5 smart interview strategies for executives

Learn how to ensure your success in the most stressful part of the executive job search: the interview.

5 smart interview strategies for executives

Companies want to hire competent, successful, articulate executives, yet the very first encounter between the candidate and company often places the candidate in a particularly stressful and uncomfortable situation: the interview.

The reality is you must deal with the hiring process as it exists. To accomplish that, you must learn how to comfortably manage and control your interviews. Here are five key strategies to help ensure interview success.

Sell it to me, don't tell it to me

Interviews are the time to sell what you have accomplished, not simply to tell what you've done. For example, if you're asked how many people you managed in your last position, it's tempting to quickly respond, "I had a team of 35."

A much stronger response is, "My staff at IBM included 35 professionals and support personnel. Not only was I responsible for managing those individuals, but I also directed all recruitment and hiring activities, set salaries, designed bonus plans, facilitated the annual performance review process and projected long-term staffing requirements. What's more, my team increased annual sales by more than 35% within just one year." Lesson: Quantify your achievements. 

Turn every negative into a positive

What do you do if your interviewer asks about your experience working with Excel spreadsheets and you have none? Don't simply say you don't know Excel. Instead, use related experiences to illustrate you have some relevant knowledge.

For example, you could answer, "I have extensive experience designing Lotus spreadsheets, so I'm sure getting a handle on Excel won't take any time at all." Then, even though you've been honest, you've positively positioned yourself and your knowledge. Get familiar with turning each weakness into a strength.

Use big-to-little strategy

When someone asks you about your experience with mergers and acquisitions, use the big-to-little strategy to organize your thoughts, respond seamlessly and make it easy for your interviewer to understand your specific experience. Start big, with an overview of your experience in M&A transactions—just a short description of your overall scope and depth of experience.

Then, follow up with smaller details—two to four specific achievements, projects or highlights that are directly related. You might talk about your involvement in due diligence, negotiations, transactions or acquisition integration. In essence, you're communicating, "This is what I know, and this is how well I've done it."

Remember: You've already passed the first test

You're nervous. You're sitting in the executive conference room with the president, CFO and two executive VPs. Take a deep breath and remember you've already passed the first test, generally a phone screening.

And if it's a job at the level where your first interview is with the company's top executives, you know they're interested or they wouldn't be taking the time to interview you. Therefore, go into the interview knowing you've already got them on the hook. Be confident, yet not boastful.

Take the initiative

You're nearing the interview's close, and you had wanted to share your experience in supply-chain management. However, the topic was never brought up. It is your responsibility to introduce it into the conversation. You might comment, "Before we end, I'd like to share one more thing with you that I think is important to the position and my fit within your organization." Then proceed with the information. You must take the initiative during an interview to be sure you have communicated all that is of value.

There is no doubt interviewing is a stressful and often difficult situation. However, it's your professional life on the line. Walk into each interview knowing what information you want to communicate. Quietly control the interview to be sure you paint a picture of knowledge and success as you position yourself for an offer.