A colleague of mine recently called and asked for advice about managing herself as the “inside candidate” among a highly qualified pool for an executive role in her organization. The good news for my friend is that business research increasingly indicates that highly qualified inside candidates when selected usually have a smoother transition, perform at a higher level and are more likely to stay with the organization over time. There usually is already a good cultural fit, and the internal candidate has extensive organizational knowledge. The downside of being the inside candidate is that you are well known to the organization and have a clear track record to evaluate. You may also have supporters as well as co-workers that you may have had disagreements with. While external candidates may worry about solid inside candidates, being an insider is not always an advantage and these candidates need to manage themselves well in the interview process.
Common Mistakes Made by Inside Candidates
Internal candidates sometimes underestimate what the interview process will be like for them. They may falsely assume that the organization will do less due diligence on internal candidates than external ones, assuming that their employer knows them well. If there is a search firm involved as is true with many high level positions, the internal candidate will be undergo the same vetting process as any external candidate. You will be asked to provide references and these will be checked as they would be with any external candidate. They are likely focused on a different set of roles and responsibilities than those encompassed by the new role. Every ounce of personal and political baggage that you have acquired over the years will be closely examined, and old grudges will be revisited. People you thought were your friends may fail to support you.
The Do’s and Don’ts if You are an Inside Candidate
- Do treat the application process in the same way as you would if you were applying to a new organization.
- Do an extensive amount of due diligence on the new position.
- Do be able to give specific examples of your current achievements to illustrate why you are a good candidate.
- Do dress the part of the position you aspire for and prepare thoroughly for the interview.
- Do realize that you are competing for the position and will need to earn it.
- Do provide references that can speak to your ability to be successful in the new position.
- Do recognize that you make be an excellent candidate but there may be a need for more diversity on the leadership team.
- Don’t expect special favors or differences in treatment from the interview team.
- Don’t ask anyone on the search team for any confidential information.
- Don’t share any information about the interview with your work colleagues.
- Don’t assume you have an edge or that you will be given the position – even if you have been given assurances by senior management.
- Don’t get angry or verbalize frustration if you are not selected.
Candidates who are interviewing in their own organizations sometimes make the mistake of not preparing for the interview. Approach every interview in the same way whether you are an inside or outside candidate. Don’t schedule an interview to follow a 12 hour night tour and don’t wear scrubs to a leadership interview. Schedule the interview on your day off when you are rested and dressed for success. After the interview, think carefully about the job that you interviewed for and whether it is a good fit with your strengths, weaknesses and career plans. Recognize that you may not be selected for a position that you really want but take the risk anyway. You just never know where it could lead you.