With all the interviews you’ve conducted over the years as an executive, it stands to reason that you’d be an interview pro if the tables were turned, right? Not so fast. In fact, that assumption could be your biggest interviewing mistake.

Nailing an executive interview involves considerable preparation, focused practice and elegant performance. It also requires executive presence. When you exude executive presence, you send powerful messages of competence and confidence — both to yourself and others. Preparing, practicing and performing at your best will all help you build your executive presence. That’s what will set you apart from the other candidates and position you for success throughout the entire interviewing process.

Preparing for an Executive-Level Interview

Just as you would do for any critical business meeting, preparing for an executive level interview allows you to provide thoughtful, relevant and appropriate responses to any question that comes your way. Learn everything you can about the company and its key stakeholders. Get a feel for the company culture by reading online reviews on GlassdoorCareerBliss or Great Place to Work. Read up on industry trends. At least one week before the interview, prepare answers to situational interview questions that show how  you’re uniquely suited for this role.

Craft responses around specific (and real) examples that demonstrate your:

  • Overall business acumen
  • Integrity and character
  • Understanding of key metrics, trends and strategies
  • Ability to comprehend and articulate why something went wrong — and to act swiftly and decisively to make it right
  • Capacity to engage in crucial conversations

Go through your mental Rolodex of accomplishments, challenges, mentors, accolades, moments and milestones. Which of these can you use in a powerful way to distinguish yourself from the other candidates in the pool?

Practice … Who, Me? (Yes, You!)

It’s a delicate balance: Of course you want to come off as authentic, but let’s face it, in an executive interview situation, you’re also aiming for polish. The last thing you want to waste during the interview is time … time thinking of how to relay a story, how to best describe your proudest moment or how you grew as a result of your greatest challenge.

Likewise, you never want to appear unsure of yourself during an interview. By practicing your responses — preferably out loud and in front of a mirror — you can adjust your answer if it sounds better in your head than it does as the words fly off your tongue (which happens more often than you might think!). You can also check your nonverbal communication, ensuring that everything from your tone of voice to your posture, gestures and expressions exude executive presence. Rehearsing before your executive interview allows you to feel comfortable in your own skin, as your responses become second nature.

Making a strong, positive first impression during an interview isn’t an option; it’s a must. You need to be memorable — for all the right reasons. Rehearsing in a mock interview situation will allow you to receive immediate feedback, and to make any adjustments to your performance. Even if you’re a skilled interviewer, just one mock interview session can mean the difference between getting an offer — or not. 

The Performance: Listen — Then Articulate, and Impress

At any level, effective communication is an important skill; at the executive level, effective communication is an essential skill. While your interview is an opportunity to show what you know, how you convey your story is equally important.

Sure, you’re there to sell yourself. But if you’re so busy mentally rehearsing your next response, you run the risk of missing the essence of a question. Listening carefully to each question and to the interviewer’s responses not only allows you to respond intelligently, but also to maintain a fluid, rhythmic and comfortable conversation. If you need a moment to gather your thoughts when an interviewer throws in an unexpected question, smile and pause for a few seconds. Keep in mind that you are on stage; ban ummmm’s and uhhhh’s from your interviewing vocabulary.

Answer the questions that you are asked. While you can (and should!) color your responses with examples, facts, statistics, don’t try to sidestep a question. Provide clear, succinct responses that are nuanced enough to show your ability to think with complexity. Because the time allotted for each interview may be limited, your goal is to cover as much ground as possible, with the just-right amount of both breadth and depth. Adding too many extraneous details might rob you of potentially golden opportunities to respond to further questions (not to mention bore the interviewer).

Other Executive Interview Do’s and Don’ts

DO: Set realistic expectations. The higher the position on the corporate ladder the longer and more involved the interview process might be.

DON’T: Be surprised if you’re asked to deliver a (non-billable) presentation, sharing your vision or strategy.

DO: Show your enthusiasm for the opportunity.

DON’T: Appear desperate. It doesn’t matter how much you want this job; your goal is to convince them that they need you.

DO: Use discretion when discussing sensitive topics.

DON’T: Badmouth anyone. Ever. Under any circumstances! It doesn’t matter, in this setting, if the CEO of your former company was a bull-headed narcissist. Save the commentary, and simply say “it wasn’t a good fit.” Never divulge classified information, even if revenge seems tempting.

DO: Persevere.

DON’T: Take rejections personally. Give it your best, reflect on what went wrong — and what went well — and then move on to the next opportunity.

Honing your inner game will drive your performance to new levels. Step one involves developing an awareness around your thoughts, moods and perspectives. Our Accountability Mirror™ and MindMastery™ workshops will help you explore the ways you might be standing in your own way — and train you to break nonproductive patterns. The transformation is real, and the results can be game-changing. 

Other Posts You Should Read:
The Number One Factor Hindering Your Executive Presence
Master Crucial Conversations
5 Strategies for Situational Interview Success