by Mark Cummuta

Week 12: Preparing for Executive-Level Interviews

Nov 21, 200710 mins

Your networking connected you with a great opportunity, and your resume and cover letter landed the interview. You’ve got one shot for that vital first impression. Here are some tips and techniques to prepare for executive-level interviews.

I spend four hours to two days preparing for each interview. That is because, to the greatest degree possible, I want to understand and manage the myriad variables during the interview process. I may not be able to control the outcome, but with preparation I can anticipate issues and build my confidence for each interview.

Tip # 1 – Keep It Organized and Accessible

After reviewing dozens of positions and companies each day, it’s easy to forget or mix up critical details. So once I decide to target a company and/or apply for a position, I create a physical folder, an electronic folder (on a USB drive), and a Favorites folder (also on USB) for that company. [Here’s a nice utility to help keep all your important data, security settings, and IE Favorites with you on a USB drive.] 

Position-related information (see Tip #2) is kept together by position, since I may apply to several positions with larger companies. This includes all my detailed notes from the calls, e-mails and meetings with my lead source, recruiter, HR, network contacts, etc. I also add my cover letter, the customized resume I provided for this specific position, my interview notes, and all the thank you cards and e-mails I send. I try to scan paper documents into electronic form and download e-mails to files, and add them to my “company-name” electronic folder. But minimally, these are all kept together in the physical folder for that company.

Company and industry information (see Tip #3) are almost always found online, so these are kept in my “company-name” Favorites folder.

This organization allows me to remain private, portable and prepared at all times. As I research and gather information, I then automatically save it to its corresponding folder/directory. Using this process also allows me to keep track of what information I still need to find, research, study or ask for (see Tip #4).

Tip # 2 – Thoroughly Review Position Requirements and Details

At least two days before an executive-level interview, I make sure I have all the information I need and start planning my time. 

For each position, I want to verify Position Title (there’s a big difference between CIO and CISO), Reporting Structure (is it a CTO reporting to the CFO, or a CIO reporting to the CEO?), and Skills, Technologies and Methodologies (making sure to research and refresh my knowledge of those marked ‘Required’ and ‘Strongly Desired.’)

A great way to stand out in an interview is to know the problems the employer hopes to solve by hiring for this position, and then demonstrating how you can specifically solve those problems. The kicker is finding out what the problems are before the interview so you can prepare your killer response. On a related note, I also want to know why the position is available: Is it newly created (i.e., due to expansion) or a replacement (e.g., the previous person in the position was laid off, retired, promoted)? Sometimes the answers to these questions are explicitly or implicitly found in the Position Responsibilities, the company’s website or industry articles. If not there, or if the answer isn’t clear, the best sources and best time to gather this information is from your initial verbal communications with your sources on this lead (e.g. your network contact) or the company’s HR representative.

With detailed position information in mind, I then review my resume. I circle and highlight key experiences, skills and success examples, adding handwritten notes on it as well, to make sure I discuss these points for the interview. I also review my detailed Career Diary / Journal resume for details and additional examples I can offer to demonstrate how I have directly applied the same skills and experience in past positions that this new position demands.

Finally, and as early in the evaluation process as possible, I want to find out what the income potential is for this position. First and foremost, I need to know if its even in my ballpark. Second, if the topic comes up in the interview I need to know what I’m worth and what my options are with this firm. If the income information is not posted or available from a recruiter or network contact, then you have to dig or find a comparable salary for the region. Comparable incomes can be found in annual salary guides by title, city, region and industry from ComputerWorld, Vault,, InformationWeek, and more.  

Tip # 3 – Thoroughly Review Company Details and Industry Trends 

I want to know everything I can about this company, not only to prepare for the interview, but for my own comfort–I want to make sure that this company is right for me. All or the majority of this information should be gathered during my qualification process, and I simply review my notes and scan for updated information online.  I frequently print key pages and write a few notes on them to bring with me to the interview for last minute review and for referral during the interview if needed. 

I focus on a few things:

  • Leadership – executive bios, key personnel, personal recognitions, authored whitepapers or patents, articles written about them, their history and their vision.
  • Financials – current to historical status, available and invested resources, stock value and trending, insider holdings, and recent or predicted expansions, mergers, acquisitions or divestures.
  • Company Business – products, services, company news, other open position, corporate culture, personnel turnover, awards and recognitions, whitepapers, peer and public reviews and analyses, company trends and vision, growth potential, key contracts and clients, partners and vendors, legal actions, and proprietary technologies or processes.
  • Industry – competitors (all the same information as I gathered on my target company), industry analyses and trends, comparative reviews of the company and its products to the industry, industry associations, and new or disruptive technologies.
  • Market Conditions / Economy – market analyses, and potential political impact on my target market.

