How to Ace an Executive-Level Job Interview

Tips and techniques for answering common interview questions, making a good first impression during the interview and for following up.

By Kevin Daley and Dale Klamfoth
Tue, March 11, 2008

CIO — You've been contacted by an executive recruiter about an opportunity to interview for a position at a successful company. The job the executive recruiter describes sounds perfect for you. You want the position so badly, you dream about it at night. To make your dream a reality, you need to ace the interview.

That's easier said than done. Job interviews are one of those occasions when you just have to be perfect. You need to spin a good story out of your work experience, but your story can't be too detailed or carry on too long. You need to appear relaxed, but you can't come off as too relaxed. You need to practice your responses to typical interview questions, but in the interview, your responses can't seem rehearsed. It's like Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Everything has to be just right. And it's tricky.

Obviously, you've got to learn as much about the company and the people interviewing you as you can. The more you know about the hiring manager, the more comfortable you'll be talking with him or her. Similarly, the more you know about the company, the easier it will be for you to present yourself as the answer to the company's prayers.

This story walks you through the interview process, from preparation to follow-up. You'll get tips on how to make a strong first impression and answer interview questions, and you'll learn the verbal and nonverbal communications you should employ—and avoid—so that you can ace the interview.

Prepare

Interviews are designed to assess whether you, the candidate, can do the job at hand, whether you'll spring into action once on the job, and whether you fit with the company's culture and management team. To prepare for your interview, you should anticipate what questions you may be asked and craft quality responses to them. You should be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What are your strengths? You should highlight the strengths the company needs to address its current challenges.

  • How would you describe your management style? You could say something like, "I used to prefer a top-down management style, but I've found that when I involve people in a decision it's easier to get their commitment and almost always results in a better outcome."

  • Why should we hire you? Again, explain how your strengths align with the company's needs.

  • How much money are you looking for? Be careful of this trap. If you ask for too much, you knock yourself out of consideration. If you ask for too little, you sell yourself short. A good tip is to quote third-party research and answer with a range. An even better approach is to ask the interviewer about the company's compensation philosophy (e.g., What are the components and how are they adjusted?)

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