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The Internal Interview – Easier or More Challenging?

The Internal Interview – Easier or More Challenging?

The internal interview (where the interviewer may know the applicant and the interviewee is already very familiar with the organization) poses its own set of challenges. Believe it or not, it can be even more difficult than external interviews. There are different issues to deal with in this type of interview and, if a person doesn’t prepare ahead of time, an applicant may find that even though he or she is more than qualified – he/she does not get the job. So let’s look at some of the issues.

The number one mistake that most internal applicants for a job make is to wrongly assume that he or she will get the job because he/she works for the company – no matter how many years of experience you have with the company, you are a candidate for a new position and most organizations want the best person for the job – whether the person is internal or external.

An example of a lesson learned the hard way:

Margaret has been a supervisor in her current situation for the past six years. A management position has become available that she would like. She had applied for a similar job two years ago and at that time she figured she was a “shoe in” because of her years of experience with the company. To her surprise, she did not get an offer. In fact, they hired someone with less experience than she had.

There have been a lot of changes since that time and she feels she is ready to try again. This time she is going to use a different approach and do some upfront research and preparation.

Margaret’s boss is Ron Green. He has been with the company for a little over a year. He thinks highly of her work and has been encouraging about developing her career within the company. She makes an appointment to discuss her plan with Ron and get his advice. He advises her to treat this interview just as she would an interview outside the organization. Ron is very supportive and tells her he will put in a good word for her based on her very good performance in her current role.

Margaret takes Ron’s advice to heart, and begins to do internal research on the department. She has a friend, Marianne, who works directly with the Director of the department in which she wishes to work and meets with her to get insider information about the personalities involved. She finds out that they are a friendly group, but that they take their work seriously, and work very long hours, when necessary. Marianne gives her some ideas to research about the project this department has performed.

Next, Margaret calls Mike, who was on the interviewing panel the last time she interviewed internally. Mike is more than happy to talk with her. He gives her some feedback, which is hard to swallow, but necessary. He tells her that she came across as overly confident, almost like she was sure the job was hers for the asking. She thanks him for his honest feedback. It will help her a great deal in the way she presents herself this time. He says he will put in a recommendation for her based on their work together.

Margaret has her work cut out for her. She spends a great deal of time on the internal website, looking through reports and budgets. She finds some surprises and new information among the archives. She is excited about this opportunity and becoming a member of this department. She formulates questions to ask her interviewers.

Margaret does a mock interview with her friend Marianne, and gets some pointers on answering the questions. She then plans her interview outfit as though she were interviewing externally. She wants to look professional.

This time Margaret believes that it feels completely different from the last time she had an internal interview. She is mentally ready and feels confident, but knows she is one among several who will be interviewed. This time around she therefore asks good questions (without showing too much confidence) and gets input as to how the department works as a team, and the role this position plays. The interview goes well.

After the interview she sends a follow up letter outlining what she sees as the challenges and opportunities that she has picked up during the interview. She also offers some reasons why she is a good fit for the department and the position.

Margaret is satisfied that she has put forth her best effort. She has followed the advice given her:

  • Use the same preparation techniques that you would for an external job. Research, Practice, and Follow through.
  • Know as much as possible about the department and the players involved before you interview.
  • Don’t assume the job is yours because you have worked for the company for many years. In most cases, you are an applicant to be considered like any other – internal or external.
  • Ask questions to make sure this job is for you. Find out about the department culture, current morale, and how the department fits into the bigger company picture. Also ask what are the challenges and issues this department faces?
  • Send a follow up letter just as you would if you were an external applicant. Let them know what added-value you can bring to the department/job.

Margaret is thrilled when they call and offer her the position. Her research, planning, and solicitation of help and support have really paid off.

This article was written by Carole Martin, SPHR. Read more at and

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About Carole Martin

Carole Martin, SPHR, is a professional interviewer, coach, author, and speaker. She has authored nine books on the subjects of interviewing, hiring, and salary negotiation. See the web sites and

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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