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What Does Internal Candidate Mean?

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You've found it: The job of your dreams. You meet all of the qualifications, survived the first few rounds of screening and have made it to the interview stage. The only problem? You are competing against an "internal candidate." You may be asking yourself what an internal candidate is and, more importantly, how it will affect your chances of getting the job.

What Is An Internal Candidate?

For many companies, especially larger corporations, hiring is usually a function of human resources, and it's done through hiring managers. When presented with new openings within their organization, hiring managers can elect to fill a position from within the company or from outside it. Candidates who already work for the company are internal candidates.

There are many reasons why a company may prefer to hire an internal candidate. They are typically more familiar with the company's culture, rules and processes. The internal candidate’s manager will be familiar with their work ethic, strengths and weaknesses. In short, internal candidates are a known quantity.

How to Apply for a Job Within Your Own Company

Many employers will post openings internally first and encourage qualified employees to apply. Most companies allow you to apply online, but you should also inform your hiring manager as a courtesy.

Another way to be considered for an internal position is through nomination. Managers may be asked to nominate standout employees, or you may want to ask your manager to nominate you if there is a position for which you are qualified.

What Is External Recruitment?

External candidates are job applicants who do not currently work at the hiring company. Hiring managers will often open positions to external candidates when there are no qualified internal candidates. External candidates offer fresh perspectives and new skills, and they provide hiring managers with a larger pool of candidates to pick from.

Companies can post job openings publicly on their websites, host or attend a job fair or discover candidates through referrals. Often a member of the company's staff may know the perfect candidate for a new position and will refer that person to human resources.

How to Make Your "External" Status Work for You

Even if a hiring manager has expressed a preference for internal candidates, you may still have a shot at the job of your dreams.

  • Highlight the skills you can immediately bring to the position. Make a list of specific skills you have to offer that this company doesn't already have. For example, if you are applying for a sales position and you have especially strong closing skills, emphasize those skills in your cover letter.
  • Emphasize the fresh perspective and outlook you offer. Internal candidates may be so familiar with their company's culture that they don't consider new solutions. This can be to your advantage. For example, if you have spent a few years working in new media, you can bring a wealth of knowledge to a legacy media company. 

Companies may have a strong preference for internal candidates, but being an external candidate has its own advantages. You offer new skills, new perspective and potentially new ways to help a company exceed its goals. Your external status can work for you, if you are prepared and do your homework.


Melissa McCall is an accomplished lawyer, science journalist and legal analyst. She graduated cum laude from Syracuse University in 2003 and spent two years as a judicial jaw clerk, followed by two years at a general litigation firm and a brief stint as the director of environmental protection for the Virgin Islands. Since leaving the US Virgin Islands, she has worked as a legal recruiter, legal writer and legal analyst. She enjoys tackling challenging topics and making them engaging for readers.

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