Woman shaking hands at internal interview with male hiring manager in office sitting across from each other at a desk

If you’re looking for additional responsibilities, a higher salary, or a new career path, you might not need to look very far. A different position within your existing company can offer the advancement opportunity you’re looking for without the major transition of switching to an entirely new employer. 

To get an internal promotion or transition into a new role, you’ll need to apply for the job you want and interview for it like any other candidate. This involves having one or more internal interviews. We’ll explain what you need to know during an internal interview and how to prepare to impress the hiring manager and land the job you want. 

What is an internal interview?

When you apply for a different or higher position within your company, you’ll have an internal interview with the hiring manager. It’s similar to any other job interview, but the topics you’ll cover may vary slightly depending on how long you’ve been with the company and how well you know the interviewer. 

As an internal candidate, you have some distinct advantages over external applicants. You already have a solid understanding of the company’s operations and workflows. Hiring you for the job will require less onboarding time and a lower up-front expense. 

However, you can’t assume the job is yours just because you come from within the ranks. External candidates might have more specialized expertise, having previously held similar jobs. Or, you may be competing against other internal candidates with the same inside knowledge. 

So, you need to approach an internal interview just as you would any job interview–with thorough preparation and a professional, positive attitude. 

What to expect in an internal interview

Since the hiring manager may already know you (or know of you), you can expect fewer questions about your background and previous jobs. Instead, prepare to focus more on what you’ll bring to the role and how your current job has prepared you for this transition. 

Your interviewer will also want to hear about your vision for your career–where you see yourself headed and how this job fits into your plans. This is a chance to talk about your commitment to the company and your excitement to grow within it. 

An internal interview can be a bit awkward for several reasons that you’ll want to anticipate. First, you may be interviewing opposite someone you know well, which can make it hard to maintain a professional tone. You might also be facing someone who knows about your “dirty laundry,” like performance issues or disciplinary actions you’ve dealt with while employed by the company. These are all things to consider and prepare for as your interview approaches. 

Tips to prepare for an internal interview

1. Talk to your boss

Before you apply, have a conversation with your current manager. Let them know you’re interested in the position and gauge their response. 

If they seem enthusiastic, they may be able to lend a hand by connecting you with the hiring manager, getting intel about the position, and giving you feedback to make you a stronger candidate. If they seem reluctant, it’s a sign you’ll want to leave them out of the process as much as possible. It’s not unheard of for upset or vindictive managers to try blocking one of their team members from an internal transfer, so you want to avoid this. 

2. Do some digging

You already know a lot about the company, which is a huge plus. Now you need to learn everything you can about the position you want. 

Do you have an acquaintance in that department? Grab lunch with them and ask for the scoop. Use your company directory to find out who currently holds the job, then get in touch to ask about the role. 

It can be helpful to know why the person who currently has the job is leaving–like if they’re continuing their upward trajectory within the company or if something prompted them to look for a job elsewhere. They may even be able to share tips on how the next person can be successful in the role. 

3. Consider your career goals

Before the interview, take some time to reflect on your goals. Why are you applying for the position? You want to be able to succinctly communicate a strong reason. 

Some good factors to cite include advancing within your field, moving into a managerial role, acquiring more specialized expertise, working toward a company leadership position, or transitioning into a role that aligns with your passion. 

The key is connecting your future goals to the company. Here’s an example: “During my time in the fulfillment department, I’ve become more and more interested in customer experience. I’m interested in this job because it would help me grow my CX skills while being directly involved in the launch of [upcoming product], which I’m really excited about.”

Need help creating timely and measurable goals? Check out these step-by-step instructions for setting career goals that will keep you engaged and motivated!

4. Prepare a list of your achievements

What have you done in your current role to advance the interests of the company or your department? Don’t assume the interviewer will already know these things. Be prepared to cite your specific accomplishments. 

Since you’re talking to someone from within the same company, you’ll have the advantage of speaking more precisely than you would if you were an external candidate. For example, if you reference your work on a well-known company project, they’ll already have context on what you’re describing instead of you having to explain it from start to finish.

Also, consider the other side of the coin–that the interviewer does already know about you and your accomplishments. Your reputation can work against you in ways you might not expect. 

If everyone sees you as a top tech guy, they might have a hard time envisioning you in a sales role, and so on. Be prepared to combat any preconceived notions if you’re speaking with someone who is familiar with your work. 

Don’t forget to prepare a cover letter for the internal position and create an internal promotion resume to help position yourself as the strongest candidate.

5. Don’t take it for granted

Is it easier to hire an internal candidate than an external one? Definitely, however, the company’s top priority is hiring the best person for the job, regardless of whether they’re coming from inside or outside. 

That means you’re not guaranteed to get the job despite whatever edge you have over outsiders. You should research and rehearse as you would for any interview rather than assuming the position is yours for the taking, which is an attitude that can wind up burning you if you’re unprepared. 

6. Prepare for an unwanted outcome

On that same note, reflect on how you’ll handle it if you don’t get the job. Will you still be able to be effective in your current role? What will your relationship with your manager look like? 

This isn’t to say you can’t stay in your current role and be successful at it. In fact, this happens all the time when internal candidates don’t land a promotion they apply for. But it’s a good idea to consider the possibility that you may feel compelled to leave the company if you don’t get the job so you can prepare yourself for what your next move might be. 

Common internal interview questions to prepare for

  • Why are you interested in this role?
  • What would you bring to the job?
  • What are your greatest accomplishments during your time with the company?
  • How have you grown during your time here?
  • In what areas do you think you have an opportunity to improve?
  • Tell me about your work on [project X].
  • Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
  • What do you think we could do better as a company?
  • How would your colleagues on [current team] describe working with you?

Taking the time to learn as much as you can about the job and thoroughly preparing for your internal interview will give you the best chance of landing the position and moving into a challenging new role with your company. 

Prepare for your upcoming interview by checking out these sample interview questions and answers and enrolling in Coursera’s Advanced Interviewing Techniques.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn