The Qualities that Earn Promotions

Doug Horn on August 26, 2014 1:23:00 PM EDT


As we’ve discussed in the past, there are numerous ways of finding talented workers to fill your job openings. You can hire a recruiter, you can use job boards, and if you’re ESPN, you can wait until a popular athlete retires and sign him to a multiyear contract. Yet all these pale in comparison to the holy grail of hiring: the promotion.

Promotions are ideal because the candidate you’re placing is already trusted and capable. No time needs to be spent on interviews or gauging whether they are an organizational fit. You already believe in them and their accompanying skills, and you save the cost of hiring a recruiter or posting your opening on job boards.

Internal promotions tend to work out better in the long run also. Matthew Bidwell’s study showed that external hires are 61% more likely to be fired and 21% more likely to quit than those who earn promotions. With numbers like that, it’s clear that Paul Newman had it right: Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?

Even still, knowing a promotion is your best option doesn’t necessarily get you to your end goal. There’s still the tricky question of whom you should actually promote, and just as we detailed in our last blog, if you make the wrong decision, you could cost yourself a large sum of money. 

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Luckily, there are qualities that high-performing job candidates each possess, making them easily identifiable and thus good options for promotions.


Innovation is critical to staying one step ahead of your competition and offering your customers products they don’t even know they need yet. It’s the reason Steve Jobs was asked back to Apple after being forced out. Simply put, innovation is what makes companies become household names as opposed to unmemorable flares.

Innovation can come from unlikely sources as well. It’s your job to engage all of your employees to shake loose whatever game-changing ideas they may have. You must challenge them to think outside of the box and encourage them to share their thoughts. Companies that stifle their employees’ imaginations are destined to fail. The employees who demonstrate a knack for innovating may have what it takes to thrive once promoted.


You know those people who get flustered anytime a wrench gets thrown in their plans? One measly cancellation or altered detail and they crumble into a ball of Jell-O with their knees to their chest mumbling, “Make it stop. Make it stop.”

This may surprise you, but those are NOT the types of people you want to promote.

Anyone unable to roll with the punches or overcome adversity is not a good candidate for a promotion. You need someone who can adjust on the fly and make things work even when the worst possible scenario occurs. The person who can keep his cool while juggling 6 different projects and still turn in outstanding work should be promoted, because it’s practically guaranteed that they’ll continue to do that at the next level.


It goes without saying that the employees who show poor effort such as leaving exactly at 5 PM every day or completing the bare minimum amount of work should not be rewarded with promotions. A good candidate will put in the time to ensure that the work he produces is high quality, regardless of what hour the workday is scheduled to end.

Additionally, the types of people fit for promotions will seek out more work or show interest in learning different aspects of the business. This shows motivation, commitment to the company, and the ability to handle a greater workload.

There are many other qualities worth mentioning, such as willingness to learn, accepting blame, empathy, strong listening skills, ability to work in a team, and the countless others you likely see on any hopeful applicant’s resume.

It ultimately comes down to you, however. You wield the power of the promotion, but it’s safe to say that if a worker has these qualities, you likely can’t go wrong in promoting them.