What is an internal candidate?
An internal candidate is someone who applies for another internal position within the company for which they already work. So, what is an internal position? Simply, it's a position at the company for which a candidate already works. This position may be in another department or even in another office but, so long as the position is within the same umbrella company, anyone who applies for the position that the company already employs is considered an internal candidate.
So an internal candidate might be someone working in the marketing department who wants to try their hand at writing and, therefore, applies for an editorial assistant opening. Likewise, an internal candidate might be someone working in the company's accounting department who has just finally finished law school and wants to transfer to the company's legal department.
That said, an internal candidate doesn't necessarily refer to a candidate who is switching departments. An internal candidate might just be someone who is putting themselves out there, letting their managers know that they're interested in a promotional role. For example, perhaps an associate editor has been with the company for one year when they find out that the company is hiring a senior editor above them. Rather than hiring a new senior editor, the associate editor may reach out to their manager to express their own interest in the opening. In this case, if the associate editor (who becomes an internal candidate if they're, indeed, considered for the role) is promoted to senior editor, the company might instead hire a new associate editor. And the now-senior editor can help train them, which often makes more sense for the company, anyway.
Do internal candidates stand a better chance?
Internal candidates don't necessarily stand a better chance against external candidates when it comes to landing a new job. That said, they do have a lot of advantages under their belts.
What do internal candidates have against them? Internal candidates are already filling important positions within the company. If the company chooses to hire an internal candidate, the chances are that the company will then have to not only spend the time and dollars to help that person transition into their new role (which may also come with a raise), but the company will also have to spend even more time and dollars hiring another person to fill the void in the internal candidate's first role. This means that, instead of just hiring and training one new employee, the company will have to still hire a new employee (and possibly give the existing one a raise), but train two employees.
You might be thinking, how do you decline an internal candidate? But this can be more work for a company, and it could cost a company more than they're willing to spend. They can simply decline an internal candidate on those accounts alone.
Likewise, an internal candidate who is interested in dabbling in an entirely new department or sector of the company will also have to prove to the hiring managers how their skills and experiences working in their current department will be transferable to the new role.
That said, as mentioned, an internal candidate can be instrumental in training their replacement. And, since they already know the company and the ways in which it operates well, they will presumably need a lot less training than a brand new external candidate.
In fact, what an internal candidate does have going for them is just that: experience with the company. Having insider intel on the company, understanding its values and mission, having a grasp for how things operate and already having relationships with people in the office are all advantages to internal interviewees. Because of all of this, an internal candidate might be a more visible one in hiring managers' eyes.
Regardless of their advantages, however, internal candidates still need to prepare for their interviews so they can compete with the strengths that external candidates possess.
How do you stand out in an internal interview?
Standing out in an internal interview takes extra work. After all, you need to show your hiring manager why they never should have even looked elsewhere in the first place.
Here are some simple steps to standing out in an internal interview.
1. Tap into your intel.
You already know a lot about the company and how it works, as well as its strengths, weaknesses and overall goals. While you should still do your research on the company to keep abreast of any updates, changes and/or news, you already know a lot of what external candidates are scrambling to understand.
2. Explain how your company-specific experience is transferable.
Again, you already have experience with the company — and this is a great advantage. But you need to be able to explain how your skills in one department are going to be transferable to another department. And you're going to need to be able to explain how your experience with your current department is actually beneficial in some way, perhaps because the new department has to communicate with your current department a lot or another similar reason. Whatever the case, you need to make your experience seem as relevant and applicable as possible.
3. Ask especially detailed questions.
Most external candidates will ask follow-up questions — that's because all interviews should be two-way streets. And most candidates will, inevitably, have questions.
Make sure, then, that your questions are great questions. Ask company-specific questions that external candidates perhaps wouldn't think or know to ask. Ask questions about your company's pain points of which an external candidate might not be aware. Ask questions, whatever they are, that will resonate with your hiring manager.
Of course, it's always important to stay professional, as well, regardless of the relationship you may already have with your hiring manager. For more on how to ace an internal interview, see here.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.