Beating Out an Internal Candidate to Land the Job

Competing against an internal candidate for a dream position is difficult. An insider has intimate knowledge of the company’s goals, tech stack and project management processes; plus, they usually have established relationships with stakeholders and the hiring manager.

On the other hand, an external candidate brings a fresh perspective and ideas that may help a team perform at a higher level. Managers often want to bring in new blood in order to establish a fresh DevOps culture or implement cutting-edge technology.

“Even when a position is advertised, you should always assume that an internal candidate is being considered, and position yourself and your strengths in a way that levels the playing field,” noted Jim Schreier, owner of consulting firm Beyond the Far Cliffs.

Here are some ways to compete against an internal candidate and come out on top: 

Gather Competitive Intel

In order to boost your knowledge of the company’s needs to the level of internal candidates, you need to understand the company’s end game. What is the manager ultimately trying to achieve? What can you contribute to the company’s strategy that an insider can’t?

Networking with current or former employees (or a knowledgeable third-party recruiter) is the best way to become familiar with the company’s structure, existing talent, and hiring priorities. Before the interview, prepare questions and talking points that reflect your newly acquired knowledge of the organization.

Being vague won’t cut it, Schreier warned. “You have to focus on your accomplishments and be very specific in explaining how you would tackle similar problems during the interview.”

Melissa Llarena, a career coach and founder of Career Outcomes Matter, agreed with Schreier: “Be ready to offer your view of the company’s existing technologies and solutions for tackling the challenges of the future.”

“An internal candidate is associated with where the company has been,” she added. Instead, position yourself as a change agent by aligning your brand and messaging with the company’s goals and vision.

If you are unable to uncover actionable insights about the company before your meeting, gather some quick intelligence by asking the manager or interviewer: “If you were to hire me, what would I need to accomplish in my first year to be successful?” That can give you an opening to explain how your skills and experience suit the position.

Bring a Consulting Mindset

Displaying a consultative mindset is a great way to separate yourself from an internal candidate, all while demonstrating your familiarity and competence with similar issues.

For instance, before you respond to a situational question or problem, ask clarifying questions to better understand the history and context of the circumstances and the options available. “Don’t say the first thing that comes to mind,” Schreier said. “Think about the question before formulating a response.”

The more you can speak to the manager’s specific functional areas and issues, the better your chances of landing the job.

Creating a 90-day plan is another consulting technique you might consider. Insiders often have an advantage over outsiders because they require minimal ramp-up time. Having a plan closes that gap by demonstrating mastery of the subject matter and the ability to hit the ground running.

Audition

Hiring managers often prefer a “less-risky” internal candidate whose strengths and shortcomings are well known. Providing a realistic preview of your approach to work and business relationships can help the hiring manager (as well as your future teammates) envision working side-by-side with you.

For example, ask permission to diagram solutions on a whiteboard instead of talking them through. And instead of serving up short, factual answers to questions, use storytelling techniques to truly engage the interviewer.

Remember, an internal candidate may assume that they have the job in the bag. The fact that you’ve prepared extensively for the interview may actually convince a manager to hire an enthusiastic outsider who will bring fresh ideas.

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