Job searching is stressful. You perfect your resume, write custom cover letters, and apply to too many job ads — all to earn an illusive interview.
And for many, the interview is the most stressful part of the job hunt process. You have to make a good first impression to get a second interview, and you know the competition is fierce — 50% of working Americans want a career change.
One way to side-step some of this stress is by applying for internal positions. This might be a promotion or department transfer, but either way, you’re already much more familiar with the company than with outside positions.
Hiring from within is also gaining traction as a response to The Great Resignation. Employers who prioritize internal promotions enjoy better employee engagement, and employees are 41% more likely to remain with a company that emphasizes internal hiring.
But internal positions aren’t always in the bag — external candidates often still apply and competition is high. Stand out from competitors by preparing for the internal interview questions.
What’s an internal interview?
An internal interview happens when you apply or are recruited for a position at your current company. Your employer might require you to interview for a promotion, or a job ad might grab your attention, for example.
Applying for an internal position often looks the same as for external job opportunities — you’ll usually still send a cover letter (focused more on why you want and would excel in the role switch) and resume.
Recruiters love internal candidates. You’ve already undergone basic onboarding so only need role-specific training, and they already know you’re an excellent culture add. All you have to do is ace the internal interview.
Internal candidates typically skip the initial screening interview round where basic questions are asked because the hiring manager already has this information. Instead, you’re more likely to get role-specific questions from potential teammates.
How to prepare for an internal interview
No matter the type of interview you’re facing, it’s important to prepare for your internal interview as rigorously as if you were applying externally. You want to convince the hiring manager and future colleagues you’ll do as great a job in this new role as you’ve done in your current position.
They also might not want to lose you on the original team, so expressing your value to the new role is crucial. Here are a few ways to prepare for the internal interview:
Ultimately, the hiring manager wants the most qualified individual. Show you’re a great fit by evaluating the job description from an outsider’s perspective, taking note of every skill they’ve listed, and finding ways to describe your experience similarly.
If the description mentions having great communication skills, use an example from your current position to showcase your proficiency.
Gather as much informal information about the role as possible before the interview by talking to coworkers on the other team or networking with professionals doing that job.
If you’re applying for a position outside your department and your current manager is aware and supportive, ask them for advice to help you ace the interview.
Don’t assume the hiring manager already knows your company-specific accomplishments. Instead, list successful projects and campaigns you’ve worked on, and use them to illustrate your answers to interview questions.
Connect these items to the position’s requirements to provide the insight the interviewer needs to understand which skills you bring to the table and your approach to the new job’s challenges.
20 interview questions for internal candidates
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork for your interview, start prepping answers to common questions.
Your interview will likely include a selection of questions from the following categories. Remember to tailor your responses to incorporate concrete examples from your current role where appropriate.
If you’re working for a large company, you might be dealing with a new department-specific hiring manager who wants to get an idea of who you are.
- Tell me about your professional journey thus far.
- Why are you a strong candidate for this position?
- Why did you choose to work in this particular field?
- What’s your greatest strength? What about weakness?
Knowing why you want a job helps the interviewer evaluate your expectations to ensure they match the reality of the position. This also illustrates the energy and drive you’ll bring to the team.
- Why are you willing to leave your old role for this position?
- What about the company makes you excited to come to work each day?
- Where do you see yourself five years from now? What about 15?
- If you could change one thing about your current job, what would it be?
Skill and experience
Qualification and experience-based questions help the interviewer establish your mental fitness and whether you have the hard and soft skills necessary to meet your employer’s expectations.
- What strengths do you bring to this position?
- Tell us about your most challenging project with the company. What role did you play?
- What traits do you possess that will help you successfully undertake this role?
- Describe a situation where there was a miscommunication between team members. What communication and leadership skills did you use to make it right?
A job interview not only evaluates your skills and qualifications but also determines how well your values, behavior, and beliefs mesh with your coworkers’.
- Do you like regular input from management or less frequent, more thorough feedback?
- Do you enjoy working as a team or by yourself?
- Describe your management style.
- What leadership style do you prefer, and how does it help drive productivity and inspire you to give the job your all?
How you worked in your previous role with the company is a good indicator of future performance.
- How would your manager describe you?
- What have you learned from your current role that would help you excel in this position?
- Tell us about a mistake or failure you made in your current role. What did you do to address the problem, and what did you learn?
