The ultimate guide to internal mobility for HR professionals

The ultimate guide to internal mobility for HR professionals
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Internal recruiting is one of the most effective ways to fill open roles. It’s not rocket science, either: The candidate is already part of your company, which means they should have key institutional knowledge and add to your company culture

You might think that hiring managers would be all over this, but in 2019, only 6% of organizations believed they were excellent at internal mobility.[1]

If you feel like you don’t know the first thing about internal mobility, don’t worry.

By the end of this post, you’ll know what internal mobility looks like, be able to make a case to leadership about why you need it in your business, and have a solid plan for executing it. We’ve even thrown in some examples from our own experience. 

Let’s get started.

What is internal mobility?

Internal mobility refers to when employees move to different roles within an organization. These moves might be vertical (for example, a promotion) or lateral, with employees being moved into other teams either for their own career development or as part of a larger restructuring plan.

HR has an important role in facilitating internal mobility through learning and development initiatives. A LinkedIn study found that more than a third of learning and development professionals globally were engaging in tasks including:

  • Identifying skills gaps

  • Building internal mobility tools

  • Identifying skills adjacencies

The types of internal mobility opportunities

There are many different types of internal mobility opportunities. We’ve covered a couple above in our definition, but here’s a quick primer on the most common types of internal mobility and what they each mean:

The 7 types of internal mobility opportunities
  • Upward mobility: The employee moves up in terms of responsibility and compensation

  • Role-to-role or lateral mobility: This is when employees move sideways, usually within their own teams, with little or no change to their seniority or salary

  • New positions: Employees move into a newly created role that is on the same level as their current one in terms of responsibility and salary

  • Transfers: Employees keep the same role but move to a new location, whether temporarily or permanently

  • Redeployment: We have a full guide on this topic, but in short, redeployment is when an employee begins a new career within your business, whether as part of a career pivot or restructuring

  • Temporary: This kind of mobility refers to any short-term change to an employee’s role, whether as part of a rotational program, a job swap, or role shadowing

  • Project-based mobility: This type of mobility provides an opportunity for employees to expand their skills and experience outside of their usual roles by joining cross-functional teams for specific projects

5 benefits of internal mobility

Building an internal mobility program takes time and effort, but this hard work pays dividends for internal culture and external recruiting. Here are five benefits of internal mobility.

1. Helps you map your talent pool

The process of facilitating internal mobility within your company gives you a better understanding of the talent available in your current workforce by helping you build a comprehensive talent map.

Believe it or not, it also helps you expand your talent pool by opening up opportunities to top talent in your organization who are perhaps underutilized in their current roles and can bring their valuable institutional knowledge into another area of the business.

2. Ensures your company know-how and processes remain in-house

Retaining institutional knowledge is a key aspect of organizational health – and a neglected one. Panopto found that 60% of employees note having some level of difficulty in getting the information they need to do their jobs, causing massive productivity losses for businesses annually:

Organization size

1,000 employees

Day-to-day inefficiencies


Onboarding inefficiencies

+ $253,000

Total annual productivity loss


Example of annual productivity loss due to inefficient knowledge sharing. Source Panopto

3. Improves employee retention

Offering ample opportunity for growth and change will help increase employee engagement and retention rates.

It’s been proven: A study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that employees who were promoted within three years were 70% more likely to stay on board, and those who made lateral moves had a 62% chance of staying.

By contrast, those who didn’t get a promotion or make a lateral move had only a 45% chance of remaining at the company long term.

Remember the LinkedIn study we talked about earlier? It also found that employees who move into new jobs internally are more than three times as likely to be engaged than those who stay in their current roles.

4. Cheaper and faster than external hiring

We all know that filling roles can be expensive and time-consuming. Another SHRM study found that when looking for external candidates, the average cost per hire in the US is nearly $4,700. Though you’ll see a variety of estimates for the average time-to-hire, SHRM estimates it’s around 36 days.[2]

Internal mobility shortens ramp-up periods because you choose from a smaller pool of pre-vetted candidates based on the transferable skills they can bring to the role. That means less time and money spent on advertising and interviewing brand-new candidates. Not only that, but you’ll also be saving time on onboarding.

5. Can be used as a recruitment tool

The number one reason people leave their jobs is a lack of learning and development opportunities. Internal mobility helps you retain your current employees and attract new ones whom their current employer isn’t nurturing.

That’s why it’s a great thing to advertise when promoting your employer brand as part of your social media recruiting strategy.

How to build an internal mobility program

Now you know what internal mobility is and why fostering it in your company is important. But how can you get it up and running? Here are our seven tips.

7 tips for building an internal mobility program: summary table

Short on time? Here’s the abridged version.

