Acing the executive interview Acing the executive interview
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June 16, 2015

Acing the executive interview

As one of the final steps in the hiring process, the interview is a vital opportunity for candidates to showcase their unique skill set and prove their value to potential employers. As a senior executive, it’s likely not your first rodeo, but it is always worthwhile to revisit the basics and pick up some new tricks to increase your odds of success before, during and after the interview (yes, all three phases are important!). Like every business plan, going into an interview with a defined strategy will help cultivate better results.

Phase 1: Get ready!

The more you know about the employer before going into the interview, the more likely you are to succeed. Dedicating time to thoroughly learning about the role, the people who will be interviewing you and the format of the interview are equally important. This first step should not be glossed over, since one of the best ways to impress an interviewer is to demonstrate in-depth knowledge about the company and exude interest in the role. Moreover, this serves the double benefit of helping you gauge whether or not the opportunity truly fits your professional aspirations.

Conduct smart research

Put energy into understanding the target company’s history, values, products or services, competitors, financials, leadership team, recent hires and industry. Leverage reliable, up-to-date, and readily available resources such as revenue reports, press releases, breaking news and the company website. Valuable insights can also be gained by visiting the Security Exchange Commission, Forbes, Fortune, Hoovers, the Inc. 500/5000 list, social media pages and trade journals. Moreover, there is nothing like using your social networking prowess to connect with a prior or current employee. Respectfully ask to spend 15 to 30 minutes over a cup of coffee and you are sure to walk away with a goldmine of information about the day-to-day operations, culture, and people. And hey, if you’re lucky enough, they might even put in a good word.

Preparation is key

Haven’t we said that enough already? Reviewing hypothetical questions your interviewer might ask you will help perfect your interviewing technique and build your confidence. First, put together a list of questions and then, write a list of bullet points under each question framing how you might go about answering it. If you get nervous during interviews, try practicing your questions and answers with someone ahead of time. Here are a few examples:

  • Describe a time you faced an unforeseen issue on the job and how you diffused and resolved the situation under pressure.
  • Tell me about a time when you and your team faced challenging odds. How did you keep your team engaged and motivated to overcome the situation and succeed?
  • Explain the rationale behind each of your career moves. Why did you leave your last position?
  • How do you predict the company will be different in two years, and how do you see yourself shaping that change?
  • Pitch the company as if you were in a sales meeting.

Phase 2: Make a good first impression

When you introduce yourself, you should project a few key body language signals. A firm handshake, straight posture and eye contact are all cues that you are confident and alert, establishing trust and likeability.

Remember, interviews are exercises in solution selling. Don’t focus on what the company has to offer you; instead, focus on how you can contribute to the company, team and ultimately deliver on the top or bottom line. Emphasize your skill set based on the company’s current needs. For example, if the company is in high-growth mode, talk about your experience with growing businesses and creating value.

Make sure to showcase a combination of your leadership skills and your technical skills. It’s okay, even encouraged, to go into some of the “soft stuff.” Companies don’t hire resumes, they hire people. How you get along with, or deal and interact with others is an important competency recruiters look for when interviewing candidates, as it signals your working style and how you will act in the company’s environment. For example, you might emphasize how you go about building teams – recognizing the achievements of others, providing feedback and getting to know the strengths of everyone. If your direct reports have been promoted, that is a great follow-up point and proves your value as a leader.

Remember that while in an interview, you want to accurately and succinctly describe examples from your past experience. To avoid too much unnecessary detail and digression when responding, a useful model to follow is OAR: O – what was the opportunity or challenge you faced? A – What actions did you take? R – What were the results? Using this approach will keep your answers professional and on track. 

Phase 3: Where do we go from here?

At the close of the interview, state your interest in the position again and verbally ask what the next step is and what you need to do next to keep the search process moving smoothly. Within 24 hours, follow-up with a thank you email and ask any remaining questions. A rarity, sending a handwritten note to thank the interviewer for their time and express your excitement for the role can also go a long way.

Researching the prospective company, practicing answering questions, reiterating how you can benefit the company, and showcasing your leadership skills are all tips to keep in mind for your interview day. Spending time ahead of the interview on preparation will pay off. You will feel more prepared, relaxed and confident – and the interviewer will notice those traits. Don’t forget to let yourself shine through. You got this!