Internal Interview Advice
January 13, 2006 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone have any specific tips or experience with interviewing for a new position inside your own company?

I'm interviewing for a new position in a different department within my company - meaning that I know all of the people interviewing me, and they know me. It's not a huge company either - around 50 employees.

I know that I am to treat this like a professional interview, and I plan to wear a suit (it's a biz casual dress environment) & bring in a portfolio of some work I've done to illustrate why I'm such a great fit for this position.

However, it's been a few years since I've interviewed at all, and I'm sure there are some differences with internal interviews versus a "regular" interview. And there's always the fact that if I blow it, I still have to see these people everyday, so I really want to avoid any major faux pas.

Thanks for any advice you might have...and please cross your fingers for me!
posted by tastybrains to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, make sure you have an up-to-date performance review completed already. This should be an interview only, and discussions of present and past performance should be handled separately. You're entitled to the same playing field other candidates have, even if you have a report overdue for one of the interviewees. And having positive comments about your recent work from a boss is always a plus.

Obviously, play up your intimate knowledge of the company. But also do some research with other candidates in mind. Where are they coming from? What new and intriguing perspectives are they likely to offer? Sometimes it's seductive for employers to imagine that staff from 'outside' will arrive with a magic bag of answers and solve everything. If you can speak with broad knowledge of your field, and various strategies within it, you'll appear less as though you've been wearing your own company's blinders too long/
posted by Miko at 11:13 AM on January 13, 2006

With an internal interview, you have a lot of advantages:

- You know things about the company and how it works
- You have a track record there, hopefully good, and can point out things you've done there (good projects, increased efficiency somehow, etc)
- You know the people's personalities, and hopefully have some decent ideas of who's impressed by what

Definitely treat it like a formal interview. It's better to be on the safe side. I got a bit of a friendly ribbing when I interviewed internally and put on the suit (we're biz casual too), but I pointed out that I take every interview just as seriously regardless of who it's with, and I got a positive reaction.

As far as avoiding faux pas - when talking about how you increased efficiency of some aspect of your work, or talking about how you improved some process or executed some project - be VERY careful not to word things in a way that could be perceived as kind of "a mild insult" to the way things were before you improved them. To be way more extreme/blunt, here's an example that goes way over the top - think more subtle than this though:

"I improved the execution process for our projects by eliminating several useless steps - frankly the process was inefficient before."

They know it was inefficient, and by calling it so, you've just sort of accidentally insulted someone in the company, and/or the company as a whole. It's that sort of thing you want to watch out for.

Best of luck!!
posted by twiggy at 11:16 AM on January 13, 2006

Tailor your presentation as much as possible to the desires of the people interviewing you. You know what they want. Use that info to your advantage.

For example, my boss once came back from a conference energized about these little index cards that each have a quality named and defined on them. Like "integrity" or "hard-working." The bosses at the conference all ordered the cards according to what employee qualities mattered to them.

When I wanted a promotion, I typed up a mock set of these cards with the words on one side and how I exhibited that quality on the other. I had detailed explanations of how my behavior had exhibited each one of those traits.

Presto promotion!

You may not have such an easy target here, but my guess is that the management at your company has given lots of clues about exactly what they want it their employees. It's just a matter of listening for that information. It's similar to good gift-giving -- if you remember that your friend complained about the chip in her serving dish in January, you'll know exactly what to buy her for her birthday in March.

It may sound a little brown-nosey, but it's a way of showing that you listen to what they care about. And that you are exactly what they're looking for.
posted by equipoise at 11:29 AM on January 13, 2006

"For example, my boss once came back from a conference energized about these little index cards that each have a quality named and defined on them. Like "integrity" or "hard-working." The bosses at the conference all ordered the cards according to what employee qualities mattered to them."

There are actually people like this in the real world? That can tie their shoelaces unassisted?
posted by lalochezia at 12:05 PM on January 13, 2006

Yeah, yeah, I know. He wasn't a stellar guy.

To clarify: they didn't order the cards as in "buy them from the vendor." I meant to say that they prioritized them. And getting some sense of what qualities matter most to you does help you figure out who to hire.

I suspect the other attendees of that conference tossed the cards in the trash afterwards -- my boss kept them displayed on his desk.
posted by equipoise at 12:10 PM on January 13, 2006

I agree with Miko. Counteract the "grass is greener" attitude by taking the opportunity to "think outside [your organization's] box.

