Probably the easiest path to winning a promotion lies with your current organisation. Instead of needing to convince strangers, your decision-makers already know you. They’re usually more prepared to take that leap of faith about you stepping up to the next level.
The question is, though, are you unknowingly sabotaging yourself when it comes to internal job applications?
Don’t take anything for granted
It’s quite common for me to work with an organisation going through an internal restructure where employees are asked to reapply for new roles – often crudely called a ‘Spill and Fill’.
We help people to decide whether they wish to stay or go. If the answer is yes, we then swing into action to help them apply for the new internal roles. Cover Letters, résumés and interview skills – these employees get our full support at every stage.
Now, that’s all very well if your organisation provides you with such support, but what if you’re left to your own devices? Or, what if there is no restructure – you just happen to be applying for a new role in your organisation?
Go through the whole process very seriously and with rigour. Don’t rely on…
your track record…
the fact that your employer knows you…
that you have performed well to date…
that they know what you’re capable of.
Pretend you’re an external candidate and do everything properly. Here are 7 tips to get you started. Fortunately, most of them are quite easy to implement.
Tip #1: Wear appropriate clothes to the interview
I was once asked to sit in on an interview for a Not for Profit organisation. One of the applicants was internal – a female employee who was looking for a promotion. The role was at an Executive level and she turned up looking neat and tidy in a skirt and plain shirt.
The CEO was exasperated. After the candidate left the room, she turned to us on the panel and told us she had advised the woman to dress in a way that was appropriate for the seniority of the role.
Coincidence or not, this applicant was not successful. It’s not a good idea to alienate your decision-maker.
So, in the interview, dress at the level of the role you are applying for.
Tip #2: Sound as though you’re full of new ideas
Many years ago, I helped a Sales Manager as he transitioned out of my client’s company. He had not been successful when applying for his own role in the restructured department. Sometime later, I was talking to one of the senior executives of the company and he mentioned this particular Manager. The Executive said that when he was asked in his interview what he’d do differently in the role under the new structure, the Sales Manager said: ‘Nothing’. The Executive was less than impressed and the Manager missed out on the role.
Take a new broom to the role. Investigate current Best Practice. Make sure you’re up to date. Talk with energy and enthusiasm in the interview.
Tip #3: Improve your salary negotiation skills
At yet another interview I attended, an internal applicant was applying for a role that moved her sideways but at the same salary level. At the end of the interview, she asked whether there was any flexibility with the advertised pay rate.
After she left the room, the Executive immediately ruled her out of the job, stating firmly that clearly the salary on offer was too low for her, that she would not stay in the role and that it would be a waste of time appointing her. I tried to argue in the candidate’s favour but to no avail. She was not offered the role.
Wait until they offer you the job before you talk about salary. Prepare your As (must-haves), Bs (wanna-haves) and Cs (throw-aways). In other words, negotiate with calm authority, based on a strong understanding of market rates and your worth.
Tip #4: Make your changes when they matter
I was once chatting with a Director of a government department who said she could never promote one of her staff members. The person was at a senior level and apparently wore running shoes at work, even when meeting with external clients, which the Director thought was inappropriate.
We could argue that the Director could/should have had a chat with the employee about her office attire, but the point is that she didn’t. The employee missed out on promotions without ever knowing why.
A simple rule of thumb is to dress at the level and style of the job that you’re aspiring to. Start at least six months out from any thoughts of promotion so that people have time to get used to any changes you might make.
Tip #5: Take advantage of career support
Not long ago, we provided support to an organisation that was asking Senior Managers to apply for new roles. The CEO had identified a young Manager (let’s call him Steve) for a key strategic planning role. Steve thought he was a shoo-in for the role and didn’t take up the offer of interview skills training.
Steve subsequently performed very badly at the interview. The CEO was most unimpressed but, luckily for Steve, allowed him to have another go. This time, Steve scraped through the interview and was awarded the role. How much damage he had done in the eyes of the CEO is an unknown, but the real point is that it was totally avoidable.
Failing a career expert, find someone discerning who can help you out.
Tip #6: Watch your language
One of the most difficult issues in an internal interview is that you often know your interviewer very well and it can be hard to judge how relaxed to be with your language. Even more awkward is when you know one of the interviewers well but not others on the panel.
The best advice I can offer is to err on the side of formality. As with attire, everyone will understand why your behaviour is different than normal.
Another challenge with language is when you do not speak with the appropriate level of skill for the new role. I once worked with someone who was applying for a Manager role. He used that ‘fingernail down the blackboard word – youse’, as in ‘When are youse going to let me know if I’ve got the job?’
Now, our job as career specialists is to notice ANYTHING that might prevent you from winning a role and then to be brave enough to raise this issue with you. I hated doing it, but I alerted him to the grammatical error and offered suggestions about how to eliminate it from his language.
Here’s just a few other errors that may trip you up:
- Years ago, my sister asked me to help her to stop saying ‘somethink’. It took 6 months of me regularly correcting her before she conquered that one
- Many people use malapropisms e.g. ‘I pacifically insisted that she call the client again.’ (specifically)
- Then, there are difficult-to-pronounce words like ‘arksed’, rather than ‘asked’
No one will admit they didn’t hire you for a senior role because you appeared uneducated. You’ll have to do your own audit. Ask a friend who is quite particular about language to alert you to these errors.
Tip #7: Produce top notch selling documents
Deborah was a client who wanted to switch industries from the FMCG sector into mining, which is notorious for only accepting senior candidates from within their field. At the time, I thought Deb was going a bit overboard with just how perfect she wanted her Cover Letter and résumé to be. I was wrong. Deborah was successful and her new boss told her that he had never seen such a high-quality application.
Don’t make a token effort with your documents. You never know if you’ll be competing against a Deborah. As my mother always said, ‘What’s worth doing is worth doing well.’
Translating from the Written Word to Behaviour Change
Information and tips on how to manage the mechanics of applying for a role are easily found on the internet these days. It doesn’t seem to be enough, though. I suspect that we humans often need to talk things through to make sense of these career ‘Life Skills’.
So, to repeat myself, find an astute friend and run through your proposed plan of attack. Or, of course, consult your friendly neighbourhood Career Consultant… It’s our job to help people maximise their opportunities.
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