How Do I Know if I Should Wait for an Internal Opportunity or Look Externally?

ACS Career Consultants Marciano Bagnoli and Ruchi Tandon provide their advice on how to approach this often-difficult decision
Industry Matters Newsletter
Marciano Bagnoli, Quality Manager, Georgia-Pacific LLC
Marciano Bagnoli, Quality Manager, Georgia-Pacific LLC

A first step is to examine what may stand between a promotion and your current role. Could it be that your company’s organizational structure is flat, leaving nowhere to go? You may be able to convince management to create a new role for you to address some unresolved issues. Perhaps you are lacking skills needed for the next step: technical vs. communication, ideation vs. implementation, individual contribution vs. team management. If this is the case, a promotion would be difficult for both you and the company and would hurt your career overall if pushed too quickly. Perhaps you have the skills and ideas but lack a forum to have your ideas heard and implemented. Finding a mentor or advocate in your organization could help resolve this issue.

When looking internally, return to the organizational chart and understand whether there is a spot that is more suited to your skills. If you cannot gain new skills, advancing will be difficult no matter the company. However, if you feel the concerns are related to ineffective management or the idiosyncrasies of a department that doesn’t match your background, then an internal transfer may do the trick. Tread carefully, however. If you have very little tenure prior to attempting a change, your employer may see you as flaky, which can in turn damage your chances at any type of advancement. Further, if you identify management as a problem, don’t be surprised if an internal transfer leaves you frustrated. Company culture often radiates top-down, and the same behaviors and patterns that hamper your progress could be alive and well there too.

If you decide to look externally, take a look at multiple job descriptions for the promotion you are eyeing. Do you have these skills? Can you speak on your experiences solving the problems that face this role? This exercise can help you better target the experience and skills needed for the next step. Once identified, you can seek them out in your current role. That way when the next role comes around, internal or external, you are ready to make the change. 

Previous contributor (October 21, 2021)

Ruchi Tandon, University Collaborations Manager, Corning Inc.
Ruchi Tandon, University Collaborations Manager, Corning Inc.

In general, it is common to experience concerns over career advancement. The reasons could range from external factors such as overall economic instability, business/department outlook, budget cuts, healthcare crises, to personal concerns such as a stalled career, difficult interpersonal relationships, feeling undervalued or unsupported, or getting passed over for a promotion. Consider whether there is a problem or simply a favorable opportunity that has made one consider exploring external career opportunities.

Taking action to make the big move should not be a hasty decision. Most of us are highly invested in our jobs and motivated to excel in them. We consider our jobs not only as something that pays the bills, but also contributes to our professional and personal growth. 

There are a wide variety of factors that keep us attached to a job. These include the match of one’s skill set to the job, the time one has spent developing skills, the work culture of the organization, the relationships we have built at the workplace, and avenues for professional and personal growth.  
A feeling of not advancing in one’s career or not growing personally can be quite deflating and can even impact life both at work, and outside work. People often leave their positions, whether for a different role internally or a position externally, not because an outstanding opportunity but because there is nothing in the current role that is compelling. 

In deciding on whether to wait for an internal opportunity or explore one externally, consider the portability of the skill set. This may help identifying the gaps in skill sets that one can develop to make him/ her more attractive for positions both internally and externally, and for longer term career development. Another important consideration is how personally gratifying is the current job, and what do the longer-term career prospects seem like in the current organization – is there an opportunity that may not exist today, but it could in the near future?  
An organization’s work culture plays a substantial role in job satisfaction. While one is intimately familiar with the work culture of the current organization, knowing the work culture in an external organization is somewhat of an unknown. Hence, it is critical to learn as much as possible about the work environment in the external organization using company or institute websites, career websites, networking (via internal and external coaching or mentor programs) and other resources to be able to make an informed decision. The American Chemical Society Career Consultant network provides an opportunity to connect with experts with diversified professional backgrounds.  
Differences in cost of living in different parts of the country, long-term career development, job satisfaction and opportunities for personal growth should be considered, in addition to the remuneration package. If the work environment and culture of current organization is caustic, and there’s clear evidence of unsupported career development over the course of time, the decision is easy. Remuneration is important, but not the overriding criteria. In deciding on whether to wait for an internal opportunity or pursue an external role, one can identify the opportunity cost of the possibilities based on the factors discussed above, along with critical considerations such as work-life balance and family commitments.

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

ACS Career Consultants are experts and leaders working in the field of chemistry who have volunteered to support other ACS members’ career development through one-on-one career counselling. They can stimulate your thinking, ask important career planning questions to help clarify goals, provide encouragement, teach strategies for making meaningful career decisions, and aid you in your job search. Connect with an ACS Career Consultant today!

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