Acing an internal interview

There is a new position in your company that has opened up. It excites you, you know you are well qualified and have rightfully staked your claim. Deservedly, you have been selected to be interviewed for it. The interviewing managers know you or have heard of you and would probably be aware of your qualifications, experience and success. Can you walk into the interview complacently that you will be the selected one? 

Not quite. Treat that internal interview with the same meticulous preparation as any other external interview that you want to ace. Here is how.

Start it with integrity

The first step is to start it right. Inform your current manager that you are applying for the new position. This is primarily a matter of integrity. Additionally, he could be a great coach and mentor to help you prepare for the interview. And of course, he will be a key reference in the selection process. 

What happens of your manager does not want to lose you from his team? What if he is an unwilling participant in the process or tries to actively block your attempt? You may then need to turn to HR, especially if it is line with the company policy. Your openness in sharing your move with your manager will be a big plus point in establishing your credibility.

Remember, the internal interview is not an informal discussion

This is a critical message to understand. To look at it as a mere formality because you feel that the evidence is all there and you hold an easy edge as an internal candidate is highly fallacious. The internal interview is a deep assessment and not a development conversation. As a candidate, you must take the effort to present strong evidence of fit and achievement. 

Of course, your company knows that hiring an existing employee is faster, less expensive and promotes its reputation of developing internal talent. But that does not translate into a guaranteed advantage for you. This position could have been externally advertised too - to bring in fresh capabilities and skills from outside the organization. Maybe the last internal hire was not a good fit. You will need to fight this perception and also to make the manager feel excited that you can bring in great value to his team. 

The golden rule - research, and research more

Ask plenty of questions about the role - its evident and hidden responsibilities, challenges, team dynamics and what is expected of the person filling the role. As an insider, you have an edge in knowing the nuances of the team and organization culture to extract sharper insights.

Research deeper into the job description, and if needed meet the team members and manager. This will help you effectively prepare for and perform in the interview. It will also clearly tell you whether or not the role aligns to your aspirations, if you are a good fit, and the biases for and against you that you will need to take care of. You can then set the stage during the interview to reinforce the strengths associated with you and reshape negative impressions of you. Setting up mock interviews with colleagues with a critical eye or mentor is a good idea.

Provide an authentic resume

The resume is as important for an internal interview as for an external one. In fact, you have an advantage of tailoring it better map with the position, especially with the research you have done.

Remove hyperboles, arrogance, exaggerations, half-truths and untruths from your resume. Align your relevant strengths, experience and success to the attributes that you have found critical for the role. Back up your claims with specific project experiences and evidence that the manger can easily understand and relate to.

Be professional during the interview

As an internal candidate, the interviewing manager may tend to be more informal towards you. Leverage this to be less stressed but do not make it an excuse to be less professional than you should be. Make sure you are on time. Dress according to your organization’s dress code. Display courtesy and all the attributes stated in your company’s code of conduct and culture.

Answer the interview questions with direct, honest and succinct responses – but use the knowledge you have to accentuate the right aspects that make you a very good fit for the role. Highlight your passion for what you want to do in this role, how it aligns to your future plans – and importantly, how you can be a faster starter with your experience and knowledge of the organization. When confronted with your lesser strengths, be realistic about them. Explain what you learnt from past experiences and how you have addressed the challenges to move ahead. 

This may be well your next big career opportunity. Have a healthy respect for the fact that you are competing for the opportunity and put your best foot forward to emerge as the best candidate. In doing so, leverage the advantage you have as an internal candidate with the right balance of confidence and humility. There is no reason why you cannot ace the interview.
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