate data to ensure evaluation is as objective as possible.

5. Set up an internal mobility program

Convince stakeholders, build a task force, and create an internal talent marketplace.

6. Implement a continuous development plan

Help the promoted employees stay relevant and those aspiring for promotions by providing appropriate upskilling resources.

7. Leverage data analytics

Use data to predict where its best candidates are headed based on how previously promoted employees performed.

Here’s how to use these metrics to optimize the promotion process:

1. Use talent assessments to gauge if employees are ready for growth

The first step in a successful promotion process is to establish a method of determining whether a given employee is actually ready for growth, or if they need a bit more time before they’re fully primed.

Promoting an employee who is not quite ready for the move ends up being unproductive for both them and you: They end up more stressed with new responsibilities they aren’t ready for, and your team’s productivity flounders as a result.

Talent assessments play an important role here because they give you hard data about the skills a certain position requires and the skills your employee possesses. This enables you to easily compare the two side by side and determine if an employee is ready to be promoted.

One example is to use leadership assessments to determine whether an employee is ready to move into a more management-focused role.

But suppose you’ve got a long-standing employee who is eager to move up, but your talent assessments are telling you that they aren’t quite ready. 

This doesn’t mean that you should disregard this employee for promotion entirely; instead, this is a good chance to put your employee training and development strategies to work to help your valued employee reach their goal.

You can develop a professional development plan to help this employee develop the necessary skills for promotion. 

For example, if the employee is looking to move into management but comes up short in leadership skills, you can work together to build a leadership development plan to help them advance. 

2. Assess personality and culture because they’re essential promotion factors

Technical skills are just one criterion when assessing a candidate for promotions – intangibles, such as an employee’s personality and culture add, play an equally large role.

And talent assessments can gauge these factors, too. The Big 5 (OCEAN) assessment, for instance, evaluates many key personality traits that you want to consider when eyeballing employees for promotion.

One trait that the Big 5 test evaluates is neuroticism – that is, how much an employee’s emotions affect their work. This can also tell you how well they handle high-stress situations. 

If the Big 5 test tells you an employee in line for promotion has a high neuroticism score, it tells you one of two things:

  1. You may want to guide them toward a more low-stress role for their promotion

  2. You may need to work with them on their ability to handle high-stress situations before promotion

Similarly, to find the most successful candidates for promotion, you should evaluate them for culture add. This refers not only to how well they match with your company culture, but also any new ideas they bring to it.

Innovation is the key to any organization’s success, and the Culture Add test enables you to spot those innovators hiding with your team who you may have otherwise overlooked. 

You can then use this data to inform your internal recruitment efforts to boost these employees to higher positions where they can have more impact.

3. Monitor test scores to spot high-performing employees

Your top performers are an asset to your organization because they’re up to 400% more productive than average performers. 

You need to recognize and reward the work of these high-performing employees before they lose their motivation to give their best to the job. 

Use talent assessments to monitor employees’ test scores and performance over time and across different domains. The three most important times to assess your employees' skills are:

  1. During new employee onboarding

  2. At regular performance evaluations

  3. When conducting a skills gap analysis

Distributing talent assessments to your workers at varied times gives you a much more thorough picture of their skills and their trajectory, which helps you make more informed promotions.

For example, when onboarding a new hire, you might notice that they possess a stellar skill set, so it would be wise to mark them as a candidate for promotion and start building a development plan for them immediately.

Or maybe over the course of performance evaluations and skills gap analyses, you’ve noticed one employee whose skills have been regularly improving the entire time they’ve been with you, letting you know to target them for a promotion to reward their hard work and dedication. 

4. Remove bias from the employee promotion process

There’s often a lot of politics surrounding the promotion process in a company.

Compared to new hires, candidates for promotion are people you already know and have often worked with personally. This means that bias in hiring can creep in.

However, letting bias affect your promotion decisions can easily lead to stellar candidates being overlooked or people being promoted who aren’t ready for the new position. 

