As a recruiter, when you prepare for an internal interview, the interview questions for internal candidates are likely to differ from external recruitment questions. This is because internal candidates are already known within the business, and the candidate already has a clear understanding of the business and their fit within it. Or sometimes, the internal candidate is referred by their colleagues, showing that their teammates already see that they could fit the new position well.
The interview process needs to adjust accordingly to assess whether the internal candidate is ready to move upwards to a next-step role or sideways to a new opportunity. You’ll still need to assess whether the candidate matches the skillset required: including soft skills, strengths and weaknesses and functional abilities. But with the knowledge that the internal candidate has, they have already shown themselves to be keen to progress internally and a good fit with the business’s culture.
How to assess internal candidates?
Although your internal candidates are already known in the business (you may indeed know them personally and professionally as the recruiter), it’s essential to follow the same structured interview questions as you would with any external candidate. Simply put: be structured, record and evidence answers, and ask the same foundational questions to all candidates where they make sense. This baseline of commonality is vital to show that you have been fair and unbiased during the interview process. If you treat your internal recruitment the same as you do with external recruitment, you can build an effective talent-sourcing strategy.
What type of questions should you ask in an internal interview?
These types of interviews can be particularly valuable. When interviewing internal candidates, you already know you have a motivated individual keen to progress within the business. The focus shifts to ensuring that the candidate is ready and suitable for the position they have applied for. With this in mind, these are typical questions that recruiters can ask to assess internal candidates successfully:
General introductory questions
- Tell us about yourself
- How would you describe your working style?
- Why would you be a good fit for this position and what attracts you to it?
- What skills or experiences would you bring to this role?
- Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Experience and background questions
Although the candidate’s background may be known to the interviewer, it’s still important to follow the same process as you would for an external candidate. Usually, you don’t need to perform a thorough reference check like with external candidates, saving you time (unless the new position requires some additional checks). Good questions here could be:
- Why did you first decide to work for our business?
- Tell me about a time you faced a working challenge and describe how you overcame it.
- How would your current colleagues describe you?
- Which of your skills do you think are the most relevant to this role?
- With this role in mind, can you tell us about your most relevant career highlights to date?
More in-depth questions
At this point in the interview, everyone should be nicely warmed up! So it’s time to move ahead with some more in-depth questions, such as:
- What made you apply for this role?
- How have your experiences within the business so far prepared you for this role?
- How do you resolve conflict? Can you give an example?
- If you aren’t selected for this role, how will it affect your existing role and place within the company?
- Tell me about a time you were recognised for your contribution at work?
- How would you change the way this position is currently being delivered, based on your own knowledge and experience?
- What would you see as the main challenges in the position that you’re applying for?
- How do you stand out from other candidates?
- What would your colleagues say if we asked them if you were a good fit for this role?
- What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses (push for a genuine weakness here! If the candidate says ‘perfectionism’, they have prepared well, but it’s unlikely to be their real weakness!)
- You could also phrase the last question as ‘What would your colleagues say are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?’
Internal interview questions about motivation
Motivation is important for all hiring managers, and an application from an internal candidate is a good indicator of motivation. To find out more, you could ask:
- What do you like most about working in this company?
- Why do you want this role?
- What do you tell your friends and family about working here?
- Beyond this immediate job, what are your career ambitions?
- What would you change about this company to boost productivity/morale /engagement?
Internal interview questions about leadership
For more senior roles, good questions for leadership relate to leadership styles and conflict resolution. You could ask:
- How would you describe your leadership style?
- How do you handle challenging situations as a leader?
- What is your communication style?
- What could you bring to the leadership team at this business?
- What makes an effective leader?
Internal interview questions about the company
This is a good time to find out what the candidate knows and perceives about the business and its culture and also get a sense of how they might change things. E.g.:
- How would you describe our company to a new customer?
- How would you describe our culture and values to a peer?
- How would you describe our employer brand?
- What would you change about our company?
- What do you think the company does well and what could it do better?
Surprising interview questions
Great candidates often prepare heavily for interviews and can do very well as a result of pre-considered answers. But it’s also good to throw a candidate off-kilter by adding in a surprise question or two. The purpose here is to see how your candidate responds under pressure and with something unexpected. The actual question and answer sometimes matters less than the assessment of how the individual responds; with creativity, great communication, grace, or frustration?
Q1. What makes you tick?
This is a great question because it is so vague! You’ll be able to glean a lot from what the candidate chooses to reveal to you!
Q2. Tell us about a time you made a big mistake and what you learned from it?
See how big the mistake is that the candidate confesses to! But the real gem here is the way that they resolved the issue. Everyone makes mistakes, but great employees know how to resolve them.
Q3. What are your feelings about vulnerability?
This sort of question is a psychologist’s dream! However, it shows how well candidates are comfortable with embracing more modern business attributes.
Q4. What can you tell me about diversity and inclusion?
Again, this will give you an understanding of how the candidate understands this vital attribute in business and what it means to them.
Q5. Tell us about a time you helped another person succeed.
This is another enlightening question because it shows whether this person is a true team player or primarily focused solely on their own performance. The former attribute is key for most roles, especially if you’re recruiting for a management or leadership position.
Q6. What have you learned about yourself in the past five years?
Again, this question demands some truth and vulnerability, and you’ll also see a moment of introspection. It can be a wonderfully revealing question that tells you a lot about the person sitting in front of you!
The questions that your internal candidate has for you are also very revealing. A good candidate will always have at least one or two questions, so be prepared for these and assess whether they show thought and authentic interest (rather than a cut-and-paste job from an interview preparation sheet!). Sometimes the candidate prefers to ask questions during the interview, not at the end. Especially when you are personally familiar with them. Facilitating the conversation and maintaining the interview structure for a fair evaluation is important. Remember to utilise all the best practice interviewing techniques for the best results.