Succeeding in an internal interview can seem like a breeze. You know the people. You understand the organisation, and you have a successful track record that should speak for itself – right?
This can lead to a false sense of security, a lack of proper preparation and underperformance on the day.
You need to prepare for an internal interview just as thoroughly as you would for an external one and you need to sell yourself just as hard.
Never forget that the panel will have to justify their decision to hire based on hard documented evidence collected in the interview itself. Past successes and good references are helpful but they don’t replace a strong performance on the day.
To succeed in the internal interview you should:
Research the job and the panel
Arrange to speak informally with the hiring manager to find out more about the job requirements (even if this is your current boss). Talk to as many potential colleagues as possible. Contact the previous postholder to ask about the real challenges and upsides of the job. And take soundings from others doing similar roles in similar organisations. Most people are happy to share views and you will come across as well organised and motivated. Using your network on LinkedIn can be useful here.
This will enable you to flesh out the vacancy information so you can tailor your interview more closely to the job.
Find out more about the individuals who will be on your panel. Consider their professional background and current agenda to understand more about who would be their ideal candidate. What is the strategy of the organisation? How can you fit into this? Are there any external factors that could influence the way the organisation operates?
Prepare your evidence
Decide on the key areas of experience, competencies and personal qualities most likely to be of interest to the internal interview panel. For each, you need to prepare detailed examples of where you have demonstrated these. Be prepared to talk about your achievements, any challenges overcome and specific successes. You may find it helpful to review previous performance appraisals. Colleagues can often remind you of where you have added value. Revisit your job application and the job description. Use the STAR technique to practice your examples and go over some questions with a colleague, mentor or careers professional if you are lacking in confidence or have not had an interview in a couple of years.
Think about what you have to offer that may not be shared by other candidates. Imagine you were on the panel – why would you hire you? You may have previous professional experience which would be of particular relevance to the role for example.
It is important to remind the panel of roles you have held in other organisations and to draw their attention to achievements outside work. Panels don’t tend to read the CVs of internal candidates in as much detail as external ones and can miss vital evidence.
If you are competing with external candidates, don’t forget to point out that you already understand the department/organisation well and can draw on existing networks. This will mean you can adapt to the new role faster.
Know your reputation
Even though your interviewers will try their utmost to be objective and to base their decision purely on the interview, they are bound to have expectations of you before you even enter the room – either because they have worked with you or heard about you from others. You may be known to have a particular approach to work or believed to be strong or weak in different areas. It is important to be aware of your reputation within the organisation (earned or unearned) so that you can play to your strengths and challenge any preconceptions, and knowing your true strengths and weaknesses shows self-awareness.
Show you want it
Internal candidates often forget to explain why they want the job and can be seen to lack enthusiasm. If you are applying for a promotion, or are reapplying for a post in your department’s new structure, you may think it is obvious why you have applied, but no-one wants to hire someone who has applied only because they think they should. Think through what attracts you to this role and how it will help your career development and be prepared to articulate this in the interview. Just before you go in, remind yourself why you really want the job and that enthusiasm and focus will come across in the interview.
You may feel uncomfortable about ‘blowing your own trumpet’ in front of colleagues. But failure to do so could cost you the job. So don’t be shy about saying exactly why you think you are suited to the job and providing evidence of your achievements. Use the close of the interview, when the panel asks you if you have any further questions or comments, to sum this up and to restate how interested you are in the post.