7 Mistakes of Internal Job Candidates

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A company I was working with posted an administrative job internally. It wasn’t the most exciting position but it had exposure to top level managers. It was a good step up for someone who wanted to gain top-level exposure, build relationships and showcase his skills to the right people in the organization.

The applications came in fast and furious. Opportunities didn’t come up very often in this company, and there was a lot of interest. The job requirements weren’t technical or so specialized that only a few would qualify. Someone with basic computer skills, an attention to detail and decent writing skills could be a contender.

I was surprised and disappointed when a promising candidate was turned down by a hiring manager. It wasn’t his resume or lack of basic skills. It was the fact that he was “on stage” every day where people could observe his true work habits, skills and professionalism. 

External candidates present themselves through a carefully crafted resume and cover letter. Internal candidates have the added opportunity—or burden—of their day-to-day performance on the job that everyone can observe. External candidates have the luxury of submitting only their best references. Just about anyone in the company who works with, is managed by, participates in a team with, or reports to an internal candidate is fair game as a reference.

This fact is often overlooked by internal candidates.  They are always interviewing for their next position within the company.  Their quality of work, professionalism on the job and work habits can be an advantage or kill any chances of landing the job. 

Here are seven ways to sabotage your internal job search, and how to avoid them:

  1. Do It Your Way.   The interview process was clear. Apply online. Submit a resume, cover letter and application. It’s amazing how many internal candidates thought it didn’t apply to them and decided to do it their way. They sent a resume but no application. Or vice-versa. Applications came through the interoffice mail (again, often missing one thing or another). Applicants would call and want to drop off a resume and get an interview at the same time! Some applicants tried to sweeten the deal with portfolios, writing samples and letters of recommendations. They came in binders and folders with full-color with photographs. The ability to follow directions is the first test for any applicant. Pay attention to the instructions. Sending in too much can make you seem desperate. Not sending in the appropriate materials indicates carelessness.
  2. Send sloppy, inaccurate emails. “Attention to detail” is on just about every job description or requirement in a job posting. If your emails come through with misspelled words, incorrect grammar or missing punctuation your “detailed-oriented” claim on a resume is a tough sell. If you can’t pick the right word out of the spellcheck list (it’s not always the top one), get a dictionary or link to one online. Get a copy of “Elements of Style” (Strunk and White) to unravel the mystery of sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. Send fewer emails and talk face-to-face. There are no spelling or punctuation errors in conversation.
  3. Send too many “OOPS” emails. Emails with the attachments missing. Emails to the wrong people.  Emails with corrections for the previous one on dates, times, or other information. Six or seven emails on the same subject. Who wants “Ms./Mr. OOPS” on his/her team? Take the time to double check your email before you hit “send.” If you have to send a follow-up, double and triple-check this time so this time is the last time.
  4. Be late for meetings/appointments, etc. I learned a long time ago from one of my best (and toughest) managers that being late for a meeting sends the message you don’t value other people’s time. She started her meetings on time and would not rehash what had already been discussed for the latecomers. Sometimes the unexpected happens, but we all know people who are late for everything. Start out early for an appointment. Give yourself an extra 15 minutes, and don’t schedule appointments back to back. Unless the next meeting is in the same room, you’re going to have to spend some time getting to the next one. A hiring manager may assume that if you’re late for meetings, you’ll be late for appointments and deadlines, too. No one wants to take on someone who will be “high maintenance” just to get the job done.
  5. Refuse To Be Flexible or Teachable. Self-confidence is a wonderful thing. But rigidity and refusing to see the other side of things can keep you from your next great opportunity. You may be at the top of your game in your present job, but there is always something new to learn as you move up. Attitude on the job is a good indicator for job “fit,” one of the most critical measurements of job success. Bringing in a negative, know-it-all into a functioning work team can impact productivity and morale. There aren’t many hiring managers who want to take that risk. Everyone has ideas and strengths. Offer yours as suggestions or alternatives, not dogma. Consider other ideas and be open to instruction. 
  6. Pass Up Opportunities. No matter what your skill, experience or education level, there are always new things to learn to add to your resume. There are lots of opportunities within organizations. Keep your eyes and ears open for learning opportunities. Volunteer to head up a new project, make a presentation, attend a conference, or research better ways of doing your own work. Take advantage of your company’s professional development or tuition reimbursement benefits. Others in your company are taking advantage of those opportunities, and they may be your competition for the next internal job posting. Don’t be left out. 
  7. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Do you want to move up? Maybe you haven’t been considered for a promotion or a job that’s coming up because no one knows your career goals. As an HR professional, I’m impressed when someone comes to me and shares his career plans. Be pro-active in managing your career. If enthusiastic, sincere employees are interested in moving up or taking a different career track, I’m more than happy to share opportunities to help them reach their goals. Some companies have management training programs or “fast-track” certain star employees. Find out what it takes to be considered.   

Companies no longer believe employees will stay long enough to retire and get the gold watch. Judging from the hundreds of resumes I review, two to three years is a long time at one job. Progression within a company is a good indication to a hiring manager. Remember—how you perform on your current job is your resume for the next great internal opportunity. Leverage your current position to cultivate lots of solid references now among your managers, peers and work teams. 



Photo Source:  Freedigitalphotos.net: 89studio



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