Executive interviews – those at senior-level or particularly, C-levels positions, often present challenges outside the scope of those for candidates at lower levels.
Be cognizant of executive-level-interview expectations.
- Candidates typically experience a longer interview series with more and longer interviews than for lower-level positions. It’s not uncommon for a full day of interviewing, including continued interviewing at lunch or dinner.
- Executive candidates must prove they’re top-tier players. Companies are looking for someone to take the next step in delivering forward movement and solutions.
- Candidates need a broad grasp on the prospective employer’s needs and challenges – and a vision to meet them. Candidates at every level should do their homework. But at the executive level, the candidates must deep dive into the issues faced. They must show capability in providing ideas and solutions to meet the needs and challenges. They must also walk a fine line in not suggesting those already tried nor appropriate for the organization. They must instead, ask the right questions and discuss similar problems solved for past employers.
- Candidates must demonstrate a clearly articulated vision for the company (or divisions, departments, subsidiaries, etc.). Particularly at the C-level, candidates must be shrewd about the prospective employer’s growth opportunities, as well as the associated risks. Ideas for slashing costs and introducing efficiencies are a given. Most importantly, the candidate must clearly express a vision that moves strategy into action and execution.
- Candidates may be asked to participate in simulations, presentations, problem-solving and hands-on tasks. There are often expectations beyond ordinary interviewing. It’s not unusual for candidates to be asked to complete in-basket exercises, deliver presentations, or provide 30/60/90 day plans for the targeted employer.
- Candidates must be ready for deep-dive, stimulating questions. While the questions found on endless lists for lower-level positions are still used in executive interviews, particularly in phone interviews or early screenings, often questions will move into complex and behavior-based probes. Interviewers will inquire into past professional behaviors that predict the kinds of results they can expect the candidate to contribute. And candidates may be asked to elaborate and dig deeper with their responses. “Please say more about…” and similar prodding questions are common at this level. Executive candidates must be ready for them.
- Candidates are expected to have a clear vision of their career paths. Even in a work world where career paths are often uncertain, interviewers may want to know how the candidates see their career plans over the next five to ten years. They want to ensure that the opportunities offered align with the candidate’s planned path. This type of projecting is often tricky. Candidates will often have to adjust their forecasted paths for changing scenarios; and the candidates need to address this.
- Executive candidates are expected to frame their successes in metrics. Revenues, shareholder value, gross and net profits, stakeholder relations, growth strategies, industry and company ranking, alliances, partnerships, reorganizations, restructurings, and leading teams to champion mission and vision are typical measures that showcase success in quantifiable terms. Employers are looking for change agent capabilities, flexibility, influence, innovation and resiliency.
- Candidates must present an executive image. A leadership image is important at this level – from attire and grooming, to how the candidates present themselves with eye contact, voice, handshake and body language, to connecting and articulation that conveys confidence and collaboration.
- Candidates must show high-level relationships. Executives are apt to report to a board rather than one boss. When interviewing for C-level positions, the candidates have to consider that prospective bosses, the board of directors, will want to know how they are going to establish a healthy relationship with them.
- Executive candidates must demonstrate competence and intensity. Candidates should be prepared for intensity. Because of high costs incurred in hiring an executive, prospective employers can be very careful. Candidates need to convey that same level of magnetism in conveying “I’m the right one!” Competencies come into play here as well. There are over multiple executive competencies that can be addressed in a senior-level interview. Three of those most probed are identifying the skills the company needs to solve problems, create efficiencies and cut costs. Hiring managers typically want very specific information from candidates about executive competencies, for example, both ideas for leading long-term changes aligned with organizational mission, balanced with short-term steps to achieve those goals.
- Executive candidates will be screened carefully. Relevant to the above-mentioned high cost for hiring executives, candidates are typically vetted at a microscopic level. Background checks for high-level candidates are common and frequently incredibly meticulous. Candidates need to be prepared to address any ambushes through this scrutinizing phase.
If you are transitioning into an executive, senior-level, or C-level role, the first step is to be aware of the nature of executive interviews. In my next post, I’ll share ways you can prepare to meet the high expectations decision-makers have of their executives in interviews.