Interviewing Internal Candidates

When it’s time to interview an internal candidate, it may be tempting to expedite your interview process – you assume the individual already knows the job and the company culture. No matter how well you may know this person, don’t speed through the interview; asking the right questions can reveal a wealth of information about the internal applicant’s fitness for a particular position.

Indeed, many interview questions are designed to figure out how a candidate has reacted in past situations that at another company, in the hopes that response will give insight to how the candidate will perform in your company. Internal candidates can respond based on how they’ve handled tasks in your organization.  Harvard Business Review blogger Amy Gallo comments that if you ask an external candidate “how do you handle conflict with a colleague?” she will likely give you an answer that is mostly theoretical.  An internal candidate, in contrast, should be able to respond in a way that reflects company policies or norms and shows that she knows how to handle conflict in your organization.

Follow these tips to get the most out of your internal candidate interviews:

  • Don’t spend time rehashing questions to which you already know the answer. Generic getting-to-know-you type questions may be useful when you don’t know an applicant, but they aren’t necessary with an internal candidate.  At best, it wastes time, and at worst, it might offend an employee.
  • Do ask specific questions tailored to the candidate’s experience in your company. Ask about situations, projects or tasks the applicant has handled in the company and ask the applicant to highlight her role in the process.
  • Don’t interview internal candidates simply out of courtesy. If the internal applicant is not a true candidate for the job, interviewing them is a double waste of time. It wastes the company’s time, and it wastes the employee’s time.  If the applicant truly has no shot at the position, putting them through the time and anxiety of preparing for an interview for a job they have no chance of landing is the opposite of courtesy.
  • Do take extra care in rejecting internal candidates. Unlike public candidates, internal candidates will still be around after the job search is over. You should treat all applicants with respect, courtesy and honesty, but this is especially true of your employees.  Don’t be disingenuous, but if the internal candidate truly is valued…tell them. When it comes time to tell an internal candidate they were not selected, do it in person, not over email. If appropriate, use it as a teaching moment for your employee; tell her skills she could improve on to better her selection for the next promotion.

Promoting from within can boost morale, foster positive work culture and demonstrate growth opportunities. There a lot of reasons to look for internal candidates when a position is posted. By putting taking care with the interview process, you can ensure you properly evaluate internal applicants.

Getting ready to post a position? Contact People People for help devising position descriptions, application procedures, or hiring policies.