Q&A: How Do I Make My Internal Candidacy an Advantage?
Q: I am an in-house candidate in a hot, national executive director search. I know everyone on the Search Committee as well as many of the key stakeholders. How can I competitively present myself? What steps should I take to have them take me seriously?
A: Your immediate task is to have your peers and colleagues take a fresh look at you. They think they already “know” you. But, in all likelihood, there are many aspects of your leadership they have either forgotten or truly don’t know. Your work is to package yourself so they see all of your work, vision and potential in ways beneficial to the organization.
In order for those you know to take a fresh look at you, there are a number of topics you must address. First, take a critical look at how you present yourself in your resume. What strengths do you flag? What latent talents/leadership skills do you need to highlight? What accomplishments have you overlooked or undersold? What dreams do you have for the organization? If given a chance, what changes will you implement?
Second, have a candid discussion with someone “in-the-know” whom you can trust to be honest. Ask how key members of the organization perceive you now. Ask what is being sought in a new leader. Try to get as many specific details as you can from your trusted source.
In addition to assessing personal characteristics, those handling the hiring will want evidence as to how each candidate is going to be able to deliver the “dream” outlined for the organization. Really dig deep into your background to find examples of what you have accomplished directly relating to both the mission and to the priority goals at the organization. Regardless of how well you believe you are already known, do not assume your reputation precedes you. Call up and present relevant projects/successes as though you are a stranger to the hiring committee. Pull out those leadership qualities and successes you might be tempted to gloss over. Cite relevant statistics. Make your past successes come alive. In presenting your vision for the organization, be realistic, but take some calculated risks as well to show you are, indeed, able breath some new life into this role at your old organization.
Does it sound like being an internal candidate is more work than you anticipated? Take comfort in knowing there are distinct advantages, too. For starters, you already know the inner workings organization, therefore, there is no big learning curve. And, as you know so much about how the system operates, you already know how to most efficiently get things done given the existing personalities and resources. Because of your knowledge, you can also present a vision with a plan that seems doable, realistic and within reach. Finally, you are at an advantage with regard to the human component. People already know and trust you. You know which buttons to push and wish buzz-words to avoid. All of these factors are huge advantages for you.
As an internal candidate, you need to step way beyond “business-as-usual” to generate interest and enthusiasm around your candidacy. You have a rare understanding of the inner workings and dynamics of the organization; use it to your advantage. Use your knowledge to stress your trajectory for the future. Give your interviewers a roadmap for the next steps that ought to be taken within the organization in a way no other candidate is able. Be specific. Show that you have thought about the organization in new, fresh ways, and you should be seen by those hiring in a similarly inspired light.