Top 3 ‘Must Asks’ When Interviewing as an External Candidate

Hiring new members to any team can be a tricky venture.  In critical-to-mission positions, the stakes are even higher.  There are a lot of thoughts and theories about the benefits and pitfalls around promoting internal candidates vs. hiring external candidates.

This post is intended to explore considerations that external candidates have in mind as they navigate their job hunt.  I have been hired and passed-over both as an internal and external candidate, and hands down the highest risk is being the successful hire from outside the organization.  While it is the highest risk it can have great rewards too, so I offer these three ‘must asks’ to serve as a checklist for interviewees.

Are you clear on what your gift for the host will be…

Interviewing for good jobs is only getting more competitive, showing up for an interview without a sense of the unique gifts you will bring the organization tells the organization you don’t want it.  I know that when you are in the thick of job hunting that research and consideration on how you will fit into the new organization can be daunting.  Especially if you have upwards of 10+ active applications in play.  Yet this is your future and knowing how you fit into an organization is not only a sign of respect, but it is essential in being able to sell the value you intend to bring to the organization.

Are you sitting down to a set table

I know that there are few situations in life you will experience more vulnerability than looking for a job.  Our careers can be much of our identities.  The rejection that is inherit to job-hunting can wear on even the strongest individual.  If you are made a job offer it may be tempting to rationalize that you can make any situation ‘work’, even if there are red-flags.  Red-flags like lack of a job description in an established position in an established organizations need to be taken seriously.  The rules are a bit different for start-ups, but even in a start-up there should be strong indication of how success will be measured.  How prepared an organization is to integrate a new member into the team will impact greatly how your first 90-days unfold and your long term success.  Even if you accept the job, recognizing red-flags ahead of time and making plans of how to overcome them will be essential to your success in your new organization.

Are they expecting you to clean the kitchen…

I had the opportunity many years ago to assist Carol, the Chief Nurse Executive (CNE) of our organization, in the discovery process for an accreditation we were seeking.  We had traveled to conferences, developed the executive timeline for the entire project, and staged the kick-off celebration.  I fell in love with the project and hoped that I would be hired into the program coordinator position that Carol was opening.  I remember clearly the bittersweet day she sat me down and made it clear that without a master’s degree I wasn’t getting the job. Of course I was disappointed, but even when it was happening I appreciated the care I was being shown as Carol shared her decision and give me tangible steps I could work on if I wanted to improve my chances in the future.  I enrolled in an MBA program within a year of that conversation.  When the new program coordinator (the person she did hire) started, Carol even took the time to facilitate an introduction and spotlighted the key attributes and credentials the final candidate possessed that made her an ideal hire, as well as spotlighting my contributions to project.  Years removed I hold this up as the gold standard of how to handle a situation where an internal candidate wants the position, but the organization is best served by an external hire.

Sadly, that is not always the case.  I have also experienced when the appropriate level of attention wasn’t paid.  This is one of the most challenging position to be put into, especially if the person passed over reports to the new hire.  As someone who has been in both roles, I can say that the transition will only be as successful as the organization facilitates that transition.  As an external candidate coming into a new organization, no matter how well developed your toolbox, if the organization just lets you sink-or-swim…you will be swimming upstream at best.  I believe it’s worth a conversation about the transition plan if you are offered a position at an organization that has a known internal candidate that was passed over.

Shawna Beese-Bjurstrom, RN, MBA lives in Spokane, WA with her family where she is an Executive/Business Coach.  She writes on issues such as healthcare, strategy, operational excellence, communication, and leadership. I invite you to check out my blog!

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