The Internal Perspective

Published: 13 March 2014

Being the internal candidate for any given senior role is no easy task. At Berwick Partners we often interview and assess internal candidates against a field of external individuals who have been specifically identified and “head hunted” for the role in question. This makes for a very competitive scenario, where it is beholden upon the internal candidate to shine beyond their usual workplace demeanour.

This article sets out some of the challenges and opportunities of being an internal candidate. It explains some do’s and don’ts that will enable individuals to demonstrate the breadth and scope of their skills in a competitive recruitment setting.

Never presume

“But they know me and they know what I’m good at” is one of the most frequent comments that internal candidates make about their candidacy. However, this level of complacency can be dangerous. The panel will be looking for the internal candidate to make a compelling proposition about their skills and to neglect to mention certain areas of experience will undermine your case.

You can never presume that the Managing Director will recall the fantastic results you turned out three years ago; so don’t forget to remind him or her.

Make a compelling case

Why do you want the job? Why are you better than the other candidates? What will you bring to the post that is above and beyond what you are doing currently? All obvious questions, yet ones that internal candidates sometimes presume the panel knows the answer to telepathically.

Responses to these areas require planning to the Nth degree. You need to know the specific arguments you want to make for yourself. You must think about the language that you will use and you should understand how you can back that up with evidence.

The fact that the post is a natural next step for you will not wash. Develop a more interesting and ambitious dialogue that really sells you and what you can bring to the organisation in the long term.

New ideas

External candidates will be awash with fresh ideas on account of their vantage point and you need to be competing with them. The fact that you have proximity to company culture and strategy can give you an advantage. However, it can also blind-side you and impair your capacity to think creatively.

Naff as it sounds, there is merit to “thinking outside the box”. If you feel that there is an appetite, throw in a few left field suggestions for the panel or perhaps just think beyond existing strategy, offering “organic”, yet new ideas. The goal is to demonstrate that you can think independently, that although you are familiar with the organisation, you can still breathe fresh life into your area.

Even if you are proud of the fact that you would be a “safe pair of hands,” this needn’t be at the expense of an ability to innovate. As such, put your thinking cap on and think of some new areas that the panel might not expect you to talk about.

Research Just because you are already part of the company it does not mean that you have a moratorium on understanding the landscape within which it operates. Yes you will know the history and the characters involved, which does give you a head start. However this needs to be further boosted by meticulous research that will profile you as the fountain of knowledge on all things internal, and indeed external, profiling the wider world within which the post functions.

Bring in things that the panel doesn’t know about

It is probable that the panel will have already unwittingly formed an opinion of your candidacy on account of your performance within the business to date.

You can further enhance this by bringing in examples of your success in previous roles or businesses. Don’t be afraid to point out experience you have gained in other environments that is pertinent to the role in question, even if it is a little way back in history (within reason).

Acknowledge the things that haven’t gone so well

It is inevitable that there will be parts of your job that will not have gone as well as others. The panel will be aware of these factors and it is possible that this will form part of their consideration of your candidacy.

If you feel that they are relevant and you can present them constructively, then do bring them into the conversation- with the stipulation that you demonstrate what you did to overcome these issues. Don’t let any past misdemeanours become the elephant in the room. But equally don’t allow the interview to become a confessional for everything that has ever gone wrong!

Impress the third party

If your employer is working with an external agency on the appointment then don’t underestimate how important it is to create a good impression with them too. The third party will only have second-hand knowledge of your performance within the organisation and you will never have a second chance to make a first impression with them.

If you take into account all of the previous points within this article then it is entirely possible that you will be making a stronger case for appointment than the panel might expect. Make sure that this performance is mirrored in any dealings you have with the third party so that you know they will be feeding back equally strong findings to their client.

Elizabeth James is a Consultant in the Education Practice at Berwick Partners

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