You are here


Ask the recruiter—How internal candidates can boost chances in job search

Inside knowledge of organization and its challenges is a plus, but job seekers need to demonstrate capacity for vision and change

Christie, Harrington
Jill Christie, left, and Shira Harrington

Oct. 12, 2018

Question: Do most of your searches involve an internal candidate? And if so, how can such candidates best present themselves?

Jill Christie
Tuft Associates
About one quarter of Tuft searches include an internal candidate. If knowledge of the organization, its culture and current challenges is critical to the new role, an internal candidate may be preferable as someone who can hit the ground running.

The downside for internal candidates is the perception that they won’t—or can’t—bring in fresh perspectives or new ideas.

To make strong presentations, we advise internal candidates to:

  • Paint a vivid picture of your vision and ideas in the role to counter any concerns about your inability or unwillingness to bring about change.
  • Identify organizational weaknesses and limitations, and how you’ll address them. 
  • Stress your willingness to embrace cutting-edge technologies and forward-thinking programs or services.
  • Capitalize on what you know about search committee members and what they’d expect to hear from successful candidates. If possible, choose your references from people whom search committee members know and respect.

Don’t assume you have the inside track. Be well prepared and ready to compete to get the job.

Shira Harrington
Founder and President
Purposeful Hire
As both a recruiter and career coach, I have witnessed many internal candidates struggle to reach the next level.

Especially when it’s the top slot, the candidate may be unconsciously viewed only in light of their current role.

My best advice for internal candidates: Position yourself as a thought leader and visionary who can propel the organization to new heights.

Go into the interview armed both with examples of where you have led bold change, but more importantly, where you believe the association has opportunities for growth. For example, you are in a unique position (unlike your external competitors) to present a robust strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis outlining the association’s strategic horizon and how you will lead the board down the path.

Another tip: Senior leaders, especially chief staff executives, require a type of executive
presence that may not have been needed at other levels. Ask your peers how you are being perceived and make adjustments, if needed.

CEO Update asks readers for questions to pass along to executive recruiters. If you have one you would like us to pose, email