Don't be outlandish about it (make plausible suggestions) and think about this before you go into the interview (be prepared). Mix recommendations based on your experience in your workplace with recommendations they might not have considered.

Good luck!
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:13 PM on January 13, 2006

Sometimes being an internal candidate can be a handicap. This is the case when management feels that a department is in some kind of rut, and they have the feeling (or have heard from some idiot consultant) that they need to "think out of the box." I've been in these circumstances, and the interviewers seem to have the fantasy that knowing how things are done is a negative, and that a new person will bring "fresh thinking" to the group.

Of course, this is more often than not a recipe for disaster, but you should sensitive to any possible desires on the part of the interview/management team for "fresh perspectives." If you think this is a possibility, address it in the interview. Talk about some changes you feel you could implement and the value that the improvements will add.

In taking this tack, be careful not to trash others who came before you and may have put in place the very procedures you want to do away with. Talk about your propositions professionally, and that way your insider status will be come across as a benefit AND as a road to fresh thinking.

Early on in the interview, I personally would acknowledge the potential awkwardness of the interview situation, given that you have relationships with the interviewing team now and in the future, whether you get the promotion or not. But I would just do it in passing, not like it's a big deal or anything - just like something that's in the air, that everyone must be thinking about.

Good luck!!!!
posted by jasper411 at 12:41 PM on January 13, 2006

Best answer: I've done the internal interview twice in one company -- I'm on job number three here. If you know people in the department that you feel comfortable talking with, and if it's ok in your corporate culture, find out what the boss is looking for behavior-wise. Is this a hands-off type of boss or a micro-manager? How do you deal in those situations? Etc. In my experience, I was asked a LOT of behavioral questions because it was really important to the interviewing manager that I fit in with her group. She really preferred an excellent skills match AND an excellent personality match. I'm not saying fake it; I'm saying be prepared to be asked to "Tell me about a time when you were up against a deadline and suddenly the power went out" or whatever (not a real question I was asked).

I agree about the being careful not to trash the previous people in the department. If this job/dept has been your goal for a while, or you've had it in mind that you would want to work in this area, you might want to be able to say that, and then be able to use your actions and work portfolio to back that up. I would also acknowlege the oddness of the internal interview -- particularly if it's someone you know well.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:19 PM on January 13, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all of your suggestions & advice! This is great.

I'm also getting stuck on some really basic things. In an interview with people I've never met before, I'd send a thank-you note the very next day. I feel like this would be extremely weird with people who I work with daily. What do you think? Should I still do the handwritten thank-you note, or maybe just drop them each an e-mail the next day to say that I really appreciate their time blah blah blah.
posted by tastybrains at 1:45 PM on January 13, 2006

Best answer: I found I was a much better interviewee after I had been an interviewer. Now when I go for an interview, I ask myself, what would I like to hear from someone if I was interviewing them.

So, given the organizational culture in your place, ask yourself what *you* would like from an internal candidate after the interview if you were an interviewer. In some places, I could imagine the thank you note would be evidence of professionalism. In others, it would probably be viewed as evidence of social cluelessness.

In a case in which I was an interviewer, an email from the candidate seemed like it struck the right balance. It said something like, "normally I'd send an interviewer a thank you note, but that seems awkward given that I'm an internal candidate - but I wanted to thank you for the time and the consideration. Please let me know if there are more questions you'd like me to follow up on..."
posted by jasper411 at 2:05 PM on January 13, 2006

Best answer: Most definitely write a formal, real thank-you note, and send it through the mail rather than e-mail. Again, this is what the other candidates will do, and you don't want to invite unfavorable comparisons by sending an e-mail, which looks like the easy way out.

Same thing as wearing the suit. The idea: don't do (pr not do) anything which makes you seem overly familiar, presumptuous, or overconfident.

If the bosses want to keep you around, it also won't hurt for them to see how good your interview skills are. It tells them a bit about how valuable you'd be on the job market if you chose not to work for them.
posted by Miko at 3:22 PM on January 13, 2006

Just in case anyone is checking this thread for a follow up, she got the job!! Way to go Gillian :)
posted by zarah at 9:43 PM on January 20, 2006

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