Tip for how to build an internal mobility program

Example action

Get buy-in from the top

Present the five benefits of internal mobility as laid out above to your executive team

Put together an internal mobility task force

Include professionals from each team or department to get a full overview of the skills in the business

Build an internal talent marketplace

Use skills testing to log the skills you have in your organization

Educate managers and coaches about internal mobility

Train managers to take a skills-based approach when assigning employees to specific projects

Offer your employees a wealth of upskilling and cross-skilling opportunities

Give each employee a personal learning and development budget

When a job opportunity arises, look at your internal talent marketplace first

Do a skills search for the core skills needed, and cross-check it with your task force’s knowledge of their team’s development goals

Only head to the external market once you’re sure you don’t have the skills internally

Approach all candidates for internal hires before spending money on external hiring

7 tips for building an internal mobility programme

1. Get buy-in from the top

Promoting internal mobility in your company isn’t a to-do list you can get through in a week. It’s a long-term investment that requires some big changes in thinking, namely the following: 

  • Replacing talent hoarding (teams that guard their most talented members from other departments) with talent sharing

  • Investing in developing careers and not just getting the most efficient performance out of each role

  • Replacing the focus on experience with a focus on skills

To do this, you’ll have to convince the head of your HR team and all of your senior leadership. (Hint: Show them the “benefits” section we’ve laid out above!)

They can then role model openness to internal mobility in the day-to-day running of the business, for example, by:

  • Bringing attention to successful examples of internal mobility or collaboration in all-company meetings

  • Creating cross-functional teams to tackle new projects

  • Implementing recognition programs that reward employees for development

2. Put together an internal mobility task force

So, you’ve secured approval from your executive team. Now what?

Now you need a team that can execute these plans. The good news is that it doesn’t just have to be just you or your HR team. You should set up an internal mobility task force to keep an eye out for development opportunities among your employees.

Who should be on your internal task force?

Possible team member

What they’re bringing to the team

Head of people

A vision of the organization’s overall goals when it comes to hiring and culture; Strategic control of internal mobility initiatives; Influence with the rest of the senior management team

Learning and development manager

Knowledge of the available learning and development resources and initiatives; The ability to turn higher-level strategies into action

Line managers

Direct contact with employees who might seek out new career paths within the company; Day-to-day knowledge of the skills gaps and opportunities within their teams

3. Build an internal talent marketplace

You’ve got the go-ahead from executives and the team to make it happen – now you need the tools to make your internal mobility strategy successful.

An internal talent marketplace is HR software that enables employees to input their skills and find new roles, projects, or volunteering opportunities within their organization that they’d be a good fit for.

The best way to make sure this database is accurate is by assessing your employees’ skills with skills testing. Not only can a great internal talent marketplace show you candidates who have the potential for promotion or redeployment, but it can also:

  • Show employees potential career paths to explore

  • Reveal relevant learning and development opportunities

  • Identify skills gaps

That last point is especially important. According to McKinsey & Company, 87% of companies either already have a skills gap or expect to in the next few years. 

A skills-gap analysis can enable you to identify where you’re falling short. Your internal talent marketplace can then help you identify numerous solutions.

When skills gaps are expected to occur within organisations. Source McKinsey & Company

4. Educate managers and coaches about internal mobility 

We’ve already mentioned the talent-hoarding mentality that stops internal mobility in its tracks at most companies. We’re not exaggerating: 75% of executives believe different business functions are competing instead of collaborating in their organizations.

You’ll have broken this down at the executive level in step one. Now it’s time to do this in the rest of your organization.

Educate your managers on how to take a skills-based approach to projects rather than simply assigning people with the closest experience to the task at hand. Encourage them to use your internal talent marketplace to identify the employees in other areas of the business who could help them if they don’t have the skills they need in their team.

5. Offer your employees a wealth of upskilling and cross-skilling opportunities

In addition to ensuring your managers and coaches are well versed in your organization’s approach to internal mobility, you also need to make sure employees know about the opportunities available to them.

If possible, you should assign each employee a learning and development budget to empower them to follow their interests and ambitions by upskilling in new areas**.** (Hint: Your internal talent marketplace software can help you make these opportunities accessible too.)

Temporary moves like shadowing and mentorships can also fit into this category. For instance, a salesperson can build customer success skills through mentoring and spending a week with the customer success team. They can then make the move once an internal opportunity opens up.

6. When a job opportunity arises, look at your internal talent marketplace first to view your in-house options

So far, you’ve:

  • Gained support from leadership and created institutional support for internal mobility 

  • Implemented a tool to help identify talent gaps and opportunities for internal mobility 

  • Made your employees aware of the resources available to them for development

You have now laid the groundwork to reap one of the big benefits we talked about above: hiring internally when new roles open up.

This is a shortcut to a skills-based hiring approach since your internal talent marketplace will show you all the skills matches and adjacencies available, not just the limited few with the right words on their CV.

You might be wondering whether hiring internally before advertising externally is legal. The answer is yes, but you still need to be careful.

Although there is no legal requirement in the US for employers to advertise a role either internally or externally before appointing an internal candidate, you may have a hiring policy that requires you to do so.

In most businesses, this is to protect you from discrimination lawsuits if you are accused of having unfair bias in your hiring methods.

