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Executive interviews can be challenging, even for the most experienced professionals. Once you have secured your interview, it is important to take the right steps to prepare for every situation and question that you could face. Below is a breakdown of helpful ways to prepare, success-enhancing behaviour and what to avoid.

Pre-Interview Preparation: Research and Questions

Research: The first step is to find out as much as you can about the organization, and the individuals who will be doing the interview. To do this, make sure that you ask for the interviewer’s name in advance, then research them via their company profiles and LinkedIn. You may find that you have common ground with your interviewer, such as former employers, university alumni and outside interests that can then be leveraged during the interview to highlight your cultural fit.

Questions: When asked any question, avoid basic factual responses. To engage the interviewer, turn cold facts into compelling stories to demonstrate your capabilities. You can reduce your chance of receiving a difficult question by drawing up a list of likely questions ahead of time. Typical questions could include the following:

1. Tell me about one of your failed projects:  If asked about failed projects, be transparent about what happened, without being defensive or obviously passing blame. Don’t use answers like "It wasn’t really my fault," as it is far better to demonstrate that you made mistakes and learnt from them so that they will never happen again.

2. What are your strengths? Select strengths that are related to the hiring company’s specific needs, and are reflective of their current challenges. This is also applicable when answering the question "Why should we hire you?"

3. How much money are you looking for? This question can be particularly difficult to navigate as the interviewee must be careful not to either ask for too much, or sell themselves short. Do some research into the role and work out a range that would be reasonable for the position and the location.

4. Why don’t you tell me about yourself? Usually asked at the beginning of interviews, this question often leads interviewees speechless in their response. The reason why this is a favorite question among interviewers is because it gives them an insight into how the interviewee handles unstructured situations. Asking "What would you like to know?" is a terrible evasion and should be avoided. Spend time constructing an answer and practice it.

5. What is your biggest flaw? If you respond to this question by providing a list, it may set off alarm bells for the interviewer. Instead, mention only one flaw and describe how you have proactively taken steps to correct or improve it.

6. Why were you laid off or fired? Be honest, and provide adequate information to dispel any thoughts that it was due to your performance.

On the day of the Interview: Appearance and Behaviour

Deciding what to wear, even when given a dress code can be a difficult decision, with snap judgements often made within the first few seconds. To dress for success, ask for the dress-style expectation and remember that it is better to slightly overdress than underdress. If you have been asked to wear business casual, respect their request but err on the side of caution.

On the day of the interview, make arrangements to arrive at least 15 minutes before scheduled, and introduce yourself by giving your first and last name to make yourself more memorable. Give the interviewer a firm handshake and repeat his/her name at appropriate opportunities during the interview.

Once in the interviewing room, wait to be asked to be seated and if given a choice of seating, always choose a hardback chair to retain formality and avoid becoming too relaxed. Be conscious to keep your arms and legs unfolded, as this can be construed as defensiveness. Maintain eye contact throughout the interview, and if you are unsure how to answer a question, take time to thoughtfully reflect on answer or ask a clarifying question to give yourself more time to form a response.

Key things to avoid

It is important to show that you understand the company and have done your research on them. In order to do this, avoid asking for any information about the company that could be found by basic internet research.

You may also be judged on your relationship with your present or previous employers. Therefore, regardless of how you feel or how your employment ended, do not say anything negative about them, even if invited to do so. Remain impartial if you do not have anything positive to say.

It is also better not to discuss compensation or offer references, unless asked.

Towards the end of the interview

By the end of the interview, it is likely that you will be asked if you have questions for the interviewers. To demonstrate your curiosity, interest, and understanding, it is always better to ask a few, even if you are not explicitly invited to do so. You might wish to answer one or more of the following questions:
1. What are you looking for in an ideal candidate for this position?
2. How would I be measured?
3. What challenges would I have to tackle first?
4. What are my next steps?

Remember: The first impression you make may be the most important one of the meeting, but the impression you leave at the end is a close second.

Once you have left the interview setting, make notes about the meeting immediately, while it is fresh in your mind. It is important to note areas which you did not feel you answered as successfully as you would have liked, so that you can reinforce the subject matter when following up with them. It is also worthwhile recording who said what during the interview prior to writing your follow up response.

If you would like to learn more about the executive interview process and how to succeed, BlueSteps is hosting an executive webinar entitled The Executive Interview: Strategies to Land Your Next Job. To register for this complimentary webinar, click here.

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