Published by: HR Future - 2012
Thorough preparation, and a strategy for harnessing the opportunity to ask the right questions at the right time in the interview process, are the elements that set apart senior executives from their peers when interviewing for top jobs, says a leading executive headhunter.
“Candidates must understand that when interviewing for executive level roles, the process is more like a marathon than a sprint. To stand out, you need to pace yourself appropriately, and navigate the course carefully,” says Madge Gibson, partner at Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters.
Gibson says that would-be top hires continue to make fundamental faux pas which take them out of the running at the first interview. Certain topics should not even make a brief appearance early on in the game, she says. “Never, ever at the first interview broach the subjects of salary, benefits, leave, maternity benefits, or the employer’s approach to working hours and flexi time. While these topics are understandably high on the agenda for most interviewees, they are details to be ironed out at a later stage, once mutual interest has been determined".
“Initiating these issues early on in the engagement with a prospective new employer creates the impression that you are more interested in money and benefits, as opposed to the company and the opportunity itself. And, unfortunately, if you ask these questions, you are in danger of appearing overly focused on ‘what’s in it for me’.”
Another line of inquiry to be avoided concerns future career prospects beyond the current role. “Asking about ‘the next career step’ and potential future roles early on in the interview process can give the impression that the candidate would be using the current position merely as a stepping stone,” says Gibson.
“The aforementioned topics should not be raised - not even when the candidate is given an opportunity to ask questions - during the first interview. They may be delicately broached during follow-up interviews but should ideally be left for later negotiations.”
But Gibson says that question time provides a great opportunity to distinguish oneself from fellow candidates. It allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the company, its needs, the requirements of the position, and your unique ability to match and exceed expectations.
“But to know ‘how to be the solution’, you must first understand the situation the company seeks to address by appointing someone in this role in the first place,” she says.
“This means that you have to do thorough research not only on the company interviewing you, but also on its competitors. And once you have done that research, matching your unique ability to add value and benefit the company will set you apart.”
Gibson says that question time should not be a signal that the end of the interview has arrived. “In fact, this part of the interview should be strategically exploited to demonstrate your unique qualities. It is an opportunity to further sell oneself and demonstrate traits and abilities which were not covered in the interview".
“It also provides an opportunity to engage and debate on an ‘equal’ level with interviewers, which, if used to your full advantage, can exhibit your ability to fit in with the company culture and chemistry and the degree to which you will be able to make a difference right from the start.”
“But watch out for coming across as a ‘know-it-all’, over-rehearsed or insincere. Ask about the company’s challenges and opportunities and its growth strategy; its markets and channels,” she says.
When asked why you are interested in a position, again the focus should not beon how you would personally gain, for instance by indicating that an appointment would further your career or provide global exposure.
“Focus rather on how you can add value to the company, its strategies and growth”, says Gibson.
“It is all about showing a genuine interest in the company and demonstrating that you have done your homework. To go in cold without doing the research is inexcusable and will immediately put you at a disadvantage in relation to other candidates.”