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How to Prepare for an Internal Interview: 8 Tips to Get a Promotion

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You’re interested in a recently announced position in your company. You’ve been waiting for an opportunity to get promoted for years.

Since it’s an internal promotion, it won’t be hard to talk shop with your boss and HR manager, right? They already know you.

Wrong. Job promotion interviews are just as challenging as interviewing for a new position.

The mechanics will be different. First impressions are out the window and you’re already familiar with the power structure of the company. You might have to dodge some awkward situations along the way, too.

Internal Interview
Internal interview (photo)

8 Internal Interview Tips to Master before Applying for a Promotion

An internal interview is different from a regular interview, so you need a new set of strategies. Let's look at the issues to prepare for and tips to overcome them.

1. To Tell or Not to Tell?

Should you tell your boss you’re aiming for a promotion? Does it make a difference if the position is for another department? What if the position you’re aiming for is the same as your current manager’s job title?

This is the first of many awkward situations you’re going to face. Consider how your boss might react before announcing your application.

Talk to your boss in private, so you can see what he thinks of your contributions to the team. It might be a sign that you’re ‘too good to let go’ if your boss mentions how irreplaceable you are. Usual victims of this include star players acing performance metrics and assistants too good at their job.

Worried your boss might not let you go? Explain the situation to the hiring manager, so they can keep your application under wraps until the right time. 

Companies with an existing Talent Development policy often ask managers to fill out an Internal Job Promotion (IJP) form. This requires your boss to give his permission (aka ‘clearance’), and evaluate you as a candidate for the role—including past demeanors, performance, and absences.

That’s why honesty is the best policy in this situation. You don’t want to surprise your boss with a form that can make or break your promotion, right? Consider the suggestion above only as a last resort. 

Tip 1: Make Your Potential Promotion a Win-Win

Frame the promotion in your manager’s perspective. Don’t make it about your paycheck or career growth. Explain how the movement will reflect well on their skills as a manager. A promotion will make your boss look good to upper management.

A lateral transfer will extend your manager’s network of supporters in other divisions of the company. As for unwanted rivalries, assure your boss that you’re not a threat even if you’re targeting a similar job.

2. Know Your Reputation Around the Office

External candidates are lucky to have a clean slate with the hiring team. They can still make a good first impression.

You? Not so much. You might have made a good first impression before. But that’s now buried under your colleague and manager’s opinion about your work and personality in the office.

Even if you have a good reputation within your team, manager, and the rest of the hiring committee, they might still have preconceived notions about your potential.

Tip 2: Gather and Re-Shape People’s Opinion

Ask your boss, HR manager, and several colleagues what they think of you. Be open to harsh criticisms and unlikely answers. Accept what they say and don’t defend yourself. Ask questions to uncover what they honestly think of you in a different role.

For instance, you might be a Senior Designer vying for an Art Director position. Your previous job’s main responsibility is producing good design, but the director post requires team management and several admin duties on top of your other design-related tasks. Can your colleagues picture you as a multi-tasker? What do they think of your people skills?

Steel yourself for the arduous process of changing people’s perception of you. You can do this by accepting a task with skills needed in your target job, or pursuing a personal project on your own.

3. Research the Job and the Hiring Committee’s Expectations

You have the advantage of easy access to the hiring panel. Use it to your advantage.

You don’t have to rely on the job description when preparing for an internal interview. Ask HR or anyone in the hiring committee about their individual expectations for the person filling that role a few days before the interview.

Tip 3: Ask the Right Questions, Get Better Answers

Don’t ask direct questions like, “What do I have to do to get this job?” or worse, “What can I say to convince you I’m perfect for this role?” Those questions make you come off as desperate for ANY promotion. It won’t give you any insights either.

Ask questions like:

  • What are the three most important responsibilities for this role?
  • What kind of leadership or management style are you looking for?
  • What type of work or portfolio do you expect the perfect candidate to have?
  • What are potential red flags that might stop you from selecting a particular candidate? 

Do you know someone in a similar role? Have them recount questions they remember from their internal interview. What did they say to impress the interview panel? You don’t have to get specific answers; just the talking points that helped them stand out from other candidates.

4. Learn to Deal With Internal and External Competition

Is your boss included in the hiring committee? That might give you a better chance of scouting the competition. If not, ask anyone in the hiring committee if they’re also considering external applicants. You don’t want to look too worried about extra competition.

Tip 4: Don’t Let the Competition Drive You Crazy

  • Praise the Company’s Internal Promotion Efforts: This may seem counterintuitive, but saying this makes you look confident in your own skills. It also shows you’re not a sore loser and you have the company’s interest at heart.
  • Praise the Committee’s Commitment to Selecting Based on Competence: It’s impossible to tell if they’ll hire based on merit or favoritism. You’re just thanking them in advance—and subtly reminding them.  
  • Fight Influence with Influence: Someone in the hiring committee has a favorite. But you’re not so lucky to have a powerful patron in your corner. Give proof of your credibility and wide influence (however small that may be) by compiling lots of recommendations.

