I find it interesting how many senior executives still develop cold feet, when it comes to the executive interview process, despite several years of experience of being on the other side of the fence! A casual conversation on the topic with a couple of friends at the club led to conversations with others, research… and, lo and behold, I have a treatise ready on the process!
It is about them, not you: A lot of people focus on a false start - I am good at this, these are my ambitions, I can do this etc. Rather, it is a simple supply-demand equation. What is the role on offer? How are you the best “solution” to the problem? A simple but very powerful pivot in approach can yield very interesting results!!
Research: Even after many years, I find candidates interviewing for senior positions asking basic questions such as the firm’s profit in the previous year, market ranking etc. Pray, if something can be found via a simple scan of the internet, why waste the interviewer’s time or convey a spirit of unwillingness to put in the hard yards?!
Be yourself: Most important. A lot of people try to project the persona required for the role, and walk into a trap, which they are unable to get out of! The executive interview is a two-way process. It is as much about your finding the role compatible as the firm’s finding the right candidate! If you are yourself, and still do not land the role, too bad for them… it is their loss, not yours!
Don’t over-prepare: I find several candidates ready with canned answers to typical interview answers. A simple question I often ask, to ferret out such candidates, is – “tell me 3 things that are not on your CV”. You find the hitherto smart & polished candidate suddenly hemming & hawing. If a question in an executive interview can make you so uncomfortable, how will you treat day-to-day problems which emerge suddenly without giving you any advance notice?
Never lie: An obvious one. Nevertheless, I still find many candidates willing to cross the line here. I once selected a candidate who used “IDK (I don’t know)” so frequently that he could have been rejected. The panel’s conclusion was unanimous – we can teach expertise, we cannot teach values! He went on to become one of our best hires!
Play offense: Most candidates do not do this. They land up as scared mice, conveying the impression that they are easy meat for the panel to feast upon! As I stated before, it is a 2-way process… so, the candidate has as much a right as the panel to ask questions and get insights! I met a candidate once who was so information-hungry that I felt I was being interviewed… but his homework was so intense that I had no option but to give him the nod over others.
Take a maverick approach: Most candidates play a passive role by offering answers to questions asked. The really smart ones immediately differentiate themselves by going beyond the ordinary. A candidate I met once asked for a live business problem, and offered to try out a solution. While his solution was not the ideal one, his proactive approach landed him the role!
At the end of the day, an executive interview is a conversation. The trick is to balance a cool-headed approach with the right degree of research – you cannot be too casual while not being over-prepared. You have the experience. You have the pedigree. Go and make it yours.