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How to survive an internal job interview?

by Tahira Majothi on November 18, 2011

If I were to hazard a guess, many jobs are filled by internal candidates; or people who are in some way known to the interviewers.   Knowing that the odds are with you doesn’t make going for an internal interview any less stressful though. In fact, it’s probably more stressful, I know one of my worst job interview experiences was when I was an internal candidate. I still cringe at the thought. If you are an external candidate then you can walk away – knowing you may never see the interviewers again;  but for internal interviews, there’s no such luck.

But with a bit of preparation, you can really improve your chances of success. Here’s a short film from a US University which sums up key points of preparation nicely.

Prepare in the same way as you would for an external job interview

  • Do all the same preparation for an internal interview that you would for an external interview. Systematically review the job specification and prepare lots of examples and evidence that you can draw upon.  Practice makes perfect; get someone you trust to give you a practice interview and ask them for their honest feedback.
  • Remember that your reputation precedes you in  going to the interview so be prepared to have clever ways to reflect on anything you have done in your job so far that you know hasn’t worked as well as you would have liked. You will have to be scrupulously honest in what evidence you use, but don’t assume the interviewers will know everything you have done so make sure you convey your skills and achievements.
  • Have questions ready to ask, this shows an interest in the organisation and how you want to help shape its future.

How much do you really want this job?

  • Motivation to do a job is critical if you want to impress an interviewer. Sometimes people apply for jobs internally that they aren’t really sure they want to do and this can come across.
  • One way to assess this is as follows: ask yourself to score out of 10 your level for each of Interest, Commitment and Enthusiasm (ICE) to do the job. I would ask you to reflect on what scores you come up with and what this may say about whether this is the right job for you.  I guess that if all are fewer than 5, this will come across in your interview, and your chances of getting the job will be slim.

If you’re not successful – get feedback

  • Having spoken to a number of people that have been unsuccessful in internal job interviews, the most telling statement is when they say “I don’t know why I wasn’t successful”.  If you don’t know why you weren’t successful, then how can you do better next time?  It’s so important to try and get feedback and also to be honest with yourself as to why things haven’t gone to plan.
  • There can be so many reasons – everything from your own interview technique, or the fact you were up against an unbeatable candidate, or perhaps interviewer bias. It can really help to get to the bottom of why you weren’t successful. Not always easy …but try, and be prepared to alter your approach next time.  Remember – something better may be round the corner.
  • Here is a link to a thread on a HR Professionals Discussion forum – discussing how organisations keep internal candidates motivated after an unsuccessful interview. Some insightful commentary here from people involved in a lot of hiring.

If the interview is as a result of re-structuring

  • I know it’s hard, but continue to  work at peak performance in the run-up to the interview, identify who the interview panel will be and do some research about them (ask around to people you trust on this), not the people who will also be interviewed for the same job.
  • Aim to surprise the interviewer; dress to impress on the day – a notch up from your usual work attire.  Make sure you have done your homework about the reasons for re-structure and have thought about the reasons why changes are being made. Understand the organisational strategic plans and future vision. Prepare ideas about how you can contribute to this. Reflect on why you want to stay with the organisation so you can speak positively about this.
  • Take advantage of any interview training/support on offer. Many organisations will offer this when undergoing re-structuring. Make it your business to find out what the organisation’s approach to job interviews are – is the approach being adopted standard (i.e., interview against a person specification etc) or is a different approach being used. HR departments should have the answer to this. When asking such questions, be polite and stress your enthusiasm for the job and your desire to prepare effectively.

Park any ambivalence at the door

  • Finally, especially if going for an interview as part of re-structuring, when you walk through that door for an interview, focus 100% on the experience and your desire to sell yourself and get that job. You may be ambivalent about certain things – but the interview is not the time to show this. Resist the temptation to be negative about processes or critical of the work of fellow staff etc.
  • Some useful points re internal interviews are at this link from Hull Strategies.

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