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20 internal interview questions to ask

Recruiting from within your company can be far more cost-effective than pursuing external candidates through traditional routes. Apart from saving money on advertising, sourcing costs, and relocation expenses, hiring from the inside is far faster on almost all occasions. 

And that’s not all; an internal hire can create a stronger connection to the business and colleagues and boost retention and morale. However, it can also cause just as many problems if the process isn’t managed with sensitivity and thought.

An employee who fails to win the role they interview for could see it as a judgment on their abilities or management being disloyal or unappreciative of all the effort they’ve invested in the business already.

What is an internal interview?

As you may have gathered already, an internal interview is where an existing employee applies for a different role.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the interview should remain the same for internal and external applicants. 

If the interviewer is doing their job correctly, they should use all current information and resources to skip the things they already know and dive deeper into what they don’t.

Why interview internal candidates?

External candidates will approach every new role with a clean sheet. They’ll have a relevant list of qualifications and experience, and they won’t have to address their shortcomings and failures unless they’re public knowledge.

An internal candidate already has relationships with colleagues and managers within the company framework. It’s entirely possible that they won’t hold either the qualifications or experience required to do the job, but they will have a far better understanding of the business’s current operations than an outsider.

With a desire to climb the corporate ladder, progressing wherever possible, it’s up to the hiring team to decide whether the employee is an appropriate applicant, capable of the growth required, and bring more to the role than the other candidates.

How to interview internal candidates

Do your research

Before an interview, you should gather as much background information on the candidate as you can. Don’t treat them like an external applicant, expecting to learn everything you need to know about them during the interview.

Internal candidates have a very different reason for applying for the position, so treat them accordingly. They’ve also invested a great deal in your company already, so show respect for that, and pay it back.

Speak to their manager and find out if they know about their employee’s intentions. See if they think they’d be an appropriate option for the new role and what skills they’d bring to the position.

Plan your questions and be prepared to provide feedback

An internal candidate knows that you can check up on anything they say, confirming or denying the traits and practices under discussion. An external candidate will have the freedom to answer far more ‘creatively’.

Consider your evaluations carefully

Internal and external candidates bring different areas of expertise into play. An internal candidate shouldn’t become an automatic preference just because they have more experience in how the company operates and has already formed relationships with colleagues.

Similarly, your external candidate option shouldn’t take the lead in your choices just because they hold a broader range of experiences or come with stronger references.

Your choice should always be the best person for the position. How you evaluate that, however, is entirely up to you.

Internal interview tips

An interview can feel very different from an internal candidate. You may already have an existing relationship, creating a more informal atmosphere; however, you should still expect the employee to prepare and behave as if it were with an outside company.

They should dress and act professionally, stick to the expected tone, and show they’ve performed the same research into the position as an outside applicant would.

Leave your preconceptions at the door. Yes, you have added insight into your internal applicants, but give them the benefit of a clean sheet. They may have qualities that they haven’t had the opportunity to reveal yet.

Encourage internal candidates to discuss the motivation behind their decisions. If you can find out that they genuinely want the role because it’s what they were born to do, then that’s great. If they’re looking for the easiest way to jump to the next pay scale, well, that’s not so advantageous to your operation.

The appropriate follow up is essential

It’s vital to follow up every interview with the essential information your candidates expect.

When it comes to internal candidates, a special level of attention is required. They’ve shown that they want to climb the career ladder, and if you aren’t in a position to allow them the opportunity on this occasion, you should discuss putting a system in place so they can see that that door hasn’t closed on them for good.

Show them that you took their application seriously. Discuss any areas where they excelled and their application areas that let them down compared to other applicants. It could be something as simple as a qualification or experience in a specific situation. 

If that’s the case, you should help them earn the same experience or study for the required qualification, so they’ll have a far stronger chance of landing the future role. 

They’ve shown a desire to invest in your business, return the compliment by showing that you’re willing to invest in them too.

20 internal interview questions that you should always try to ask

  1. Why are you interested in this role and leaving your existing position?
  2. What makes you a strong applicant for this role?
  3. What was the most challenging project you’ve worked on within the company, and what was your role?
  4. How would you expect your manager to describe you?
  5. How would you expect your co-workers to describe you?
  6. Which areas have you shown the most growth since you started with the company?
  7. What do you believe to be the most important attributes of an effective leader?
  8. What have you learned in your experience outside the company that we don’t yet implement but should?
  9. Have you spoken to your manager about your desire to work in this new position?
  10. What have you learned working for our company that has prepared you for the new role?
  11. What are the best parts of working for our company?
  12. Given the opportunity, what would you change about how we operate?
  13. How high up the company ladder do you expect to climb?
  14. What would be the one thing you’d change about your current job?
  15. Have you managed any projects in your current position? How did that go? What did you learn?
  16. What are your collaboration, communication, and management styles?
  17. Are there any areas of your current role where you feel you failed, and what did you do to rectify them or to make sure they won’t happen again?
  18. Do you work better as part of a team or by yourself?
  19. If you were awarded a new position, how would you help your replacement transition into your previous role most effectively?
  20. What drew you to this industry?

Conclusion

Interviewing internal candidates is a very delicate area of a business’s hiring process. If you don’t handle the process with care and understanding, especially the follow-up with unsuccessful candidates, you could be left with bigger problems than you started with.

You wouldn’t want to have to repeat the whole process to fill the role of a disgruntled employee, leaving to pursue the same position within another company. If they believe they’re ready, and you won’t help them realize their ambition, then why wouldn’t they? They’ve tasted it, so what can you do to prevent them from pursuing their dream role elsewhere?

How you handle the situation can make a difference, not only to staff mentality but also to your ROI on employee turnover. Making the best possible evaluations will lead you towards the best choices for your business. How you handle rejections ensures you maintain your existing levels of employee morale and performance.

Looking for something a bit different to ask? Download our 47 Questions ebook, where we offer you a unique selection of interview questions that we’ve found to be particularly powerful in revealing the true character of a candidate.

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