Good question. I am often asked this question by my Executive clients and the uncertainty makes sense. Often, an Executive Level candidate’s career had progressed through the ranks and when they find themselves either in a position where they would like to transition to another organization, or need to seek a new opportunity, they may not have had an actual executive interview in more than 20 years. The last time they interviewed, they may not have been at an Executive Level, and so this type of interview might be a first.
Just the Basics
Although the executive interview will differ from the interviews you had in the beginning of your career, you don’t want to forget the basics. You may be an existing or potential CEO, but please remember the following:executive interview

  • Arrive 15 minutes early. Map out your route in advance and make sure to make allowances for potential travel snags.
  • Dress for the part. Make sure you have taken care of all personal details so you look and feel your best.
  • Bring clean and crisp copies of all personal marketing materials (executive resume, portfolio, etc.).
  • Turn off all electronic devices. If your cell phone is ringing consistently, it does not make you look important. It makes you look rude.
  • Do your research. Become familiar with as much information as you can regarding the organization; you will be asked about some, if not all figures, recent news /events, board members, annual report, financial statements, strategic plans, etc.
  • Treat everyone you meet with respect. In 2009, Office Team conducted a survey about how important it is to be “on your best behavior.” 61% of executives polled said that they consider their assistants’ opinion important when evaluating a potential new hire. Keep this in mind when meeting and greeting everyone from the parking attendant, doorman, people in the elevator, receptionist, etc.

What do companies want?
What are the qualities sought after in an Executive Level candidate? Let’s take a look at the following 4 components: Ability, Skill, Will, and Fit.
Ability: Does the candidate’s natural strengths match the job? A strength-based interview is a technique that executive recruiters and hiring managers will use to try and get to the heart of what a candidate “loves to do” instead of what they “can do.” As a candidate, it is sometimes difficult to see the difference, yet this is very important to understand so you can prepare for the interview questions. There are many skills that you may be good at, yet you may not really enjoy them. A simple test for yourself is to examine your “to do list,” and how you go about completing it. Do you find that “#4” on your to do list is constantly being pushed to the bottom? While you may complete “#4” accurately and on time, it still gets pushed down to the last minute and other items that you may enjoy working on get priority. “#4” is most likely not a natural strength. Your interviewer will dig to find out what it is.
Skill: Does the candidate have the needed skill-set to do the job including knowledge, information, tools, and other resources? Skill-based or competency-based executive interviews are designed to question and test specific skills. At the executive level, we take this a step further and expand into behavioral interviewing. Not only does the company need to know that you have the skills to do the job, they expect you to demonstrate your success in utilizing these skills. The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Therefore, you can expect the interviewer to ask for very specific examples of past behaviors and actions so they can draw conclusions regarding how a candidate would similarly perform within their organization.
Will: Is the candidate motivated to do the job? How do executive recruiters and hiring managers determine motivation? Motivation may not be so obvious in an interview; and some candidates are well-practiced and coached, making it even trickier for the interviewer to get to the answer. Therefore, the interviewer may thoroughly examine and question the candidate regarding career progression, promotions, changing jobs for advancement, or being recruited by former bosses. As a candidate, is your career progression clear and explained on your resume? This is important. If it is on paper, it will prompt the right questions for the interviewer. Be prepared as a candidate to talk about your failures. It is unlikely that you have reached the top of your career without some trial and error. Motivated people are also resilient and self-aware. The interviewer will want to know that you can stay in the game and circumvent/overcome obstacles.
Fit: This year, Fox Business interviewed L. Kevin Kelly, previous CEO of Heidrick & Struggles (one of the AESC’s top executive search firms), on the challenges in finding the right candidates for C-suite jobs. Kelly stated that “40% of executive-level candidates who move organizations don’t last more than 18 months because they don’t fit.” CQ (Cultural Quotient) is a relatively new term which describes the ability to navigate through different markets throughout the globe. CQ shares many of the properties of EQ (Emotional Intelligence) but it goes a little deeper to determine the behaviors that are produced by a culture.
As an executive-level candidate interviewing for a position within an organization, the ability to easily adapt and fit into a new work culture is critical. If an organization is determined to find the “right fit,” a lot of prep work will be completed before the candidate is interviewed. The organization must first assess their own culture which includes: how work is completed, how decisions are made, ways in which information is communicated, format and venue for meetings, who is involved in critical decision-making, ways employees are engaged and retained, strategies to correct under-performance, structure of work days, senior management accessibility, environment, attitude, and general feel of the workplace.
As a candidate, you must anticipate this and be prepared to respond accordingly. To determine “fit,” organizations will often use the “marathon” executive interview strategy, where the candidate will meet back-to-back with multiple people at all different levels throughout the day. This helps to give the organization an overview of how the candidate interacts with diverse individuals.
Although you may know that you are the “perfect person” for this position, the employer does not. It is your challenge and opportunity to demonstrate to the employer that you will add value to their organization. Therefore, do not take an applicant-centric approach. You must be able to connect the dots, and show your potential employer how you will have a positive impact. The employer is not all that interested in the details of your need for a new challenge, different industry, new environment, etc. They do want to know how and what you will achieve when you come on board. Find the problems within the organization, compare them with similar, successful challenges from your past, and convince the employer that you will be equally or more successful as part of their team. Communicate your value.
For more insights on Executive Interviewing and related topics, I invite you to review or purchase a copy of my recently released career resource, 101 Great Ways to Compete In Today’s Job Market. Featuring 101 career experts, this book offers encouraging and insightful strategies, anecdotes, and advice to inspire, motivate and propel your career forward.


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