An interview isn't just a friendly chat, it's a sales pitch. The interviewer has other options, so you have to convince him that your package – your combined skills, experience and personality – is the very best fit for the company. As an executive, your technical skills and experience are a given. Your pitch should focus on your problem-solving and interpersonal skills.
Do your homework: research the company and the person who will interview you. Find the company's mission statement on its website and memorize a key phrase or two so you can point out how your management style fits this company’s culture. Look for other data points you can bring up during the interview to demonstrate your interest, such as gross profits, the locations of other offices or the content of a recent press release. Also research the salary range for this job category in your geographic area so that you can respond appropriately to questions about your salary expectations.
Questions about skills and experience, management style, strengths and weaknesses are standard for executive interviews. Look carefully at the job description, then draw up a short list of your skills, experience and personal qualities that are relevant. Identify short anecdotes that demonstrate how you handled difficult personnel situations, complex problems or sudden crises. Include quantitative statements, such as “increased sales by 20 percent” or “reduced turnover rate by 30 percent". Here’s the hard part: Identify one area where you fall short. Do not assume you can sidestep the question about weaknesses by saying you have none. It’s not credible. Be ready to talk honestly about where you need to grow and offer a plan for developing the needed skill.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice in front of your webcam, a mirror, a trusted friend or even your dog. Practice until you can answer smoothly without looking at notes or hesitating, but make sure you don’t create a memorized speech; it should sound a little different each time.
Acing the Interview
Arrive at least 15 minutes early with references and extra copies of your resume in hand and your cell phone turned off. Greet the interviewer with a smile and firm handshake. When invited to sit, adopt an open posture with your legs and arms uncrossed. Respond to questions with more than facts; give examples that include real people – with the names omitted, of course – and how you interacted with them. For example, it matters whether you increased sales by instituting quotas and penalties, or by emphasizing training and coaching. Ask the interviewer for her card at the end of the meeting.
Within 24 hours, send an email to the interviewer thanking him for taking the time to meet with you. This is your opportunity to add any points you forgot to bring up during the interview. Re-emphasize, briefly, why you are a good fit for the company and close with a comment that underscores how highly you think of the company and look forward to working there.
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.