Are you considering making a job move? Not to a new company but to a different department. How is this different from moving to another company? There are some similarities in preparing for internal and external job moves, and some unique differences.
• Remember that any new position, even an internal move, requires you to take the process seriously. Prepare for interviews and meetings just as you would for an external job. Polish up your resume and prepare for those interview questions.
• Research the people who work in the other department to learn more about them and the department's goals, and why the opening exists. You will be expected to be more familiar with the department than external candidates.
• Dress professionally and be at your best. You may be evaluated against external candidates.
• Send thank-you notes after the interview and follow up within 24 hours with any additional information requested. This is also a good chance to share other personal strengths you forgot to mention.
Prepare your strategy for applying internally
There are some unique issues that arise when applying for an internal position:
• Don't apply to everything — this makes it seem as if you have no career focus. Do some preliminary research to learn more about other departments and gain information that will help you determine how you can make a contribution.
• Prepare a strong message for why they should hire from within for this position, and why it should be you. Make sure this is linked to the department's strategic goals and priorities.
• Speak frankly with your own boss, letting him or her know about your longer-term career interests and reasons for joining another department. This can be difficult, yet it is important. It's not a good idea for your boss to be the last to know. You need your boss to help smooth out your pending transition or to help you get the new job. If you don't have a great relationship with your immediate boss, you should have other managers who will support your move. You must also keep your performance at a strong level before you make a move; declines in your performance can send a negative message to the new department about your overall commitment.
• It is critical to have mentors or trusted advisers in the company. Many an employee has gotten stuck in a tug-of-war or stepped on a political land mine when trying to change departments. You must have higher-level advocates or mentors who can help smooth the waters.
• Build your internal network long before you attempt an internal move. Make sure others in the company know about your contributions. By serving on project teams or company-wide teams with employees from other departments, you enable them to learn more about you and your performance.
• Keep current with what is going on in the company, its major organizational changes and strategies. Make sure you are familiar with your new boss' style and the culture of the new department.
• Be prepared for the question, "What will you do if you don't get this job?" Even if they don't ask, you should think about it for yourself. I advise people to look in the external market for opportunities at the same time they look internally. Not only does this give them more leverage, it also helps them to see how marketable they are. This can enhance their confidence when applying for internal positions.
• Be open to feedback. The hiring manager may tell you that you aren't suited for one specific job, but if you are open to advice and insights, you might get information about other jobs where you would be a better fit.
• If you do switch departments, maintain good relations with your old boss and colleagues. You never know when the company might reorganize and you might be working with them again.
Joyce E.A. Russell is director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership, negotiations and career management.