Give an example of a situation where you had to respond to an emergency. How did you decide what course to take, and what did you do to solve the problem?
How to answer challenging internal interview questions
Most interviews include at least one question that’ll make you squirm — internal interviews are no exception.
One of the unique challenges you face as an internal candidate is that you’re talking about your current role, coworkers, and management. These questions can be tricky to navigate.
Your best option is to stay positive about your experiences in your current job. Be honest but keep the focus on what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. Don’t belittle the position, and always speak diplomatically about your supervisor and teammates.
The best way to conquer uncomfortable situations is to prepare. Here are some example answers to tough questions.
1. What part of your current position has led you to seek a new opportunity?
The interviewer is trying to gauge why you want to change jobs, so discuss your desire for professional development rather than complain about your current role.
“I love my job, but I’ve been looking for a role that leverages my existing skill set while allowing me to develop new competencies. I believe this position will permit me to do that. I feel I’ve developed skills such as [insert skills] in my current role that make me a great fit for this new one — and I could build on these skills to achieve greater productivity.
I’ve often collaborated with this team and understand their objectives, processes, and challenges, which will help speed up the transition.”
2. What would you do to help your replacement if you got this position?
This question reassures the interviewer you care about your current department and would bring that same appreciation and attention to detail to the new one. They also like knowing you’re prepared to make the transition easier for everyone involved.
“I’ve contributed to the onboarding process in my department and am well-versed in the needs of a new hire. I’ve already documented how to accomplish many of my day-to-day tasks and written how-to guides for the computer applications I use regularly.
I’ll coordinate with my new and current managers to define times I’ll be available to demonstrate processes or answer any questions my replacement has. And, of course, I’ll make it a point to answer any inquiries via email or messenger as quickly as possible.”
3. How would it affect your current job if you were not selected for this role?
Rejected internal candidates are nearly two times more likely to quit their jobs. One way to ease this quit rate is to address the issue head-on, in the internal interview. The interviewer will want to know what strategies you’ll use to cope with the disappointment of a career setback.
Your response should be mature and professional while demonstrating a willingness to support the successful candidate and to work on expanding your qualifications so you’ll be ready the next time a job opportunity comes around.
“If you hire another candidate, they will have my full support. I’m committed to building my career with this company, so I will help them succeed and develop my skills further to prepare for the next opportunity here.”
4. What would your coworkers say if we asked them about your suitability for this promotion?
One of the advantages of internal hiring is that it’s easy to get an appraisal of your strengths and weaknesses from coworkers. Be honest about your work relationships and frame your answer in the most positive way possible.
“My team is one of the most supportive groups I’ve ever worked with. We’ve been through a lot together, and I believe they would tell you I’m an asset to this company — loyal, dedicated, and driven to always give my all.
My team would also say I have the growth mindset necessary to succeed. They may not want me to leave, but I know they’d be supportive.”
Internal interview tips for creating a positive impression
You’re in a unique and advantageous position as an internal candidate, but you still need to outshine the competition. Here are a few tips to help you stand out:
Study the new department and job description like you’re an external candidate to ensure nothing gets missed. Use examples from your current role to bolster skills and experiences — they can check with managers and coworkers about these to make your application even more reputable. This also reminds recruiters how valuable you’ve already been to the organization.
Write down 10 skills you believe will be an asset to the position, team, or department, and make a point to mention them within the context of your responses. Try to align these with those mentioned in the job description. A little self-promotion can go a long way in securing a job.
Hiring managers want to make the hiring process as fair as possible, so don’t see your relationship with the organization as your most valuable differentiator. Ask your manager what’s stood out about your performance. This doesn’t always have to be professional skills — perhaps your humor makes team meetings more enjoyable, or your documentation skills are top-notch.
Use your internal network advantageously
If possible, speak to potential colleagues in the new department to find out what they’d like in their new coworker and highlight these positive personality traits and skills throughout the interview.
Follow up with gratitude
As with any interview, following up with your interviewer is essential to show your consideration for their time and keep you top of mind. Consider sending an appreciation email after the interview thanking them for the opportunity. Contact them again in a week or two if you haven’t heard back to inquire about the next steps.
Get on board
Applying for internal positions shows you enjoy your current employer and care about your professional growth. Hiring managers also like it because onboarding is simpler, and they already know you’re a great fit.
Research the position, apply like you’re an external candidate, and practice the internal interview questions above and you’ve got a great chance of moving up in a company you already know you love.