This subjective slant can easily be combated with talent assessments, which judge candidates through the objective lens of hard data rather than how much everyone in the company likes them.

Removing this filter also bolsters your diversity hiring efforts by gauging candidates not by how well they fit an established mold but by how well they can do the job.

5. Set up a formal internal mobility program for internal and cross-department promotions

A company-wide program facilitating internal mobility is key to a healthy promotion process.

Such a program broadcasts all promotion opportunities to every employee, making for a fair and transparent process. It also encourages cross-pollination between teams: Employees can apply for promotions not only within their own team but in others, as well. 

This crossover further increases innovation among your workforce.

Consider setting up an internal talent marketplace to serve this purpose. This kind of marketplace lets employees easily browse through all open roles within the company and enables the employer to search through employee profiles.

Use talent assessments in conjunction with this marketplace to make clear the skills necessary for a given position, too. 

For example, if you’re hiring for a software engineer, assess the employees currently in that role to see what skills are necessary for success – such as what coding language they need to know – and then select internal candidates with the right skill set.

6. Implement a continuous development plan based on assessment results

One of the best traits of a high-performing and dedicated employee is the urge to upskill and grow constantly. Even if an employee who applied for a position doesn’t land a promotion, it doesn’t mean they don’t have future potential. 

Perhaps they were outperformed by another candidate with the exact skillset that the role demands. The candidate who wasn’t chosen can still shine with the right nurturing.

Be clear with these candidates about where exactly they fell short, so they know what they need to work toward in the future. 

It’s common for workers to feel resentment if they didn’t get a promotion they thought they deserved, and this level of transparency lets them know why it occurred, keeping them motivated to grow further.

7. Leverage data analytics to predict and enhance employee performance

There’s tons of candidate data from every promotion or hiring drive you conduct. 

It’s time to put that data into use to make unbiased, evidence-based, quick decisions in promotions. 

A data driven recruitment process more accurately predicts future performance and leadership potential by analyzing patterns, trends, and correlations in the assessment data. 

Look at the data you have from previously promoted employees and see what worked and what didn’t. 

Were there certain personality traits that successful promotions all had in common, for example? Did promoted employees from one team or department regularly perform better in their new roles?

Juniper Networks, a networking cybersecurity firm, uses talent acquisition analytics to predict where its best candidates are headed in the long run. They use this data to build development plans to help its employees progress effectively along their desired paths.

Beyond talent assessments: 4 best practices to remember for employee promotions

Besides talent assessments, there are a few other factors to consider when creating an effective promotion process. 

The four best practices we discuss below focus on making your promotion process more fair so candidates enjoy it and dedicate themselves to their career growth, regardless of whether or not they’re selected in the current round of promotions. 

4 best practices to remember for employee promotions graphic

1. Encourage promotion transparency

Around 49% of candidates declined a job offer due to poor interview experience with the company. 

That shows how critical the candidate experience is if you want to hire the best talents in today’s candidate market. 

When filling up a position internally, create a promotion policy and maintain promotion transparency throughout the process: 

  • Start by outlining the end-to-end promotion process so they know what to expect next 

  • Offer personalized feedback at various stages of the process – i.e., on their talent assessment – and emphasize the areas that need improvement.

  • Be upfront about your expectations from them – the skills, traits, and personality required for the job.

  • Provide a roadmap that explains how to progress from one role to another. This helps employees form their own paths and spot opportunities along the way.

  • Welcome opinions and feedback from your candidates and encourage them to speak their minds about the promotion process. 

  • Communicate each and every outcome from the process and do not keep applicants in the dark.

2. Incorporate multi-rater feedback and listen to your people

Traditionally, feedback is seen as a manager-led process, where the managers give feedback to their subordinates and shine a light on areas that need development. 

However, this approach is only one-sided. There could be biases associated with their decision, or perhaps the manager failed to consider all the parameters to gather feedback. 

This is where multi-rater feedback enters to provide a well-rounded perspective of your employee’s performance. It’s based on data and feedback from multiple channels, giving you a more thorough and detailed picture of a candidate up for promotion. 

