By Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner & CEO

Internal interviews are often taken too lightly by both candidates and hiring executives. This is a mistake, especially by the hiring executive.

Internal interviews, if they’re completed at all, are often informal rubber stamps to anoint a single employee who has been identified as a high performer in their current role. What’s wrong with promoting a top performer? Absolutely nothing! It’s optimal to promote from within in many scenarios – a known entity coming into the role/team is great for a hiring executive where trust and confidence in the effort is crucial; it also fosters a strong overall culture where employees have a realistic internal path to additional responsibilities, challenges, and career growth. The problem with tapping internal candidates in an ‘unchecked’ format is that it lacks comprehensive perspective that this new role is, well, new. It’s different. If a top salesperson gets promoted to her first sales management job, her role is different and the definition of success is very different. If a top Sales Director gets promoted to SVP of Sales where he’s now “managing managers”, his role is different as are the metrics of success. Managing a sales territory vs. managing a team of sellers vs. leading a team of managers running teams are all different roles and require different skills. Rubber stamping an internal candidate without challenging their competencies or planning is a frequent and costly mistake.

Moving a VP of Engineering into a CTO role because she’s done excellent work as an individual contributing developer who successfully built and managed a team of engineers is a solid track record in considering a promotion. And if everyone likes her that really helps the argument to promote her. However, the CTO role is much different than the VP Engineering role in most companies. The tactics of running a scaled engineering team is a strength but how do you know if it’s also a limitation? The CTO is much more strategic vs. tactical and whereas most people like to think of themselves as both tactical AND strategic, it’s been proven across functions and industries that these two qualities are not typically embodied in the same person. Does the internal candidate have a forward vision? How do you know? How do you even know if they’re capable of formulating a vision? How will they execute against it? How have you tested this internal candidate for additional indicators? If you were hiring an external candidate, you’d scrutinize in several areas for ‘proof points’, you wouldn’t merely go on the word of references no matter how validating those opinions turned out.      

The other common internal interview is a courtesy checkbox with a ‘no chance’ predetermination that this person will ever get the job for which they’re supposedly competing. This is another mistake….by the hiring executive. The lack of viable consideration often exudes in any dialog and can promote resentment in the employee’s mind. If the employee is worth the courtesy of the internal interview then they must be contributing some value to the organization. And if they’re contributing value to the organization, don’t they deserve more than a placated waste of everyone’s time? Probing proper questions in a true interview process will demonstrate seriousness of the role, consistency in the process, and likely illumination to the candidate where they may fall short compared to alternative internal or external candidates. Even if the outcome is that the internal candidate is beat out by an alternative, the process will be perceived as ‘fair’ because that’s exactly what it is. Fairness is a basic expectation which leaves all parties feeling respected and it’s overlooked by hiring executives far too many times.

Regardless if it’s a C-level or middle management position, the internal interview is the optimal time to set an elevated tone and truly qualify a candidate’s readiness. Obviously most hiring scenarios are unique in many ways so situational custom questions and tests need to be developed, however here are several questions designed to impress upon an internal candidate:

Mindset/Self Awareness

  • What do you like best about your current position?
  • How has your current scope of responsibility evolved over the last 1/3/5/10/X years?
  • Why do you want this new position?
  • If the people who work with you were asked why you should be hired, what would they say?
  • What do you enjoy and not enjoy about management? About leadership?
  • What is your dream job? If you were looking for another opportunity, what criteria would you use to determine if something was really interesting?
  • How do you handle setbacks and pressure? Example
  • How would you describe yourself professionally? How does your team perceive you? How do your peers perceive you?
  • What is the best constructive feedback you’ve received in your career?
  • How will you handle it if you don’t get the job?
  • Can you be objective in interviewing other candidates?

Qualifications

  • Describe a typical work week for you today. What operational aspects are included? What is your work style?
  • What is the biggest team you’ve led in terms of headcount? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it?
  • You’ve not been a CEO/GM/CMO/CTO/ETC. before and have not led orgs this large before. I get all the institutional knowledge potentially being an advantage, but how will you make up the operational deficit? Why are you the best person for this challenge?
  • Tell me about true operational structures and/or processes you’ve fully owned, developed and executed upon in your career. What outcomes occurred?
  • What part of the job will be the least challenging for you?
  • Which parts of this job are the most challenging for you?
  • What philosophy guides your work?
  • As CEO/GM/CMO/CTO/ETC., what evaluative metrics will you use to guide and measure success?
  • What has been your greatest career success?
  • What are your weaknesses/blind spots?

Action

  • How will you bring fresh perspective and ideas given you’re on the inside already?
  • What specific steps would you take in the first 30-60-90-180 days to drive remedy, growth, and change?
  • What aspects of the business needs to be stabilized? What specifically will you do to manage through that? How long will it take? What resources and latitude will you need?
  • What is your forward vision for the team? How will you initiate (or remedy), execute and lead this effort? What strategies will you use to (energize and unify the teams, for example)?
  • As a key influence on the existing team/division/company, what has prevented you from accomplishing some of these things already? In the interest of the team/division/company, what are some things you’d do differently today in retrospect?
  • What support will you need to be successful in this position?
  • How would you handle the transition?