During your career, there may be a time when you want to continue to work for your current employer but also desire a change in the work that you do. If this happens, you may try to move to a different department or to earn a promotion within your current company. When applying and interviewing for an internal position, it is helpful to understand how internal candidates differ from external candidates and how to use your internal status to prepare for and stand out during your interview.
In this article, we discuss the difference between internal and external candidates and the steps you can take to prepare for an internal interview to help you stand out as the best candidate for the position you desire.
What is an internal candidate?
An internal candidate is someone who is applying to a new position within the same company they already work for. Regardless of whether the position is within a new department, a different office location or is a higher-ranking position than the candidate's current job title, any candidate who is applying to a position that their current employer is hiring for is an internal candidate.
Internal candidate vs. external candidate
The primary difference between an internal and an external candidate is that an internal candidate has an existing relationship with the company they are applying to while an external candidate is new to the organization. Internal candidates usually have to follow the same formal process as an external candidate of applying and interviewing for the new role they are interested in. Internal candidates may have a few advantages over external candidates, such as:
- Most companies allow internal candidates to apply to new positions before they post the job for external candidates to find.
- An internal candidate usually knows the company's rules, policies and procedures better than an external candidate.
- Internal candidates know the company's culture and how they fit into it and may already have strong working relationships with others in the organization.
- The company's management and hiring teams know an internal candidate's work ethic, job performance, strengths and areas of opportunity.
- An employer's cost of marketing, screening, interviewing, onboarding and training may be lower for internal candidates than it is for external candidates.
Despite these advantages, it is important to remember that a company choosing an internal candidate for a new role still has to hire an external candidate to replace the internal candidate in their current role. Because of this, internal candidates need to prepare for an interview to ensure they can prove it is more beneficial for their employer to hire for both positions than it is for them to only hire an external candidate for the new position.
How to stand out during an internal interview
Because internal candidates and the person interviewing them usually already know each other, the person conducting the interview usually approaches an internal interview in a different manner than they would an external interview. Use the following steps to help you prepare for an internal interview and stand out as the best candidate:
1. Talk to your supervisor or manager
Before you apply for an internal role, ask to schedule a meeting with your supervisor or manager to discuss your intentions. During this meeting, you can discuss your career goals and tell them why you want to apply for the new position. You can also ask them if they have any insight into the position that they can share with you. For example, they may know more about the daily responsibilities of the position or the qualifications that make a candidate successful for the role.
You can also ask them to share their thoughts about your desire to move to the new position and for their feedback about your performance in your current role. If their response reveals you have their support and encouragement, they may consider giving you a recommendation for the new position. Listen to the feedback they give you and look for ways you can implement any suggestions they make into your current work. Doing this helps you prove your ability to use feedback constructively for growth and development and shows you are flexible when adapting to changes in your work.
Related: How To Ask for a Promotion
2. Research the position
Interviewing for a position as an internal candidate usually gives you an advantage in researching for the interview. While external candidates need to invest time into learning about the company's mission, vision, values, goals and culture, as an internal candidate this is all information you probably already know. This means you can devote your research time to gaining a deeper understanding of the qualifications, skills, knowledge and experiences that are most important to a candidate's success in this role.
You can also use your internal status to gain insight an external candidate doesn't have access to. For example, you might be more successful than an external candidate at gathering information about the personal preferences of the person conducting your interview or about specific questions you can expect them to ask during the interview. This information can help you prepare more thoughtful responses to use in your interview.
3. Update your resume and cover letter
Update your resume to reflect the knowledge, skills and experience your current role has taught you. Even if your employer already has a copy of your resume on file, doing this can help you show how you have grown since you originally began with the company and how your experience in your current role has prepared you for the new position you are applying for. You can also review the rest of your resume to make sure you optimize every section with the keywords that are most important and relevant for the new role you are applying to.
If your employer already has a copy of your cover letter on file, remember you wrote it to describe your interest and qualifications for your current role. Create a new cover letter specifically tailored to the position you are applying for. Use your cover letter to explain why you want to move to a different role and describe how you can transfer the success and accomplishments from your current role to add value in the new role.
4. Prepare and practice answers to questions
Before your interview, it is important to prepare and practice your answers to the questions you expect the interviewer to ask about your internal status or current role. Interviewers often ask internal and external candidates different questions because of the information they already know about the internal candidate. Sometimes, these questions can be more challenging to answer because they are more personal. For example, the interviewer may ask you questions to learn more about your reasons for wanting to leave your current role or how the skills you use in your current role are transferable to the new role.
You also need to prepare questions to ask the interviewer just as you would if you were an external candidate. While many external candidates may ask questions about the company's culture or goals, these are questions you should already know the answer to. So, think carefully about questions you can ask during the interview that reflect your current level of knowledge about the company and highlight your interest in learning more about the new role and the company's expectations for the candidate they choose. Doing this will make you more confident and comfortable throughout the interview.
5. Use your internal status as an advantage
As an internal candidate, you can use the relationships you have built with others in your organization and your accomplishments in your current position to your advantage. Begin by reaching out to employees who work in the position you are applying for to ask about their daily job duties, the questions they had to answer during their interview and the skills they believe are most important for the role.
Then, think about the value you have contributed to your current role and how the company would benefit from that value being transferred to the new role. Gather any evidence of your accomplishments within your current role such as awards you have earned, positive performance reviews and emails or letters from clients and colleagues thanking or praising you for the work you have done. Create a portfolio highlighting these accomplishments by putting all the evidence you collect in a folder or file.
6. Remain professional
It is important to take an internal interview seriously and treat it with the same level of professionalism you would with any other interview. There may be other internal and external candidates competing with you for the new role. Avoid making assumptions about being offered the position and act just as professionally as you would if you were an external candidate.
Even if your workplace is normally casual and relaxed, it is important to approach the interview as if you do not know this about the company's culture. This means dressing more professionally than you would on an average day, shaking the hand of the person conducting the interview, using appropriate language and showing you have invested time into preparing for the interview.