Multi-rater feedback includes:

  • An employee’s self-assessment

  • Feedback from peers

  • Feedback from supervisors, team leads, and managers

  • Customer feedback

  • Direct reports from subordinates

3. Set up a mentorship program

When you create a culture of learning and upskilling, you build a nurturing work environment where employees learn from each other rather than envying their success. 

Mentoring your motivated employees is crucial if you want to support employees from all backgrounds in their professional journeys. 

It not only helps you nurture budding talents but also increases workplace diversity

Here’s how to create your mentorship program:

  • Pair promoted employees with experienced ones who can guide and support them in their new roles

  • Set up peer-to-peer mentoring where colleagues can support their peers in the area they excel at and, similarly, receive mentoring from them

  • Establish clear goals and guidelines for mentors and mentees – make sure only to include employees interested in the program

  • Use talent assessments to identify what each participant from your mentoring program can offer

  • Match mentors and mentees based on their shared interests, skill gaps, and career goals

  • Provide mentors with training and resources to help them coach and develop their mentees

  • Facilitate regular meetings and interactions between mentors and mentees and monitor their progress and outcome

4. Make promotions an approachable discussion with set career growth opportunities

Asking for a promotion can be an awkward and draining process. There’s always an air of anxiety around promotions – what if the employer says no, or worse, dismisses the topic without giving much clarification?

That’s where you need to step in and normalize the conversations around promotions. 

Here’s how:

  • Help your employees set clear and realistic career paths

  • Conduct regular performance reviews and career conversations with each employee to discuss their goals, aspirations, and expectations

  • Provide access to learning and development opportunities that can help them prepare for promotion 

  • Provide them with a realistic timeline of a promotion process so they know at what stage they are currently

Make your employee promotion process more consistent and objective using talent assessments

Talent assessments are the key to objectively evaluating a candidate for promotion. 

They help employees self-reflect on their current skills and identify their weak points, and enable employers to reduce the time-to-hire and simplify the selection process.

TestGorilla’s test library is the perfect resource to find a variety of tests to assess your candidates in all the major aspects that determine a successful promotion – hard skills, soft skills, and personality traits.

For example, use the Design Thinking test when promoting for a customer experience position to evaluate a candidate’s creativity and innovation.

Next, learn more about how to set up a solid internal promotion process to help your employees grow within your organization.


  1. De Smet, Aaron, et al. (March 9, 2022). "Gone for now, or gone for good? How to play the new talent game and win back workers". McKinsey & Company. Retrieved November 5, 2023. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/gone-for-now-or-gone-for-good-how-to-play-the-new-talent-game-and-win-back-workers 


Hire the best candidates with TestGorilla

Create pre-employment assessments in minutes to screen candidates, save time, and hire the best talent.

The best advice in pre-employment testing, in your inbox.

No spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

TestGorilla Logo

Hire the best. No bias. No stress.

Our screening tests identify the best candidates and make your hiring decisions faster, easier, and bias-free.

Free resources

Anti-cheating checklist

This checklist covers key features you should look for when choosing a skills testing platform

Onboarding checklist

This resource will help you develop an onboarding checklist for new hires.

How to find candidates with strong attention to detail

How to assess your candidates' attention to detail.

How to get HR certified

Learn how to get human resources certified through HRCI or SHRM.

Improve quality of hire

Learn how you can improve the level of talent at your company.

Case study
Case study: How CapitalT reduces hiring bias

Learn how CapitalT reduced hiring bias with online skills assessments.

Resume screening guide

Learn how to make the resume process more efficient and more effective.

Recruiting metrics
Important recruitment metrics

Improve your hiring strategy with these 7 critical recruitment metrics.

Case study
Case study: How Sukhi reduces shortlisting time

Learn how Sukhi decreased time spent reviewing resumes by 83%!

12 pre-employment testing hacks

Hire more efficiently with these hacks that 99% of recruiters aren't using.

The benefits of diversity

Make a business case for diversity and inclusion initiatives with this data.