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5 internal interview questions – and best practices for each

It can be tricky to prepare interview questions for internal candidates, especially if you’re also interviewing externally. In one sense, evaluating internal candidates can be a simpler process, because you can eliminate the questions of culture fit and uncertainty about current job performance. Time to hire is shorter, and the cost of that hire will also be lower. Onboarding will be a breeze.

internal interview questions

But hiring internally still poses different challenges, such as discord in the workplace from those who feel slighted, and negative consequences from promoting someone before they’re ready.

In the end, though, hiring internally has significant benefits of its own. Internal candidates bring institutional knowledge to their new role, and promoting them allows them to broaden and deepen their skills. Training existing employees also makes for a stronger, more reliable resource, not to mention keeping employees engaged and invested in the success of the company at large and motivating them to work hard to earn promotion.

And don’t underestimate the value of retaining highly-skilled and valuable employees who might otherwise be tempted to accept a promotion elsewhere.

If you’re going to hire internally, you’ll need to master the delicate art of the internal interview.

What to look for during the internal interview process

Before we get to the internal interview questions themselves, you want to first outline what you’re looking for when carrying out the internal evaluation process. When you and your hiring team are aligned on this, you will be better able to identify the ideal candidate for the role.

1. Success in current position

If you’re considering giving someone more authority, you first need to look at whether they are excelling in their current role.

Speak with your candidate’s current supervisor and discuss their performance, attitude, and abilities.

Do they have a growth mindset? Are they capable of managing a team, or do they work best alone? Is the candidate confident that they can handle the extra responsibility they’re looking to take on?

2. Skills that suit the position they are applying for

This can be difficult to puzzle out, as some candidates may be a good fit for a new position because of skills they already possess, but that they are unable to use in their current role. Careful questioning and an assessment of strengths should offer a clearer picture of these skills.

Generally, if someone is looking to move up into a new role, they should display soft skills like hard work, persistence, curiosity, collaboration, and leadership. You can also assess their hard skills at a more advanced, big-picture level, especially if they’re moving into a managerial role in their team or department.

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3. Motivation in applying for the new role

It can be difficult to discern someone’s motivations for interviewing for a given position. Are they applying because they feel like they ‘should’, without any real interest in the role? Is there dysfunction on their current team? Do they clash frequently with their current supervisor?

Identifying motivation is key because ideally you want to find someone who will go into a new role with a clear head and a deep understanding of what will be expected of them. If their reasoning for taking on more responsibility is muddled, they won’t have a reliable framework to fall back on when challenges arise.

4. Strengths in comparison to external candidates

In order to find the best possible candidate for a role, it’s important to be as objective as possible when evaluating internal candidates. This means looking at their technical, hard, and soft skills and evaluating whether there are external candidates who are more qualified.

5. Focus on self-improvement and growth

Having a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset is an excellent predictor of success and a person’s ability to rise to meet challenges. Humility, hard work, and a growth mindset are vital to adapting to the challenges of a new position.

These traits also generally go along with being open to thoughtful feedback, another vital characteristic for anyone looking to succeed long-term in an organization. Use questions to evaluate whether your candidate can recognize their growth potential.

6. Flexibility and adaptability

If you’re going to remove a person from their current position, you want to be confident that they possess the skills to adapt to the challenges of the new role. That means evaluating their technical abilities and how they match up with the expectations of the new position.

It also means ensuring that they are a fundamentally flexible person, able to adapt to new challenges while maintaining a high level of professionalism and decorum. Without this adaptability, even the most qualified candidate can fail to thrive in their new environment.

Examples of internal interview questions

We have five internal interview questions for you to incorporate into your interview process – each of them designed to help you pick up what you want to learn about each candidate you’re evaluating. They are as follows:

Question: What sets you apart from other applicants for this role?

Sometimes the most effective way to evaluate someone is to directly ask them to describe themselves. What do they say, and what do they choose to omit?

Look for:

  • a balance of humility and confidence
  • soft skills such as hard work and leadership
  • hard skills that suit the needs of the position
  • concrete examples of how their skills benefit the company
  • traits that stand out from other candidates

Question: How do you think this role will be different than your current role? How will you adapt to these differences?

This can be an opportunity to educate your candidate on the expectations of the role so that everyone is on the same page.

Look for:

  • an accurate understanding of the differences between their current role and their prospective role
  • a clear plan to tackle these challenges
  • optimism and faith in their abilities
  • clarity, flexibility & growth mindset

Question: Describe your leadership style, and give an example of a time when you displayed leadership.

There are two layers of questioning here: how does this person describe their leadership style and experiences, and can this person describe their leadership abilities at all? If your candidate can’t explain their leadership style, that could be a sign that they haven’t given it enough thought, or that they aren’t naturally drawn to leadership positions.

Look for:

  • objective analysis of their strengths
  • leadership principles that align with company culture
  • a concrete and believable example of leadership
  • willingness to learn and improve

Question: What skills have you developed in your career over the last three years?

This should give you an idea of the skills that are most applicable to the position, since they are skills your candidate has developed recently and mentioned in this interview. It is also a way of indirectly asking about their career goals, since they are most likely to mention skills they hope will be utilized soon.

Look for:

  • a balance of soft and hard skills
  • interest in self-improvement and growth
  • mentions of mentorship and collaboration
  • commitment and determination
  • relevant interests and skills

Question: How would your mentor or supervisor describe your work?

This question gives the candidate an opportunity to discuss their strengths and weaknesses without the typical strengths and weaknesses question. It also asks them to situate themself in the company at large, so that you can evaluate their collaboration and teamwork abilities.

Look for:

  • objectivity and perspective
  • analytical thought process
  • relationship with mentor or other leadership figures
  • comfort with constructive criticism

How to assess skills during an internal interview

1. Ask questions about specific experiences

Generally, your best chance at getting accurate information about your candidate’s skills is to be specific in your questions. Ask for concrete examples. If they describe something in vague terms, ask a follow-up question about the skills they used or the context of that experience. It’s a great way to assess the depth of their direct involvement in the examples they’re sharing.

2. Know what you’re looking for

Review the expectations with the hiring team for the position you’re assessing candidates for. You have to understand what you’re looking for yourself in order to gauge another person’s expertise and consequently make the right decisions.

3. Talk to their supervisor beforehand

Ask your candidate’s supervisor how they would assess their skills. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Do they meet the technical requirements of the new position? Hearing their supervisor’s opinion first can give valuable context for the candidate’s answers.

4. Technical assessment

When assessing hard skills rather than soft ones, there’s always the option of a technical assessment. You or another technically qualified person can ask questions about specific skills, or you can use a technical assessment tool to evaluate aptitude.

Often, an internal promotion or transfer can bring more reward than an externally sourced hire. With these internal interview questions, you’re now ready to evaluate internal candidates for that open role. Best of luck in your search!

Olivia Jones is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. She helps companies create compelling content. Learn more about what she does on her website or connect with her on LinkedIn.

Frequently asked questions

How do you prepare for an internal interview?

You probably haven't edited your resume since you got your current job so be sure to update your resume with current accomplishments and tell your boss before you apply to avoid awkward situations down the road.

Do internal candidates usually get the job?

Most companies allow internal candidates to apply to new positions before they post the job for external candidates to find. An internal candidate usually knows the company's rules, policies, and procedures better than an external candidate.

What is your weakness best answer?

You can answer “what is your greatest weakness” by choosing a skill that is not essential to the job you're applying to and by stressing exactly how you're practically addressing your weakness. Some skills that you can use as weaknesses include impatience, multitasking, self-criticism, and procrastination.

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