Executive Interviewing

by Tom Lovett, President, Lovett and Lovett Executive Search

An interview is one of the first and foremost points in an employer-employee relationship. From the employee’s perspective, it provides an opportunity to experience the corporate culture first hand, see the actual premises, and get a general feel of the company. The employer, in turn, can assess the prospective employee’s personality traits, enthusiasm and competence levels to an extent.

Getting to the interview stage is an achievement in itself. A job-seeker usually goes through several layers of filtering before being called for a face-to-face interview. Telephone interviews are a common first step. That may be followed by extensive psychometric testing, designed to determine personality traits and cognitive abilities, before the company invests in the actual interview. On an average, only about 10 percent of applicants get to the interview stage.

Traditionally, interviews focused on the candidate’s resume, with the interviewer’s questions following its organization. Some of the specific questions asked in such an interview could possibly be “How would you describe yourself?” or “How do you plan to pursue your career objectives?”

However, a majority of employers seem to be moving away from this traditional style, gravitating toward behavioral interviews. In this form of interviewing, employers first assess characteristics essential for success in their organization. They then frame questions whose responses will reveal whether a candidate possesses these characteristics or not. Behavioral interviews are based on the notion that past behavior is a good indicator of future performance. A typical behavioral question would ask a candidate to recall a past situation or task, the action they took and what the outcome was. A model designed to help prepare for such an interview is the STAR – Situation or Task, Action taken, Results achieved. Candidates are advised to prepare a 30- or 60-second commercial on themselves, highlighting points in the STAR order, without being overly modest.

A slight variation is the situational interview. Here, candidates are given a hypothetical situation and asked how they will respond to it. In a behavioral interview, the interviewer might start a question with, “Tell me about a time you had to deal with…”. In a situational interview, the interviewer asks, “How would you handle…”. This type of interview focuses on analytical and problem-solving skills, and the ability to think on one’s feet.

Another, not-often-used type of interviewing is stress interviewing. These are designed to see how a person performs under pressure. The candidate is subjected to duress by a rude or sarcastic interviewer, or is made to wait for a long time, or is just disagreed with. “The key to surviving stress interviews is to remain calm, keep a sense of humor, and avoid getting angry or defensive,” says Randall S. Hansen of Quintessential Careers, webmaster and publisher of its electronic newsletter, Quintzine.

Interviewing for executive positions demands attributes such as leadership and initiative-taking, besides superior communication skills. It may be a good idea to create different scenarios and practice responses which may throw up any potential gaps in preparation for the interview.

In the end, it may very well be a combination of all the types of interviews with elements from each kind thrown into the mix. The best way to prepare for any interview is to have a well-crafted resume that highlights strengths without being verbose, to sufficiently research the company itself, and to be genuinely enthusiastic about the position and opportunities it has to offer.