To excel at executive interviews, you must have a clear understanding of the purpose, be invested in the process, and give your very best performance in a high-pressure situation. Don’t fall for the myths and preconceptions that have sprung up about this experience. For example:

MYTH #1: Once I get the interview, I’ll be fine. Countless executives have said something like this to me over the years—meaning that they can hold their own in the interview and are only worried about getting the interview in the first place. These executives usually fall into two camps:

1) agile and eloquent speakers who are confident they can talk their way through any situation;

2) introverted technical experts who hate “putting themselves out there” in an executive job search but have tons of confidence when talking about their technical subject.

In both cases, it’s essential to prepare for interviews and not think you can just “wing it.” Here’s why:

  • The agile, eloquent talker who has not done his homework will not be prepared with sharp, insightful questions to ask during the interview. He can speak about his experiences but is not fully prepared to relate his expertise to the hiring manager’s needs. He can come off as glib—“all show, no dough”—and be passed over for a less verbally adept candidate who has prepared thoughtfully and extensively for this meeting.
  • The introverted technical expert may not shine during the parts of the executive interview that are not devoted to her technical expertise. Interviews usually include ice-breaking conversation and general questions. They might involve casual or formal meetings with potential co-workers. What’s more, the technical expert needs to know more than her technical expertise. She, too, needs to relate her expertise to the company’s needs and demonstrate how she can add value.


Bottom line: Your natural talents will enhance your interview performance, but neither verbal adroitness nor technical expertise can replace thorough preparation and sufficient practice.

MYTH #2: The interviewer is looking for any chance to eliminate me. Yes, interviews can make you feel judged and put you on the defensive. But try to look at it from the perspective of the executive interviewer. A staff vacancy creates a heavier-than-usual workload, and interviewing can be dragged-out and time consuming. Most employers want to find the right person as quickly as possible – then they can stop interviewing and get back to work!

Show them you are that right person. Go into every interview with a positive attitude and some bright ideas about how you can make the company better or the hiring manager’s job easier. Be prepared to overcome any objections they express (or you sense) about you, your background, your qualifications, or your expertise.

Bottom line: Don’t defeat yourself before you get in the door by assuming you’ll be knocked out of contention.

MYTH #3: If I have the best qualifications, I’ll get the job. It’s true that companies develop a specific list of qualifications when they begin the hiring process. And it’s true that candidates without those qualifications will be screened out at the first stage. But once a slate of candidates is chosen, it becomes about much more than qualifications. After all, everyone being interviewed should have the essential skill set and can do the job. So hiring managers and executive search consultants begin to look for other factors that will determine how well each candidate can do the job. For example:

  • How well will you fit into the team and the department?
  • Are you intense or laid-back? Which works better for us?
  • What “extras” do you have – things we didn’t specify for this position but that we know will help us in the future?
  • How have you handled challenges similar to what we’re facing now or anticipate in the future?
  • Are you promotable from this position?
  • What intrigues you? Where will you be most interested and motivated?
  • Do you help us meet diversity goals? (Diversity can cover a huge range of factors.)
  • What do your references say about you?
  • Do I like you?

The answers to these questions, and many others, cannot be determined through an executive resume review. Some can be measured objectively, while others are evaluated based on instinct and emotion.

Bottom line: You can’t predict precisely what the company or the manager will be looking for beyond the fundamental job qualifications. Focus on connecting your expertise to current and anticipated business challenges, try to be likeable, and let your personality show. After all, finding the right fit it is as much in your interest as it is the employer’s.


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