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10 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.

10 good internal interview questions

  1. What sets you apart from other applicants for this role?
  2. How do you think this role will be different than your current role? How will you adapt to these differences?
  3. Describe your leadership style, and give an example of a time when you displayed leadership.
  4. What skills have you developed in your career over the last three years?
  5. How would your mentor or supervisor describe your work?
  6. How have you contributed to the success of your current team?
  7. What challenges do you anticipate in this new role and how do you plan to overcome them?
  8. How do you handle feedback and criticism in your current role?
  9. What do you believe are the most important qualities for this new position?
  10. How do you envision your growth in the company over the next few years?

Here are 10 essential interview questions and sample answers to help identify the best candidates for this role.

1. What sets you apart from other applicants for this role?

This question allows the candidate to highlight their unique strengths and experiences within the company, showcasing their value proposition for the new role.

Sample answer:

I have a deep understanding of our company’s processes and culture, having worked here for five years. My experience in both sales and marketing departments gives me a holistic view, making me uniquely positioned for this cross-functional role.

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

This question assesses the candidate’s understanding of the new role and their adaptability to potential changes.

Sample answer:

The new role involves more strategic planning and cross-departmental collaboration. I plan to undertake additional training and foster relationships with key stakeholders to ensure a smooth transition.

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

This question evaluates the candidate’s leadership qualities and their ability to reflect on their experiences.

Sample answer:

My leadership style is collaborative. I believe in empowering team members. An instance was when I led a project, and instead of dictating tasks, I involved everyone in the decision-making process, leading to a successful project completion.

4. What skills have you developed in your career over the last three years?

Understanding the candidate’s recent professional growth can provide insights into their commitment to self-improvement.

Sample answer:

Over the last three years, I’ve honed my data analytics skills, learned advanced project management techniques, and developed stronger interpersonal communication abilities.

5. How would your mentor or supervisor describe your work?

This question offers insights into the candidate’s self-awareness and their relationship with superiors.

Sample answer:

My supervisor would describe my work as thorough and detail-oriented. She often commends my ability to handle complex projects and my proactive approach to problem-solving.

6. How have you contributed to the success of your current team?

Understanding the candidate’s contributions can highlight their value and potential impact in the new role.

Sample answer:

I introduced a new project management tool that streamlined our processes, leading to a 20% increase in team efficiency. I also mentored junior team members, helping them integrate faster into the team.

7. What challenges do you anticipate in this new role and how do you plan to overcome them?

This question assesses foresight and problem-solving skills.

Sample answer:

I anticipate challenges in aligning multiple teams towards a common goal. I plan to overcome this by facilitating regular inter-departmental meetings and setting clear, measurable objectives.

8. How do you handle feedback and criticism in your current role?

Feedback is crucial for growth. This question evaluates the candidate’s receptiveness to feedback.

Sample answer:

I view feedback as an opportunity for growth. Whenever I receive criticism, I take time to reflect, understand the perspective, and work on areas of improvement.

9. What do you believe are the most important qualities for this new position?

This question assesses the candidate’s understanding of the new role’s requirements.

Sample answer:

For this position, strategic thinking, excellent communication skills, and the ability to manage and lead diverse teams are crucial.

10. How do you envision your growth in the company over the next few years?

Understanding the candidate’s long-term vision can provide insights into their commitment and aspirations.

Sample answer:

I see myself taking on larger strategic roles, contributing to the company’s growth. I also aim to mentor and develop future leaders within the organization.

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.

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.

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