5. Handle Career Faux Pas Graciously

No one has a perfect employment record. Perhaps you lost a client before, billed the wrong person, or missed a deadline or two. While it’s easy to get defensive and blame others, this isn’t the right way to go. Moving up in the career ladder requires taking ownership of your mistakes.

How do you do this without destroying your chance for a promotion?

Tip 5: Overcome Objections

  • Explain what happened, what you did wrong, and what you learned as a result. Some mistakes are just too embarrassing to shrug off so the least you can do is explain what you’ll do differently next time.
  • Make sure you’ve racked up enough kudos from your boss and quantifiable accomplishments before applying for a promotion. If the offending incident happened just a month ago, wait for another opportunity. The wound is still fresh so applying for a promotion now will end badly and ruin your future chances.
  • Talk about your other strengths as a candidate. 

6. Dealing With Potential Internal Interview Questions

Expect tough questions. The interview panel will quiz you on everything, from your previous performance, work relationships, qualifications, and salary expectations. 

Tip 6: Prepare for Potential Interview Questions

Below are common internal interview questions for a job promotion. I suggest you prepare an answer for each of them.

  • Why do you want to leave your current role?
  • Why do you want to get promoted?
  • What would you do if you don’t get the spot?
  • What do you have that other candidates don’t?
  • Do you have any prior experience working in this capacity?
  • What kind of challenges are you looking for in this new role?
  • Can you fire someone?
  • How do you plan to manage difficult team members? What about difficult customers or clients?
  • How would you spend your first 30 days in this new role? 

Most of the questions asked in internal job promotion interviews gauge your ability to do the job, and how you might handle the stresses it will bring.

7. Compile Your List of Contributions and Kudos

Yes, I’m talking about a brag book. This process might take a few days if you don’t have the materials ready, so you better plan ahead.

Contact previous managers and colleagues immediately so you can ask for the items you’ll need. You’re going to need your current co-workers help, too. You can even run a background check on yourself to review the results and address possible mistakes. Including a background check in your brag book is another good way to impress the hiring committee of your thoroughness and honesty.

Tip 7: Know What to Include in Your Brag Book:

  • Recommendations from previous managers explaining your accomplishments, company awards, and other supporting details of how amazing you were as an employee.
  • Recommendations from previous colleagues citing your skills, ability to work in a team, and reliability as a co-worker.
  • Summary or excerpts of past performance reviews from current and previous employers.
  • Kudos emails from your current employer and client. Search your work email for words like “Good job” or “Great job” coming from your boss and clients. Screenshot these emails and include them in your brag book.
  • LinkedIn endorsements and testimonials.
  • Certifications from completed trainings.
  • Curated list of your milestone achievements in current and previous employers. Highlight achievements related to the target job.
  • A short report detailing your action plan once you take the new job. It can include anything from ideas you want to implement, or a step by step solution to a known problem in the company.
  • Optional: a background check on yourself.

8. Follow-Up Without Annoying People

Following up is just as important in promotions. Just send a polite email asking for updates on the selection process. Except in this situation, it’s easy to look like an annoying and overbearing applicant because you run into them a lot.

They might start avoiding you after your first ‘few’ follow-ups. Avoid this at all costs because it can destroy all the hard work you put in before and after the interview.

Tip 8: Prevent Future Encounters From Getting Awkward

  • Ask the hiring committee when they’re likely to make a decision. Don’t send a follow-up until that day passes.
  • Send a personalized thank you note to everyone in the hiring committee a day after the interview. Thank them for their time then highlight one or two good talking points from your discussion.
  • If you see anyone from the hiring committee, only talk to them about work. Don’t corner or approach them unless you have a genuine question.
  • Don’t use work related questions as a ruse to start a conversation then badger them a few seconds in. 

Here’s a sample follow-up email you can customize:

Hi [Name],
I hope you’re doing well. I’m following up regarding our conversation about the [Job Title] selection process. Last we spoke, you mentioned the committee will make a decision by the [Date provided], so I just wanted to check to see where you are in that process.
Thank you in advance. I look forward to hearing from you.
Regards,
[Your Name]

There’s No Turning Back So Make Sure You Want That Job Promotion 

Just last month, a manager friend of mine had to let go a good team member because he couldn’t cope with the senior position role he accepted four months before. The job offered a nice raise and relocation to a different city where the company has a regional office.

Because the employee couldn’t cope with the new responsibilities, and the adjustment of living in a new place, he requested for a ‘transfer back.’ He wanted his old position in the main office. The company already processed his promotion and he’s managing two new employees. Plus, the company already invested money on his relocation.

Of course, my friend couldn’t allow him to go back. What would happen to the growing team he’s supposed to look after? He also can’t go back to the main office because he has no one to supervise there. Because the employee wanted out, he had no choice but to resign, leaving my friend scrambling for a new senior analyst to fill the vacancy.

This is a prime, albeit extreme, example of how different internal job promotions are. In this situation, everyone in the hiring committee assumes you’ve thought it through. You know the job specifics and the challenges that come with it.

Don’t apply for the job unless you’re going to take it when it’s offered, and you’re sure you won’t back out. Do your due diligence about the position and the salary offered before signing.

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