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How to Ace an Executive Interview

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  September 4, 2014 | Business and Careers

By Sonya Stinson

Interviewing for an executive role can be an intimidating experience.

The process of screening candidates for such a high-stakes, highly compensated role is understandably more intense and extensive than anything lower-level job candidates go through. Before a company decides whether to bring you aboard, a team of executives or board members will likely weigh in, and your resume and experience will be scrutinized down to the last detail.

If you’re on the hunt for a C-suite post, here are some tips to help you convince even the toughest hiring committee that you’re the best of the best.

1. Know your audience. “You can expect to be quizzed by multiple people, and some interviewing sessions may run over multiple days. Depending on the type and size of the organization, you might sit down with several members of the executive team as well as your potential direct reports,” said Charlotte Weeks, CEO of Weeks Careers Services in Chicago, which specializes in working with current and aspiring C-level executives.

“They get a broader interview process than somebody who might be on a lower level, who might meet only with someone in HR and the person who would be their immediate supervisor,” she said.

Weeks advised asking your point person at the company for names and titles of everyone with whom you’ll be interviewing. Review their profiles on the company’s website and on LinkedIn—the more you know about the interviewers’ interests and experience, the better you can anticipate the types of questions they’ll ask.

2. Prepare for tough questions. Interviewers will want to size up your leadership skills and suss out your management philosophy to ensure that you and the company are a good fit. Be prepared to talk about your management style, strategic vision, principles and ethics, suggests an article from the Houston Chronicle and Demand Media. Come up with interesting examples about your past accomplishments to illustrate your responses.

Your answers should tell an engaging story, notes an article from Talk about how you faced down a challenge and learned from it, and how your management style has evolved as a result.

You’ll make the best impression if you seem prepared but not rehearsed. So consider practicing with a peer who will give you honest feedback about whether your answers sound more contrived than compelling.

3. Show your team spirit. “When it’s your turn to ask questions, focus on the big picture,” Weeks said. Pose questions that show you’re interested in understanding the company’s overall goals and objectives, not just your own job description.

“What do they hope to achieve in the next five to ten years?” is what Weeks suggested interviewees need to learn about the company. “You want to get a better idea of their vision and their short- and long-term strategies for various initiatives.”

“If your job would include helping to develop those strategies, find out what kinds of resources would be available to you. It’s also vital to find out as much as you can about the people who will be reporting to you,” Weeks added.

4. Impress the assistants. In her blog post, “Top 20 Executive Interview Pet Peeves from Hiring Decision-Makers,” Katherine Hansen, creator and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, cited an Office Team survey showing executive interviewers pay attention to how C-suite job candidates interact with lower-level staff and those who conduct screening interviews. If word gets back to the decision-maker that you were disrespectful—and it will—you can kiss that corner office goodbye.

5. Let them know you want the job. You might think playing hard to get will make you seem more desirable, but Hansen found that hiring experts consider it a turnoff. You don’t want to sound so eager that you come across as insincere, but you also don’t want to act so aloof that interviewers wonder why you bothered to show up. Don’t be too arrogant or too cool to show your interest.

6. Be ready to convince them of your worth. Of course, your enthusiasm about the job doesn’t preclude you from negotiating if you get an offer. Do some research to help you determine your walk-away number when it comes to compensation, Weeks advised. The pay rate for a major company’s top two executives often is public information. and are also good places to start sleuthing.

The key to thriving in an executive role is the same as the one that will get you into the C-suite: showing the company that you have the business acumen, strategic vision and management experience that will make you an invaluable part of the executive team and help the business advance to the next level of success.

Sonya Stinson is a writer for print and web publications, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She writes about higher education, careers, small business, retirement and personal finance.

This article originally appeared on Northwestern Mutual Voice on

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