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29 October 2021

Securing the internal promotion to CEO

Vying for an internal promotion? These tips will help you to prepare for landing the top job.


Quite often when a CEO moves on, other members of the executive team may consider throwing their hat into the ring for the role. But whether you are currently the CFO or GM of operations, simply being a senior leader offers no guarantee that you will secure the top job.

As a partner at Gerard Daniels Jennifer Grove has deep experience supporting the appointment of senior leaders and helping clients to assess both internal and external candidates. Here she shares some valuable insight and advice to help candidates prepare for nailing the internal promotion to CEO.

Remember not everyone knows you

The assumption that everyone on the interview panel will already know you and be familiar with the work that you’ve done is a common misconception during the internal interview process. Jennifer, however, argues that this isn’t always the case.

“Regardless of whether you’re seeking promotion internally or externally, CEO candidates must always clearly articulate what they’ve achieved in the context of both current and previous leadership roles.”

Projecting as the CEO

As well as demonstrating past achievements, Jennifer stresses the need for candidates to be able to project beyond their current position, and into the role of CEO.

“The key here is to help the interview panel see you as CEO,” Jennifer says. “This ability to project is important for any interview scenario, but it can be particularly tricky with internal promotions where the majority of the panel may already know you on some level in your current role.”

Sharing your vision

Finding the right way to share your vision is another important part of nailing the internal promotion to CEO. To do this effectively candidates must communicate the vision they will have as CEO, without disowning the vision they’ve previously supported as a member of the existing senior leadership team. 

“Taking ownership for what you’ve achieved under the existing CEO while also sharing your vision for the future direction for the firm can be a fine line to tread,” says Jennifer. “But when this is done well it can make an enormous difference to your chances of being appointed.”

Demonstrating self-awareness

Jennifer believes you’ve really got to know yourself well to be a good leader, and this is certainly true when applying for the role of CEO. “To project into this role candidates will need to convey an appropriate level of self-reflection,” she says. 

“Self knowledge could mean demonstrating that you know what you need to work on, and that you’ve considered which tools and mitigation strategies you will put in place to address these areas,” Jennifer continues. “Demonstrating self awareness also assures the interview panel that you can assess your actions and decisions objectively, and adjust your thinking when you need to.”

Finding a mentor

Identifying an external mentor is a great way for candidates to develop and demonstrate a deeper understanding of what the CEO role requires. And being able to go into the interview with a mentor lined up acknowledges the significant transition that this appointment presents.

But mentoring isn’t just about smoothing the transition for incoming CEOs – it can also help to manage the relationship with other senior executives who must now adjust to you performing this new role. “Having an external mentor helps CEOs to nurture and transition these important relationships in a way that is optimal,” says Jennifer.

Post placement support

Alongside the support incoming CEOs may seek from external mentors, there is a strong case for engaging more formal support services throughout this process. Through a unique Post Placement Program Gerard Daniels offers valuable insight and support to clients and candidates following senior appointments – a program that Jennifer believes is equally as important, if not more so, for internally promoted CEOs.

“External candidates need time for their new organisation to get to know them, but internal appointments need time for their current organisation to adjust to seeing them in a new capacity,” Jennifer explains. “It’s a slightly different journey for internal candidates, and some of the settling in challenges can be little more nuanced and grey.”

Flying solo

One final challenge that people often overlook in applying internally for CEO is the autonomy that comes with this role. As CEO you no longer have peers, you no longer have cover, all of a sudden its just you.

“As CEO you become the operational accounting line for the organisation and adjusting to fact that CEOs are largely peerless can be confronting,” says Jennifer. “Therefore being comfortable operating at this level and taking on this responsibility is certainly an important quality for any incoming or aspiring CEO to have,” Jennifer concludes.

For specialist board consulting and expert advice on internal candidate assessments, reach out to Gerard Daniels today.

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