Job interviews are looming . . .
Your understanding of your brand and promise of value is solid. Your personal marketing and brand communications plan is building and working for you. These things are helping you land interviews.
For many executives, this is where the scary part starts.
You may be cool and calm on the job – leading companies and global operations – but the mere thought of presenting and marketing yourself in an interview puts you in a panic.
Research, strategic planning, preparation and rehearsal for interviewing are more important than ever, if you want to position yourself as the best hiring choice for jobs that are a mutual good fit for you and the right organization.
Remember that many interviewers aren’t particularly good at interviewing. The better prepared you are to own the conversation and keep it focused on what you want to cover, the easier you make their job and the more you improve your chances.
Some of your preparation is part of the work you should have done to create your executive job search marketing materials (resume, biography, online profiles, etc.) and job search strategy.
Virtual interviews are more the norm now and may continue to be with us even after the pandemic is behind us. Much of the advice below still applies, but you’ll find specifics about nailing virtual job interviews here.
What To Do Before You Walk Into Job Interviews
Prepare to Demonstrate Your Industry and Company-Specific Knowledge
Research Your Target Industry
Find out what issues and challenges your industry is facing. Determine who the subject matter experts and key thought leaders are.
Research the Company
Prepare to intelligently answer questions like “What do you know about our company?” and “Why do you want to work here?“. You also want to be prepared to ASK intelligent questions about the company.
Learn about the company’s past performance and future plans so your interview will be more interactive.
Here’s how and where to conduct your research:
An actual job description, if you have one, is one of your best interview preparation tools. Go through the entire description and align each of the qualifications, skill sets, and personal characteristics with what you have to offer in that area.
If you’re working with a recruiter, ask them for all the information they can provide on the company and the position.
Contact the prospective employer to get specifics on the position you are interviewing for or ask for company literature.
Review the company website.
Google the company name and products related to the position you’re seeking.
LinkedIn offers a whole host of ways to do your research.
Tap your own network. Tell them which companies you’re targeting and ask if they have connections they’ll share, see if they know a potential interviewer, and ask them for insider information about the company and job opportunity you’re seeking.
Research the Interviewer
Google the names of your interviewers to read up about them and find a few points of interest to break the ice at the beginning of the interview.
They probably have LinkedIn profiles. Review their career history and education, see if you belong to the same professional organizations, see which LinkedIn Groups they belong to, see if you share the same interests.
Look for the interviewer on Twitter and other social media. Another way to break the ice at the start of the interview would be to mention something they recently posted. This also positions you as social media-savvy.
Better yet, follow the interviewer(s) on LinkedIn, Twitter and other social media. React to their posts (with comments, likes, shares, etc.) for a week or so before the interview.
What To Do Once You’re at Job Interviews
Break the Ice
Be ready to greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and pleasant, upbeat comment, “It’s a pleasure to meet you” or “Thank you for this opportunity” or “I’ve been looking forward to talking with you“.
Have a question to ask them, based on your research, that will immediately engage them and impress them that you cared enough to find out about them.
Look around their office and find some item to comment about – a photo, diploma, award, etc.
Brand the Interview
Reinforce your brand throughout the interview. Be sure the interviewer knows what your pivotal strengths, passions, drivers, and personal attributes are.
Let them know what differentiates you from the other candidates they’re talking with. As you work on the interviewing FAQs below, align your answers with your brand and value proposition.
Adjust your written brand positioning statement to comfortably answer the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” initial interview question.
For instance, instead of saying
“I’ve been leading global business development in consumer goods for over 20 years”,
Try something like this:
“For more than 20 years I’ve been steering new vision and multiplying profit growth for consumer goods startups and multi-billion dollar global brands. I helped [company name] generate record-breaking double-digit revenue and market share in record-breaking time.”
Then be ready to back up your statement with specific examples – tell your story.
Tell Your Story
Develop career success stories to provide evidence of your brand and value proposition, using the Challenge – Actions – Results (or similar) exercise. Use your practiced stories to deal with behavioral-based questions, such as “Tell me about a time when you . . .”
Interviewers will probably want to know how you adapted to the pandemic:
- Were you laid off or unemployed because of Covid?
- Did you work remotely?
- How well did you adapt to the changes?
- What new skills did you learn?
Be ready to describe the new technologies and new strategies you’ve learned that will be valuable to them.
Prepare and Rehearse Your Answers to the Tough Questions
Here are some interviewing FAQs:
- What is your greatest strength?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Why did you leave your job, or why were you laid off?
- How do you handle stress and pressure?
- Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you dealt with implementing it.
- Describe a decision that you made, or a situation that you were involved in, that was a failure.
- What has been the greatest disappointment in your career?
- What kind of leader are you?
- How do you create a team spirit where everyone feels engaged?
- How do you put in place the best processes to get things done?
- Why do you want this job?
- Why are you the best person for the job?
- What are your goals for the next 5 years, and the next 10 years? How do you expect to achieve them?
- What are your salary expectations both long-term and short-term?
And one of my favorites — How did you prepare for this interview?
Know What Questions YOU Will Ask in Job Interviews
Both of you are assessing each other for good fit. The interview process is part of your due diligence. Now is the time to find out if this job and company are really right for you. It’s okay to bring a written list with you to refer to.
Here are the kinds of questions you should be asking:
- What does your best-fit candidate look like?
- Why is the position open?
