Organisations tend to make two glaring mistakes when dealing with internal candidates for a position: Either the internal candidate is perceived as “too familiar” and does not get due credit for his strengths; or the internal candidate is given a much easier ride than external candidates because the hiring manager assumes that he needs less time to get into the role.

Both attitudes can be problematic for organisations. In the first scenario, the company may lose a high-potential candidate who has no way to grow except outside the organisation, perhaps with a competitor.

In the second scenario, the organisation may lose out on a really worthy external candidate because those involved in hiring chose to stick to someone familiar.

And as much as employers say that they never do this because they take an unbiased approach to recruitment, I have seen this demonstrated over and over again in the corporate world.

When dealing with internal candidates, hiring managers — in an attempt to “be fair” — start with the premise that all candidates must be treated alike.

But how can an internal candidate be considered the same as an external candidate?

Internal candidates already know the organisational culture, they may know something about the job opening; they know people connected to the job and have internal relationships and a history with the company.

So, how should hiring managers approach the internal candidate?

Here are some simple guidelines to consider:

Go beyond hearsay

Separate what you hear about the candidate from what you know about the candidate’s skills and expertise. Headhunters practise this skill all the time, as they often have to gather information about a candidate from other people. But their work is not complete until they really get to know the candidate.

Hiring managers thus have to go beyond hearsay to discover the potential and real talent within the individual and how this relates to the job at hand.

Ask important questions

Internal candidates have an inside view of the organisation and therefore enjoy a “privileged position”. The interviewer needs to ask them questions that probe their understanding of the role and how they can add to it. 

Investigate if they really know what the role requires versus what they know about the role. How much thought or work have they put in to understand what is required of them?

Sometimes, internal candidates are fielded for a new role because that is the only way their current department is going to “get rid” of them.

Middle managers and even senior executives sometimes play “corporate chess” by presenting a candidate for an open role, even bargaining or conducting some sort of exchange between departments.

A hiring manager who is not in “the know” may end up with an internal candidate who is not suitable for the role.

Get references

Do not just rely on their immediate boss for feedback.  Internal candidates are sometimes presented because the company needs to be seen to be fair.

This means it is just a superficial exercise to keep the candidate from quitting.

This is a waste of time and it raises the expectations of the employee who, sooner or later, will feel disappointed.

Train internal managers to only put up candidates who are suited for the available position. This means they must have the relevant experience, exposure and ability to perform the role. This needs to be at the forefront of all internal interviews.

Try them out

Hiring managers can offer project work to internal candidates as a way to test their suitability for the position they are applying for.

This is a chance for internal candidates to demonstrate how they can excel in the new role.

These days, even external candidates may be given specific assignments to fulfil before they move to the next level in the interview process.

Some organisations do a better job of hiring from within and there are many success stories that can offer insights into how to draw the best from internal candidates.

It certainly makes sense to hire from within the organisation as the candidates already know the culture and what is expected of them. It is also a way for employers to develop their employees by offering them career growth — but that does not mean that everyone can make the cut.

Leaders can make the mistake of promoting someone too early and setting them up for failure, while indifferent managers can cause unnecessary hurt and staff attrition by ignoring their staff’s need for career development. Both situations hurt the organisation and its future growth.


Article by Laletha Nithiyanandan, managing director, Behavioural Consulting Group and Talent Design Potential (TDP-Asia). It was previously written for BTI Consultants, part of the Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting Group. Follow her in her LinkedIn group — Positive Leadership Impact — or read her blog at