The toughest candidate you’ll ever face? It may just be the guy or gal sitting in the cubicle next to you — or the one who already works for your potential employer. Internal candidates, whether from your current company or your dream business, can be really intimidating. After all, they already know the ins and outs of the company, and could have built a relationship with the person you hope to one day call your boss.
Of course, “external candidates bring a fresh perspective, which the company might want,” points out Sharlyn Lauby, president of consulting firm ITM Group Inc., founder of HR Bartender and author of Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers. But there’s no guarantee that that alone will help you outshine competition from inside the organization — and faced with that dire idea, you may feel as if you’re set up to fail.
But the truth is, that’s far from a sure thing — here’s how you can stand out against an internal candidate.
1. Focus on the Job
In other words, Lauby says, tough as it may be, “don’t make this a competition.” The application process is “about having the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job,” she says. So don’t spend your prep time obsessing over an internal candidate, or your interview trying to directly compete with him or her. Instead, “spend time during the interview talking about how the experience you’ve gained with other employers will benefit the organization,” Lauby recommends.
2. Have a Plan
One advantage that internal candidate clearly has? He or she knows the inner workings of the employer, and that means “the company might want to know how you’re going to ‘get up to speed quickly,'” Lauby says. To answer that question, “think about how you might spend your first 90 days in the job and the things you would do,” Lauby advises. “Then, let the company know you’ve spent some time thinking about how to transition successfully,” and spill the details.
3. Remember the Team
If you — the outsider — do prevail in the interview and snag the new position, don’t forget that you could soon be working alongside your previous competition, Lauby says. “If an external candidate is selected over an internal candidate, the new hire should be prepared to make building relationships a priority,” she says. “Be sure to bring up your team building skills in the interview.”
4. Set the Example
If you’re facing competition from inside your own ranks, try to remember that “you can only control you,” Lauby encourages, “meaning, if you’re competing against a coworker and they want to turn this into a competition, that’s their business. But you don’t have to play the game.” Instead, focus on the task at hand: being the best fit for the job no matter who else is vying for the title. “You have to decide what you’re prepared to do in order to get this job,” Lauby says.
5. Be Yourself
Going after the same job as your coworker may sound like a serious nightmare, but there is a silver lining to this tough situation: “The good news is the company already knows you and your skills,” points out Lauby. “It might be helpful to remind your manager about specific projects you’ve worked on or training you’ve taken, [rather than focusing] on the other person.” Like in any job interview, you should “let management know why you’re the right person for the job,” Lauby says.
6. Congratulate the Other Person
If the worst happens in your race for a new job against a current coworker, be gracious. “Regardless of the outcome, let the other person know that you respect the process,” advises Lauby. “You would want them to do that as well.” Plus, unless you plan to quit, “both of you still work for the same company, and could still be working together into the future,” reminds Lauby.