Ask Ellie & Jill: Internal Candidate

Posted on August 2, 2018

Ask Ellie and Jill

In the series, ELGL members can anonymously send their questions, difficulties or scenarios to and receive a response from the ghost writing response team. Your name, organization and other details will not be shared in the posting or subsequent response.

Dear Ellie & Jill,

A promotion opportunity has come open in my City due to retirement. I don’t know that I’ll be the best applicant but was encouraged to apply by the department director. Any recommendations for applying for a job within my current organization?


Internal Candidate

Dear Internal Candidate,

It’s awesome that the department director encouraged you to apply. This gives you good intel about your candidacy. It’s never a sure thing, but it’s good to know that your organization thinks you’re prepared to at least be considered for the role.

When you’re applying for a position as an internal candidate, the same things that work in your favor can work against you too—they know you. They know your successes (and failures), your strengths (and weaknesses), your skills (and areas where you’re unskilled). This means you can’t fib on your CV or gloss over any mishaps that may have happened over the years.

Instead, own your strengths and be prepared to sell them in the context of what you know the organization needs, and be specific. For example, the hiring manager may know you’re a good all-around person, but they may not know about that multi-million dollar grant you just secured, or the complicated staffing issues you oversee in your current role, particularly if you work in a different department. Also, don’t forget to highlight your personal investment in professional development and your extensive ELGL network!

If there are any skeletons in your proverbial work closet, own them too. (Right now, we’re giggling about Ben Wyatt and the Ice Town debacle).

If something that you’re not spectacularly proud of comes up in an interview, be up front about what went wrong, what you learned, and what you’ve done to make sure it won’t happen again.

The other side of them knowing all about you is that you know all about the role & department. Use what you know to your advantage. Come into your interview with a few ideas about how you could help move the department forward. Don’t project the attitude that you know everything already but do demonstrate that you know who to go to for answers. And if the knowledge and relationships you’ve developed in your current role can be beneficial in this one, be sure to highlight that.  

And please remember, when you decide to apply for an internal position, it is critical that you let your current supervisor know early enough in the process that there’s no risk of them hearing it from anyone but you. We say this as managers who have been blindsided by employees in the past. Regardless of what you may think about your current supervisor, they’re probably not going anywhere anytime soon. Whether you get the new job or not, you’ll need to maintain a positive working relationship with that person & your current colleagues. If he or she can’t handle the information maturely, that’s on them—not you.

Finally, whether you’re selected or not, grace and humility are your friends. If an external candidate is chosen, take the opportunity to reflect on the strengths she or he brings to the role, and use that information to further your own development. If you are chosen, be gracious, focus on executing a painless transition, and go into the new role with an open mind, ready to learn and grow.

We’re cheering for you, Internal Candidate! Keep us posted on how things go.

Your friends,

Ellie & Jill

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