Beating Out an Internal Candidate to Land the Job

Competing against an internal candidate for a dream position is difficult. An insider has intimate knowledge of the company’s goals, tech stack and project management processes; plus, they usually have established relationships with stakeholders and the hiring manager.

On the other hand, an external candidate brings a fresh perspective and ideas that may help a team perform at a higher level. Managers often want to bring in new blood in order to establish a fresh DevOps culture or implement cutting-edge technology.

“Even when a position is advertised, you should always assume that an internal candidate is being considered, and position yourself and your strengths in a way that levels the playing field,” noted Jim Schreier, owner of consulting firm Beyond the Far Cliffs.

Here are some ways to compete against an internal candidate and come out on top: 

Gather Competitive Intel

In order to boost your knowledge of the company’s needs to the level of internal candidates, you need to understand the company’s end game. What is the manager ultimately trying to achieve? What can you contribute to the company’s strategy that an insider can’t?

Networking with current or former employees (or a knowledgeable third-party recruiter) is the best way to become familiar with the company’s structure, existing talent, and hiring priorities. Before the interview, prepare questions and talking points that reflect your newly acquired knowledge of the organization.

Being vague won’t cut it, Schreier warned. “You have to focus on your accomplishments and be very specific in explaining how you would tackle similar problems during the interview.”

Melissa Llarena, a career coach and founder of Career Outcomes Matter, agreed with Schreier: “Be ready to offer your view of the company’s existing technologies and solutions for tackling the challenges of the future.”

“An internal candidate is associated with where the company has been,” she added. Instead, position yourself as a change agent by aligning your brand and messaging with the company’s goals and vision.

If you are unable to uncover actionable insights about the company before your meeting, gather some quick intelligence by asking the manager or interviewer: “If you were to hire me, what would I need to accomplish in my first year to be successful?” That can give you an opening to explain how your skills and experience suit the position.

Bring a Consulting Mindset

Displaying a consultative mindset is a great way to separate yourself from an internal candidate, all while demonstrating your familiarity and competence with similar issues.

For instance, before you respond to a situational question or problem, ask clarifying questions to better understand the history and context of the circumstances and the options available. “Don’t say the first thing that comes to mind,” Schreier said. “Think about the question before formulating a response.”

The more you can speak to the manager’s specific functional areas and issues, the better your chances of landing the job.

Creating a 90-day plan is another consulting technique you might consider. Insiders often have an advantage over outsiders because they require minimal ramp-up time. Having a plan closes that gap by demonstrating mastery of the subject matter and the ability to hit the ground running.


Hiring managers often prefer a “less-risky” internal candidate whose strengths and shortcomings are well known. Providing a realistic preview of your approach to work and business relationships can help the hiring manager (as well as your future teammates) envision working side-by-side with you.

For example, ask permission to diagram solutions on a whiteboard instead of talking them through. And instead of serving up short, factual answers to questions, use storytelling techniques to truly engage the interviewer.

Remember, an internal candidate may assume that they have the job in the bag. The fact that you’ve prepared extensively for the interview may actually convince a manager to hire an enthusiastic outsider who will bring fresh ideas.

One Response to “Beating Out an Internal Candidate to Land the Job”

  1. Dennis Peters

    This really depends on the role. I beat out internal candidates in both my prior and current roles. The hiring managers need to weigh the value of the internal candidate’s existing knowledge of the business plus their existing relationships within the company vs. an external candidates fresh approach and most likely having the new skill/tool/mindset that is missing. There are some examples of excellent mobility stories where transfers have thrived, but if you’re looking to drive sweeping change across your organization, external talent may be the way to go. The internal candidate has become accustomed to “the way”: “our data is bad, it takes a long time to do anything, waah, blah, blah, blah.” Hire somebody who won’t accept the status quo roadblocks at your organization. They are willing to run around, over or thru any impediments to progress. If you’re looking to set up a COE for self service data visualization on top of Cloudera, you’re probably better off hiring the gal who has done it twice successfully then looking to an internal Mgr. who has managed your Cognos for the past 10 years and hope they “get” the new technology (Billy just signed up for a data warehouse and tableau class and will design our next gen platform – he has a power point that says all the data should be in 1 place :> …)… One other aspect I have seen, the attributes that make an internal transfer more appealing (existing knowledge and relationships) have a half life – over time (months) this advantage shrinks as the outside hire comes up to speed and builds those bonds to get sh!t done. If the internal transfer never adapts/learns the new technology they become a “bad hire”. Or if they don’t deliver excellent results – your company will just get “more of the same”. And to me, that is more “risky” than strongly considering outside talent with the relevant experience.