How to Avoid the Five Most Common Executive Interview Mistakes

Publication: ExecuNet CareerSmart Advisor

By: Rachelle J. Canter, PhD

March 2, 2009

Before my career book was published, I sent the proposal to a publishing executive for feedback. By the synopsis of the interviewing section in which I enumerated some of the crazy and common mistakes that executives make during interviews, he wrote, “Executives don’t make these mistakes!”

Did he think I made them up?

I reported mistakes I’d observed in more than 20 years of interview coaching with executives. When I mentioned his com- ment to a prominent executive search consultant, she replied, “Executives make the worst mistakes in interviews.”

Here are some tips for avoiding five of the most common interview mistakes that executives make.

Keep Answers Short, Sweet and Focused
Executives tend to talk too long. Used to being listened to, they typically forget that interviews are dialogues, not monologues. Instead of offering crisp responses that demonstrate their ability to cut to the chase, they ramble on and on in response to typical questions such as “tell me about yourself ” or “greatest strengths.” Remember that an interviewer can always ask follow-up questions if he or she wants to know more. First impressions count: Don’t come across as a windbag.

Demonstrate Value by Backing up Claims
Interviews afford an opportunity to show what you can do, based on what you’ve already done. But executives frequently make claims, such as referring to their “ability to inspire teams” or “track record as a maverick, challenging the status quo.” Frequently, they stop there. These are hollow claims unless you have specific examples to back them up. Prepare specific and relevant anec- dotes or examples for each interview.

Don’t Overemphasize Chemistry at the Expense of Skill
Interviews are a chance to evaluate chemistry, but executives often forget that chemistry is secondary to skill. Savvy interviewers will hire the person who is the best person for the job and a nice person to work with to boot. Great chemistry won’t make up for a poor or irrelevant track record. Times have changed. Employers need executive hires who can deliver, not people just like them. Your best approach is to focus on your performance first and chemistry second to make the best impression on prospective employers.

It’s All About Them, Not You
Too often, executives forget that the purpose of an interview is to find the best person for the job. This shows in their responses to questions such as: “Why are you interested in this opportunity?” They respond to the question and talk on and on about their personal career goals and how an opportunity can help bolster their career. Instead, remember to focus on how you are interested in the opportunity because it requires the kind of skill or track record that you have developed over the years. Keeping your focus on your audience (prospective employers) will keep your answers appropriately focused.

Prepare Carefully to Build Your Strongest Case
By far, the biggest mistake that executives make in interviews is a failure to prepare for them. Most executives don’t prepare for interviews, except for a cursory glance at the job spec and the company’s website. Used to being good on their feet, they wing the job interview and it shows.

Preparation is the key to the poised and focused self-presentation that charac- terizes a strong interview. Careful prepa- ration for an interview involves defining your competitive edge for the opportunity and preparing specific examples that are relevant to the employer and demonstrate your competitive edge.

Creating bulleted answers to common questions like “greatest success” or “an example of a time you led through influence, not control” gives you the chance to practice answers without memorizing them. Preparation and practice allow you to give well-organized and succinct answers and to provide examples to build your case, instead of falling into the common trap of providing answers that are too long-winded and short on important information. Focusing on relevant examples and how you are best suited to fill an employer’s need puts your focus where it needs to be and helps you deliver a winning and blooper-free interview.