Lessons Learned as the Internal Candidate


Cross posted on http://www.WimerAlberto.com

Two weeks ago I announced that I accepted a position as the Assistant Director of Guest and Conference Services for the Department of University Housing at Arizona State University. In this role, I will be directing both the guest housing operations and the conference housing operations at the largest institution of higher education in the United States. I currently work for the Department of University Housing at Arizona State University. As a result, I was an internal candidate in the search process for this position. My experience as an internal candidate has taught me a number of valuable lessons that I wanted to share broadly with all of you.

Don’t assume you know everything. The worst mistake one can do as an internal candidate is to assume they know everything about the position prior to actually serving in it. Serving in another role in the department or institution – even a role that has regular interaction with the role you are interviewing for – does not make you a subject matter expert in the position you are applying for.  Approach the job interview process as an external candidate would. Ask questions. Listen to what people on the committee are saying (and what they are not saying) during your conversations with them. Show the committee that you have something to offer. Perhaps most importantly, show the committee you have something to learn.

Ditch the cover letter and write a pain letter instead.  Internal candidates are typically held to higher scrutiny when it comes to demonstrating whether they have an understanding of what the pain points of an organization are. Hiring committees want to see that internal candidates have an understanding of the challenges encountered by several units in an organization. They also want to see whether the internal candidate can leverage the professional skills and institutional context that they have acquired over time to solve these challenges in other areas that currently fall outside of the scope of what the internal candidate is currently responsible for.

For those reasons, I chose to ditch the traditional cover letter format and chose to go with a pain letter instead. I thought about areas of growth within the unit I would be leading. I thought about how I could deliver measurable, productive outcomes in those areas. Finally, I came up with a list of four goals that I think are reasonable given what I know about the position, what I know about the unit, what I know about the department, what I know about the institution and what I know about my own capabilities, skills and attributes.

My four goals, as taken verbatim from the cover letter I used to apply for the position, are as follows:

  • To continue to forge and fortify stronger working relationships between Guest & Conference Services and campus partners, internal departmental colleagues, external stakeholders, third party partners and clients.
  • To continue the upward trajectory with respect to the revenue generated by the program.
  • To provide a greater sense of transparency to the rest of the department by using data to delineate how Guest and Conference Services is contributing to the larger mission of student success at Arizona State University.
  • To elevate the recognition and status of the Guest and Conference Services program at the state, regional and national levels, such that our organization will be a recognized by peers as a leader within this area.

Search committees will look to see if you have a vision in place for what you want to achieve in this new role. At minimum, you should have an understanding of what you what to achieve and why you want to achieve it while serving in this new role. It’s fine for those goals to change over time. However, without a vision, it is going to be difficult to articulate why are you are the best candidate for the role.

Accomplishments are only a piece of the puzzle. A well-organized resume will illustrate job responsibilities (what you were hired to do) and accomplishments (what you achieved after you were hired). However, well written resume will only take you far when it comes to demonstrating whether you have the competencies necessary to be successful in this new role. As an internal candidate, it is critically important for you to know what those competencies are prior to the interview, as they will help you process though the interview questions more effectively.

While reflecting on previous experiences and preparing for this interview, I asked myself the following questions:

  • What did I accomplish in previous positions?
  • What roadblocks did I encounter while trying to accomplish these things? How did I work with other people to overcome those roadblocks?
  • What lesson did I learn from those situations?
  • How would I apply these lessons within the context of this new role that I am interviewing for?
  • How does the use of these examples illustrate that I have gained a competency that I will need in order to excel as an Assistant Director for Guest and Conference Services?

Being an internal candidate is not easy but it is an experience that has taught me a number of valuable professional lessons. Have you ever been an internal candidate for a position that has been posted in your department? What lessons have you learned as a result of the experience?

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