Much of this information can be found on the company’s and its competitors’ websites, but also on sites like ComputerWorld, Hoovers, Wall St. Journal, Financial Times, the SEC, and industry and trade-specific publications and organizations. 

One last thing I try to gather in my research are “industry insider” information, like unique acronyms, knowledge, organizations, celebrity leaders, and latest breaking industry news. As a Management Consultant, I research this kind of information all the time. Whether the position specifically highlights these or not, knowing this information may not get you the job, but it can keep you from sounding stupid.

Tip # 4 – Kicking the Devil Out of the Details – Final Preparations

These should all be done the day before the interview.

* Verify the Interview

Call the recruiter or HR to verify that the interview is still on everyone’s schedule, the exact time (making sure to verify what time zone THEY are in), and the location or phone number for the interview. 

On that same call I absolutely always verify the names and titles of all my interviewers, including exact spelling and pronunciations! This is so important that if I can’t reach my contact, I will call the company’s general number and any network contact possible to get this right.

* Know Thy Interviewer

I research my interviewers using, and LinkedIn. I look for relationship hooks, like shared prior work experience, colleges, business acquaintances, military service, even hobbies. I also look for whitepapers, articles and quotes by my interviewers to help me better understand them and their potential needs, personality and style.

* Use Your References

Quoting positive comments from prior interviewers can help to move that next interview forward, building confidence of each subsequent interviewer at the same firm based on their internal peers’ positive responses so far. And be sure to acknowledge your internal referral and network contacts. This is a subtle but very polite way to drop a name, plus it gives your interviewer a known entity internally as a reference for you.

* Bring Extra Resumes

Just in case an opportunity to interview with Mr. or Mrs. Makes-The-Real-Decisions is offered on the spot.

* Prepare Your Interview Folder

Personally, I prefer a portfolio where I can have two pads of paper, one on the left side and on the right. On the right, I note company, address, position title, meeting time and location, interviewers’ names and titles, the recruiter’s/HR’s names, the names and titles of prior interviewers, and my internal network contacts. I also note a few key points that I absolutely want to bring up, for example, a paper my interviewer authored or an example of how specific information or skills you have meet critical decision factors. I also list the key skills and requirements for the position in a highly abbreviated “functional resume” of sorts. Under each requirement I jot down a few positions and specific examples as memory joggers.

The left tablet is either left blank for notes, or I list a few questions I have about the company or the position. (If you can’t think of any, here are a few good ones to ask). 

Finally, I re-review all the materials from Tips 1-3 and add to my folder what I want to have with me for the interview itself and to review just before.

* Looking Your Best

According to Kim Zoller, of Image Dynamics, as much as 55% of another person’s perception of you is based on how you look. So what you wear to an interview does have an impact. Further, consider if you get called back for a second or third interview. Or if you have to interview with the Chairman as your last interview. Your first impression at EACH interview is vital, of course. But you can’t wear the same suit to all of these interviews.

My solution is to alternate my best two or three suits. If I know for certain that I will have to meet the Great Oz as the final step, then I save my best suit, shirt and tie for that meeting, and arrange my other choices around that decision.

Note that if you smoke, you absolutely must keep your interview clothes smoke-free. Non-smokers can tell if you smoke, and if it bothers them, that subtle negative works against you. Don’t give them a reason to knock you out before you even get a chance to knock their socks off.

Being a former US Marine, polishing my shoes every couple of weeks is a habit. While interviewing, I make sure to do this the night before, so I don’t rush and potentially dye my fingers.

One last thing – go to bed early! Dark circles and blurry eyes won’t make a very good impression. Neither will getting up late, missing your train, or spilling coffee on yourself as you rush around.

I use the above steps and tips so that, to the greatest degree possible, I can manage the interview process, anticipate issues, and build my confidence for each interview.

If you liked the above, here are some more tips and hints on “How To Ace Your Next Interview” and “The First 10 Minutes of Your Interview“.

In an upcoming blog entry, I hope to share some tips for face-to-face interviewing, along with some more bloopers and highlights from my own experience. If you’ve got a great interview blooper, please, share it or email it to me so I can share it, anonymously of course!!  🙂

Have a great Thanksgiving holiday!