How do I prepare for an executive level interview? Avoid mistakes and secure your position
Simona Spilak, MSc 07 November. 2023
Preparation is vital to secure your next position as top manager and CEO (and often overlooked). It hurts me when experienced and talented candidates succumb under the two most common mistakes: overconfidence and under preparation. Use these insights even if you are not actively searching or don't need to shift gears to a new position or company. They will prepare you to understand how to create opportunities for your colleagues and team - one of the three top skills requested from CEOs and top managers in the coming years. This article is the second part of the Executive-Level interview preparation. You got the burning questions interviewers will ask and how to answer them. Now you can learn about proper preparation to avoid the most common mistakes CEOs and top managers showcase in interviews. All are shared from my Executive Search Consultant expertise.
- How to avoid the most common mistakes at an executive-level interview?
- How do I prepare for an executive-level interview?
- How to succeed in an executive-level interview for CEOs and top management roles?
- What can I do if the executive interview is not going well?
- What are the red flags in an executive level interview?
- What does your personality reveal in an executive level interview?
- How is the final decision about the best candidate taken for a CEO and top-management position?
How to avoid the most common mistakes at an executive-level interview?
CEOs apply for new positions in three scenarios:
- They're proactively searching for a new role or company.
- They are recommended within their network.
- An executive search agency approaches them.
Overconfidence and under-preparation: two most common mistakes of CEOs and top managers in executive interviews
Bias no. 1: The "invitation entreé" often translates into "under preparation"
Being approached or invited doesn't mean you don't need to prepare. Let alone if you're actively searching for job opportunities. Here is the thing: either for lack of time, genuine interest, or overconfidence, I often meet underprepared executive candidates - even though they may be great interviewers themselves.
Bias no. 2: Being a great interviewer doesn't make you a great candidate
First, you must change hats and clear your head from assumptions and expectations - which often requires humbleness and a second pair of eyes. Top career coaches and executive search experts are that second pair of eyes. Use them well to prepare yourself.
How do I prepare for an executive-level interview? Four steps to a successful interview
- Do your research: Headhunters and executive search experts will inform you about the requirements and challenges for this position. Before hitting back, read in-depth the job description, learn all the facts publicly available about the company, and do your research till you come up with your bullet-point list of questions.
- Check your gut: Questions are essential to understand the whole picture, estimate the match, and, more importantly, measure your excitement. I often see candidates that feel something is off and decide to go on, to discover - late - that it was all a mistake.
- Prepare a clear and concise introduction: Run through your CV and check the following:
Understand the competition, environment, trends, and challenges:
- What are the industry challenges?
- How do you support that?
What information in your CV supports you in the new role?
- How does your experience add value?
- How do you match the new company?
- Compare your CV to the position: This is a pave-forward exercise. You can list: the areas you´re great in, the ones you´re missing, and how you´re planning to manage those. Prepare a bullet list of past positions; it will give you clarity. It will also prove your interest and investment in this position.
If your career needs some salt and pepper, assessing your CV will inform you about exciting areas you may want to grow into, personal or professional, and the development method that suits you best at this stage.
Is this a yes? Then, move ahead.
A concise introduction is a critical piece. Seizoned candidates need help zooming out and having a complete picture of all available possibilities. As an Executive Search Consultant , my role is to blow your mind and guide you in a direction aligned with your motivation, experience, skills, and personality.
How to succeed in an executive-level interview for CEOs and top management roles?
At this point, it can be helpful to recap how executive-level candidate search runs. The following is a general framework that can help you understand touch points and how to make the most out of each phase.
Steps of an executive level candidate search and selection process
Touch points between the company, the executive search agency, and the candidate:
- Interview between the candidate and the executive search agency. You'll review the open position, CV, and introduction; and learn about the role requirements, expectations, and company organization.
- Candidate report. The agency will prepare a detailed individual candidate report, specifying your match concerning your professional experience, personality profile, motivation, and expected compensation package.
- Interview with the company: Often with your (to be) direct manager plus two other people. Sometimes the executive search expert is also present in this interview.
- Presentation of a business case: It is usually about the company's strategy and your approach for the first 100 days in your new role.
- Assessments and evaluations: On your professional and leadership skills, competencies, and personality traits, using psychometric profiling and a deep dive behavioral interview - all done by the executive search agency.
In our executive search agency, we provide:
- Candidates: with feedback about their profile, presentation, management and/or leadership style to excel in their presentation during the interview.
- Companies: with the flow of interviews, their insights, our reports, the results of the business case, and the in-depth assessment report.
I stand for interviews with candidates lasting 60-90 minutes for top management roles. People usually "shine in all colors'' after an hour, and all parties can make the best decisions.
I strongly recommend you maximize your chances of success by doing the following:
- Prepare your answers. These are the six questions you can count on 100%, plus the three you'll be asked to prove you're on top of the game and top of yourself at an executive level interview.
- Find out who is going to be present in the interview. Each interviewer has a role. Identify which one and engage/involve them all.
- Notice the red flags.
I often get top candidates saying yes to the wrong role. Looking backward, they often say: “Do you know what? I already knew something was “off” because they were unclear about the strategy. I desired that role so strongly, I overlooked the question”.
- Bring your questions forward. Be frank, honest, and direct in the most authentic way. C-level management is about courage. How will you lead the company through difficult situations if you avoid confrontation?
What can I do if the executive interview is not going well?
If you feel something is off in their response, be brave and ask them: Would you like me to elaborate on this topic? Asking will serve as an example of how you handle discomfort and your communication skills.
What are the red flags in an executive level interview?
If you feel something is off, check it. For example, are the interviewers clear with questions and respectful? Are they paying attention to engagement traits? What happened to your predecessors? Why did they fail? How will they cooperate with you?
Don't be blind by a shiny opportunity - especially if you long for this specific one. I've mentioned it twice, but I can't stress it enough.
What does your personality reveal in an executive level interview?
When I ask candidates to describe themselves, I observe the flow in their answers and their starting point: do they explain who they are, their values, and their loved ones, or jump to their professional skills? It gives me an idea of what´s relevant for them at this particular moment.
How strong are you aware of your personality in an executive level interview?
Your personality counts as much as your experience
Many CEOs are into "doing, doing, doing" to achieve this or that, rather than "being": only a few talks about how they perceive things/events or feel about them.
A person's personal goals also inform me about their self-awareness, self-leadership, and self-knowledge. Do they talk about growth, continuous learning, and curiosity? About their past results and impact? Do they act with compassion and integrity and mention the importance of their teams? Also very informative whether they use "me, me" versus "we have, we tackled" to describe changes, improvements, and achievements.
The two more relevant traits are:
- Are they action-driven or people-driven?
- Are they logical and analytical in their approach or visionary and innovators?
Personality traits give a perspective about how you will kick off your new role, how your first hundred days will look, how you will likely act, or provide insights into your leadership and management style and potential risk areas.
How is the final decision about the best candidate taken for a CEO and top-management position?
A big part of the final decision is about the cultural match or need.
As an executive search consultant, I present the final three candidates to the company. The three meet the requirements and responsibilities of the role and are an excellent match to the company's culture. However, they differ in their personality, approach, and how they function in a team.
I use the PCM model personality profiling and the deep dive interview to support my recommendations. Same system NASA has operated for over 30 years. You can read more about it and get your PCM profile and profiling interview here.
My consultation hour is always open to answer questions and guide you through.