The good news is that when applied correctly, skills-based internal mobility initiatives circumvent bias in the hiring process by:

  • Showing you all the employees whose skills match the needs of the role – not just those whom you see in the office every day or who first come to mind when you see the job description

  • Giving equal opportunity to everyone in the company to be surfaced during the hiring process

  • Enabling you to anonymize the data

It also means that you get to benefit from our next point.

7. Only head to the external market once you’re sure you don’t have the skills internally

Save yourself and your business the time, money, and hard work of recruiting an external candidate by hiring internally when possible. 

This creates a positive environment at work because colleagues will see each other developing, investing in their unique growth, and not being compelled to follow a simple linear career path.

It also means you’re not forced to bring someone on board unless they are a perfect fit for the role and add to your culture.

4 internal mobility best practices

Those are the seven steps to getting an internal mobility program up and running. But once that’s done, what internal mobility best practices should you follow? Here are our top four.


In a rush? Here’s the short version.

Internal mobility best practice

Example action

Use your internal mobility program to share expertise across the organization

Use it to advertise learning and development opportunities, such as seminars

Use the right HR technology

Embrace applicant tracking systems and job aggregator tools

Internal mobility doesn’t mean just promoting your inner circle

Set internal hiring targets to ensure you’re hiring evenly across the business

Don’t forget about remote workers

Assess each new role to determine whether it could be completed remotely

4 internal mobility best practices

1. Use your internal mobility program to share expertise across the organization

Use your internal mobility program to share expertise across the company, not just job opportunities. That means including:

  • Applications to be mentored by senior staff

  • Learning and development opportunities – this doesn’t just mean skills training but also personal development, such as training on how to network as a person of color or a woman in tech

  • Networking events

  • Introductions to different sections of the business – for example, you might have your customer success team run a seminar on the customer perspective of your product

2. Use the right HR technology

Leverage HR technology to enable and optimize your efforts. We’ve talked a lot about your internal talent marketplace, but there are all sorts of other important recruitment tools you could be using.

This includes skills-testing software and:

  • Applicant tracking systems

  • Candidate relationship management tools

  • Job aggregator tools

3. Internal mobility doesn’t mean just promoting from within your inner circle

Internal mobility is more than promoting only from within your inner circle: The wider you cast your net within the business, the more successful your internal mobility initiative will be.

Ways you can promote this include:

  • Setting internal hiring targets to help promote internal mobility

  • Routinely checking in with each team – or, depending on the size of your organization, each employee – to get an update on their development goals

  • Running ideas past your task force of managers from across the business so that they can call out bias when they see it

4. Don’t forget about remote workers

A survey found that 41% of US executives say remote employees are less likely to be considered for promotions. When managing remote workers, don’t let out of sight mean out of mind, or you’ll miss out on great talent.

This isn’t just about fairness: Many of the remote work skills that employees use day to day are exactly those you’ll be looking for in candidates for promotion, including:

  • Self-motivation 

  • Clear communication 

  • Practical ability to quickly swap teams and roles

To ensure you don’t leave out remote workers, assess each new role on a case-by-case basis to determine whether it could be completed remotely, and compare it with your remote workers’ skill sets.

Examples of internal mobility in action

One example of internal talent mobility in our own team is our UX researcher, Joey. She started as a customer success representative at TestGorilla and realized she’d pursued this role because she was passionate about customer experience.

She communicated her career goals to her managers and colleagues and proactively sought opportunities to develop her UX skills and internal movement into UX research.

“The TestGorilla team supported me all the time, allowing me to get involved in research-related initiatives and providing me with guidance,” Joey says. “I also used a big chunk of my learning and development budget on developing my research skills.”

Another great example of internal talent mobility in action comes from our senior back-end engineer, Pablo.

Pablo started out with TestGorilla as a systems engineer, taking on the task of creating the Coderunner system that we use for our coding tests. He enjoyed the creativity and freedom that designing, planning, and executing this project gave him and wanted to expand into a similar role.

“Knowing this, I communicated that desire to my colleagues, and they helped me achieve it in multiple ways,” Pablo says. “[They brought in] a talented systems engineer to replace me, giving me a chance to adapt and adjust to the new position and fit myself in a great team aligned with my priorities.”

Start your internal mobility initiative by assessing the skills in your workforce

In this blog, we’ve run through:

  1. What internal mobility is

  2. The benefits of internal mobility for your hiring process

  3. How to get it up and running 

  4. How to make it great

You don’t have to be part of the 94% of companies that don’t believe they’re doing a great job with internal mobility. It’s time for you to move ahead of the pack.

Use our guide to transferable skills checklist to help assess your employees’ compatibility with open roles. You can also gain insight into their expectations of potential roles with our Motivation test.


  1. “Talent mobility: Winning the war on the home front”. (April 11, 2019). Deloitte. Retrieved December 19, 2022. 

  2. “SHRM Customized Talent Acquisition Benchmarking Report”. (2017). SHRM. Retrieved December 1, 2022.

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