- What responsibilities in this job are really going to define success for this person?
- What skills and qualities will be most important in this position?
- May I see a copy of the job description?
- What would the hired candidate be doing the first three months on the job?
- What are the prospects for growth and advancement?
- Are there any major changes coming internally that I should know about?
- Where do you see this division/company in the next five years?
- How can I demonstrate that I’m a good fit for this position?
- What do you (the interviewer) like and not like about working here?
- Are there any questions that you have for me?
Keep Your Professional References Informed of Your Job Interviews
I’m assuming you’ve picked the right references – people who are qualified to speak intelligently and compellingly about your past performance, qualifications, brand, and good fit for the company.
If you haven’t already provided the company with your references, you may be bringing your list to the interview, along with your resume.
Let your references know who you’re interviewing with and when, so they’ll be prepared to say what you need them to say when they’re contacted for a recommendation.
Send your references the same personal marketing materials you sent to interviewers (resume, bio, LinkedIn profile, etc.), so they’ll be on the same page.
Keep your references in the loop as you move through the hiring process. And always, always thank them and find some way to give value to them. Don’t just tap into them for help. Give to get!
And be smart about this. Have your references checked by a professional to find out what they’re really saying about you. Any negative feedback about you can turn employers against hiring you.
A Few Caveats with Job Interviews
Don’t Stretch the Truth
Interviewing advice often centers around finding a balance between being your authentic self, while also conveying how masterful you are at certain things.
Tasked with such a challenge, your natural instinct may be to stretch the truth to get the job. And you may get away with a fib here and there. But it’s a risk that could end badly.
According to a NY Times article,
“Psychologists who study interviews note that a wide range of inauthentic behaviors can be in play. Most job seekers use what’s called “impression management” in the interview process, which means they’re thinking about how to present the best version of themselves.
But there are honest, relatively honest and flat-out deceptive versions of that. Deceptive ingratiation can mean laughing at unfunny jokes, and honest ingratiation can be connecting with the interviewer over real shared interests, like hiking or watching the Knicks.
Slight image creation means inflating your skills just a bit (maybe that camping trip becomes a passion for wilderness survival), while extensive image creation means making up stories of fake accomplishments (maybe that camping trip includes wrestling a bear). Some two-thirds of job applicants use deceptive ingratiation, and over half admit to slight image creation.
How likely people are to fall back on these practices depends on how much they want the job, as well as how easily they think they can get away with the ruse.”
Don’t Say “That’s a Great Question” When You Can’t Think of an Answer
With your interview prep, you’re probably ready to answer a vast majority of the questions you’ll be hit with.
But what about that curve ball question you have no clue how to answer, and you need to answer it on the spot?
A CNBC article says avoid saying “That’s a great question!”
Interviewers won’t be thrown by your hesitancy or even stuttering to find an answer. They know this is a stressful situation.
But they WILL evaluate your communication skills and picture you on the job, dealing with curve balls like the one they just posed.
A better response to such a question is something like:
“I’ve never been asked that before. Let me have a moment to think about that.”
Instead, explain how you would deal with whatever the issue is in their question, as if you were on the job.
“Tell the hiring manager who you would contact within the organization for a second opinion or assistance, as well as any additional resources you would turn to, whether it’s a manual or professional organization. Use clear, simple language and keep the explanation short.
If the question is more behavioral — asking about a time you were challenged, for example, or what your biggest weaknesses are — be honest, and make sure you mention either how you’ve helped your team through your actions or how you’ve learned a new skill to improve how you approach work.”
Sometimes WHAT you say is not as important as HOW you say it. There’s not necessarily a right answer to such a question.
Don’t Talk Too Much
Sometimes talking less in interviews can work to your advantage.
Especially if you’re someone who is uncomfortable with silent pauses in conversations, or someone who believes they’re good at talking themselves through anything.
According to Robert Greene, author of “The 48 Laws of Power”:
“At first glance, this might not seem particularly applicable to the world of interviews — you can’t exactly hope to win the job by maintaining an era of mystique and talking in riddles or giving one-word responses with meaningful glances. But it’s still true that saying too much can deprive you of the opportunity to wait for a reaction and respond to the interviewer’s cues.
Think about it: If you had one job candidate who talked complete nonsense for two minutes straight to answer your question and another who gave you a brief response that you needed to follow up with further questions, who would you give the benefit of the doubt to?”
Hogging the conversation can leave the interviewer frustrated.
“For the most part, companies set aside a fixed amount of time for an interview, so spending too much of this speaking will waste time that could have been put to much better use. Sticking to the idea that “less is more” and rehearsing one or two key points instead of five or six is one way to come across as more authentic.”
Be mindful of the cues the interviewer is sending you.
“Does it look like they want to interrupt you or follow up with a specific question? It’s probably time to shut up. Did they look displeased or uncomfortable with something you said? Time to skim over that point and move onto something else. Did they look excited about something you said? Go into some more detail.”
How much talking should you do?
“Generally, a maximum of 60 seconds for a response is about right. It only takes around 10 seconds for an interviewer to start losing interest, and after 90 seconds they might have stopped listening completely.
It’s not like you can time yourself in the actual interview, but you can certainly time yourself at home when you’re practicing your answers to common interview questions. If you can comfortably stay below 45 seconds for an answer, you’ll give yourself more leeway for the actual thing.”
More About Executive Job Search and Job Interviews