by Martha Heller

10 must-know job interview tips to help land a new gig

Dec 16, 2015
CareersCIOIT Leadership

Martha Heller's holiday gift to you is a decade's worth of IT executive job-interview lessons learned.

Having spent much of my professional life listening to client feedback on the performance of executive candidates my team and I present, I am brimming with the good, the bad, and the outrageous when it comes to job interviews. 

So, I offer you these simple ideas. If you follow them all, you’ll be more likely to enjoy a future of successful interviews.

1) Don’t swear

Yes, you read that correctly. Don’t swear. During one of my very first executive searches in 2005, my CEO client told me that one of our candidates — highly qualified otherwise — used language during his interviews that decorum prevents me from repeating here. He did not get the job.

2) Focus on the people

Last year, I had the opportunity to sit through a day of interviews during which an executive committee met all at once with our slate of five candidates. When the CEO asked a candidate about her 90-day plan, she mentioned “getting to know my team” as an afterthought. As in, “Oh, and at some point, I’d get to know my team.” The thing that killed me was that this CIO was a great leader of people. She just didn’t represent herself that way when it mattered most.

3) Be prepared to answer the 90-day question

Whether you are asked it directly or not, the time you put into preparing thoughts on how you would approach your first 90 days will help in your interview. You can even lob it in as a response to a softball question, such as, “Why are you interested in this job?” Then explain why, as well as how you’d approach the first 90 days.

4) Clean your fingernails

I don’t have the wherewithal to tell you this story. Please, just clean your fingernails.

5) Just because you brought it, doesn’t mean you have to use it

By all means, bring your IT strategies, your project plans, and your board presentations. But keep them in your briefcase until the situation warrants them. What if that situation never arises? It’s better to spend your one precious hour making eye contact with your future boss than asking her to look at a piece of paper.

6) Share the love

During panel interviews, when it’s time for you to ask your questions, prepare one for everyone involved, not just the CEO.

7) Demonstrate that you are a student of yourself

At some point, you will get some kind of “who are you?” question. Or maybe, “tell me about your leadership style.”

You should have a thought-out, structured response that shows decades of Myers-Briggs and DISC personality profiles, and executive coaching and 360-degree reviews. Make it clear that as an executive, you avail yourself of all the leadership development resources available, and you take your own growth very seriously.

8) Go deep …

“Sure, he’s a great strategist, but can he execute?”

Please, spare me the pain of having to hear this client question ever again, and get into the details of your implementation. Yes, the job is about leadership and vision and delegation, but CEOs are terribly afraid of wasting money on technology programs that falter and stall. Show the CEO that you’ll put his money to good use.

9) … But not too deep

Avoid the technology rathole! When asked, “How do you define big data?,” one candidate spent so much time on the difference between structured and unstructured data that two members of the interview panel had to leave to get more coffee.

10) Don’t be late

This one makes me weep a little. Yes, traffic is unpredictable, but it’s easy to leave extra early. Bring along a book.

Great track records are necessary but not always sufficient when it comes to job interviews. The job interview is an art. Some have mastered it, some have not. Hopefully this list gives you at least one useful idea to help make your next interview a success.