Common Executive Interview Mistakes

Common Executive Interview Mistakes

Common Executive Interview Mistakes That Could Cost You the Job

You’ve worked hard for years after college. You payed your dues in entry- and mid-level jobs; you’ve built your reputation and standing within the professional world. Now is the time that executive-level positions start to open themselves up to you. It’s exciting, for sure, but still awash with pitfalls. As it turns out, experience in the workplace doesn’t make interviews any easier.

The Executive Interview

The style and basic format doesn’t change drastically from the interviews you did years before to get your career start. There are certainly unique challenges that come when interviewing for a higher-level position. In today’s piece, we’ll be talking about common executive interview mistakes candidates make, and how best to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Lack of Research

The first common mistakes is showing up to an interview without having taken any time to research who they are. It might sound unthinkable to you, but it’s more common than you know. Put yourself in the place of the interviewers, all likely to be senior executives themselves. What impression does it make to learn that this candidate you’re meeting hasn’t even bothered to take the time to find out about this company’s leadership? How could you believe that this was a candidate that was taking this opportunity seriously?

When preparing for a high-level interview, you should always take the time to read up on those people who will be interviewing you. This is made easier today thanks to channels like LinkedIn, from which you can learn a lot about your interviewer’s work history and achievements. It’s already standard practice among candidates, though, so what else could you do to overcome a lack of knowledge? One thing you could do is see if you have any common connections with your potential new colleagues. If not, then perhaps you could identify customers of the company that would be willing to share their own experience. The information is all there, but it requires you to reach out and find it.

This should furnish you with questions you might ask them during the interview, simultaneously demonstrating your genuine interest in the company and your intellectual curiosity.

Mistake #2: Fluff Answers

Have you ever been asked a question that you weren’t sure how to answer, so you just said words and kept doing so until you felt it was enough? This is what we’re referring to when we talk about candidates making the mistake of using “fluff” answers to interviewers’ questions. On one level, it’s understandable that in an executive interview, a nervous candidate would feel that any answer is better than nothing, but this is where they’d be wrong.

Let’s say there’s a question you can’t quite get to grips with. How should you handle that? It’s far better to be honest and direct than to simply spout things that you suppose the interviewer might want to hear. Experienced executive interviewers will know immediately when you are trying to buy time or just come up with filler language. It’s better, therefore, to admit:

Sorry, I don’t quite follow. Could you clarify that?

When you say “intangible benefits for customers,” what exactly are you referring to? Could you give me one or two examples?

This approach is better for two reasons. First of all, it demonstrates honesty on your part. You encountered a road block and were honest and forthright enough to identify it to your peers who then can help you overcome it. That takes courage, and leaders need that. Second, this approach also shows that you are aware of your own limitations and do not fear them. You are willing to seek out others with knowledge you need in order to complete a task. This is the very heart of decisive action and appropriate delegation of work. Even if the interviewer were a little disappointed you didn’t know the answer immediately, they couldn’t help but be impressed by your candour and ability to find quick solutions.

Mistake #3: No Concrete Examples

The third common executive interview mistakes is not having concrete examples. This one follows on quite neatly from mistake #2. Another common error that executive candidates are prone to make is not being ready with clear, concrete examples of their work achievements to date. When asked about their successes in past roles, they might panic and fall back on meaningless management jargon and clichés:

Poor: I worked with my team to increase sales using social media and data tools. It took some out-of-the-box thinking, but we made good progress. Everyone was pleased.

Better: I led a project to take our existing analytics data from the past 12 months and identify where most sales were generated. Once we’d determined which platforms were most visited, we made adjustments to the budgets to better suit the demographic data we were seeing. The result was an overall cut of 12% in the social media budget, while boosting sales by 15% in the first quarter of this year.

If you can’t provide concrete details of your achievements, then it’s perhaps time to rethink whatever professional move you are making. Executives justify their value based on results, and so you must prove to employers that you can deliver. Only data and precision will do. Further fluff will not cut it whatsoever.

Mistake #4: Negative talk on the Past

When you get together with friends on a weekend night for dinner or drinks, the topic of “horrible bosses” might well emerge. It’s common enough, and a good chance to let off steam without ruffling any feathers at work. In an interview situation, however, bad-mouthing your previous employer is a big mistake. Unfortunately one made by a few too many loose-tongued young aspiring executives.

Even if every terrible story you tell is true, it simply cannot do you any good in an interview. The negativity you are spouting is hardly the right tool to make a good impression with potential new employers. They are looking for dynamic, positive and energetic individuals, not whiners. Next, if this is how you talk about your previous or current employers with your prospective ones, how will it be down the line if and when you decide to move on from this office? It’s like you’re giving them a preview of future job interviews in which you’ll unload negativity on someone else about this company.

In addition, continuously spouting negative about previous roles and projects reveals an embittered and jaded soul. This is not what any company wants in their senior team. “Can-do” is the order of the day. Senior positions are open to people with ideas, experience and plans on how to turn theories into actions. None of this can be conveyed when you’re focused on how your old boss wouldn’t let you take a personal day or when you had to give up a Saturday to do a team-building day.

Mistake #5: No plans for the Future

A further mistake is having no concrete ideas for the future. This problem can range from some having absolutely no idea what to say to a question about the company’s future, to those who will answer with vague “fluffy” plans that have no tangible qualities to them at all.

While you are researching the senior team conducting your interview, you should also review the company’s history. Whether you review the company’s performance, or simply review their social media, you will benefit from such insights. They will allow you to reflect on the organisation and what they might do differently moving forward.

To use a simple example, perhaps you are aware of a publicity event that the company organised. Maybe for some reason you were even there at the event. In any case, you could constructively discuss how such events could be improved for the future. Perhaps something about the timing, guest list, order of events, venue or another aspect could be enhanced.

You should think of at least two things that the company might do differently in the future, and how you can be a part of helping that happen. As long as it’s tangible and constructive, it will be welcomed.

Mistake #6: Overplaying Humility

One final of the common executive interview mistakes that aspiring executives make is overplaying the humility card. Perhaps they do so because they don’t want to come across as a know-it-all, but it can actually be a shot in the foot. Executives are company leaders, and those leaders need to project confidence and authority. Showing yourself as overly humble, perhaps lacking assertiveness, overall plays badly in an interview.

Don’t misunderstand. Humility is a virtue, and any leader needs to know when and how to admit mistakes. In an interview, however, it is absolutely possible to overdo the humble pie, allowing it to overshadow your achievements and other strengths. A dash of humility is fine, but otherwise focus on being confident and sharing good, concrete ideas.

Executive Interviews: The Search for Leaders

When you’re interviewing for senior roles in any organisation, you are not just applying for a job with better pay, benefits and office privileges. You are, more importantly, applying to become a leader within the company; to become a part of the company’s very public face. In all interviews the goal is to spot overall potential, a solid foundation of experience, knowledge and professional maturity beneath that potential. Therefore, avoiding the pitfalls we mention above during the interview is extremely important.

Be prepared; speak in concrete, quantifiable terms; project confidence, and make a connection with your interlocutors. In doing so, you make it easy for companies to picture you as an integral part of their team, thus making hiring you a done deal.

At Syzygy Careers, we are passionate about careers. Contact us today more information. Follow us on Linkedin and Youtube.

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