There’s a lot of conversation about the tight talent market right now. And rightfully so. Social media marketers report finding qualified talent as their biggest concern, according to our latest research. Social media teams aren’t the only ones feeling the crunch. Marketing teams across industries and company sizes are struggling to find talent.

Why is now so different? In my career, I’ve seen a lot of ebb and flow in talent pools, but nothing quite like this. Low unemployment rates have something to do with it, but there’s more at play. We have roles that we’ve never had before in marketing. Traditionally, a department might have advertising, public relations and branding, but most practitioners were generalists. As we’ve brought more data and analytics into marketing–and broken down silos between marketing and other departments like sales and product–there has been an influx of new positions and a dramatic evolution of roles.

Everyone knows your people are your greatest asset. I’d take that a step further. Your people are your greatest appreciating asset.

Once you have an employee who gets your customer and product fit, contributes to the culture and is willing to learn, your investment in them will pay dividends for years. Your ability to execute your strategy is dependent on your ability to keep, grow and develop your talent—not so much your ability to acquire new employees.

Internal hiring has never been so important

Marketing careers aren’t as linear as they used to be. The marketing ladder has become a lattice, with lateral moves being just as important as upward mobility. A generalist with expertise in all areas of marketing is on the pathway to leadership and companies should be encouraging that. Even though leaders generally know this, only 17% of candidates say their manager facilitates the process of applying for internal jobs.

Internal recruits bring internal knowledge from other roles with them. That might seem obvious, but the potential gains are immense.

Take social media managers, for example. Social teams have an incredibly valuable set of skills they’re using to make branding magic every day, and they’re also seeing unfiltered customer, market and prospect opinions about your brand and products on a daily basis. Their ability to inform your content, demand gen, product marketing or pricing strategies is unmatched because social is the center of everything. Armed with hard skills from their previous roles and the soft insights, they can be your greatest asset even when they move on from social. In fact, I believe social media managers are the next CMO.

How to build a successful internal recruiting program

As you’re thinking about your company’s internal growth pathways, there are multiple factors to consider. You need to evaluate your growth rate, the size of your team, your open roles and the skills you’ll need to execute your plans. Once you have an idea of your baseline, it’s time to start planning your internal hiring process.

Internal readiness

Some companies aren’t ready to invest in upskilling. For example, newer companies or startups may need to attract employees that are ready to hit the ground running. When you lead a lean marketing team, it often doesn’t make sense to hire the inexperienced but enthusiastic newcomer over the applicant who could execute independently and bring experience to your strategy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start building your foundation. Identify your most promising employees and keep them in mind for positions that might open once your needs are more flexible.

Knowledge paths

Once your marketing team matures, you can start thinking about a formal internal recruiting structure. The first aspect is giving your employees opportunities to upskill. For larger companies, that may look like an internal learning platform, like we have with Grow@Sprout. But for smaller organizations, investing in outside platforms like LinkedIn Learning, Digital Marketing Institute or Coursera can also give your teams the ability to level up and gain confidence and experience in what interests them. As employees make their way down their learning paths and advancement opportunities arise, you’ll be able to onboard them into new roles more efficiently.

Sourcing talent

We have two main forms of sourcing internal candidates at Sprout—internal job postings and manager referrals. Internal job postings are great to get the word out about urgent hiring needs that employees may be interested in. But these alone aren’t enough.

Underrepresented groups are less likely to raise their hands for those opportunities and only 51% of candidates report being aware of internal postings. At Sprout, we also check in with our people managers regularly to identify rising stars who could fit jobs that we’ve already posted or plan on adding in the future. Keep your people managers in the loop about your roadmap so they’re equipped to identify high-performing team members when it’s time to post that new role.

Strategic talent planning

The best part about creating a robust internal hiring program is the longevity. As you complete strategic planning cycles for your overall organization, you can start laying the groundwork for talent needs over the next few years.

If you have a specific revenue milestone in mind, work backward to decipher what your team will need to look like. How many employees will you need so you can execute effectively? What roles or teams might need to be added? Based on your answers, you can create development plans to prepare your team for the next phase of business growth.

Internal recruiting strategies built for the future

As you grapple with the challenge of finding qualified talent, consider how to empower your existing team. There will always be companies fighting over external talent, but if you keep your employees engaged, excited and constantly learning, you can take a break from fighting and focus on celebrating wins with your team.

Employee engagement is a key piece of any internal hiring program. Find out more on how to keep your employees excited to come to work.