Updated: Jun 4, 2019
As an experienced executive recruiter and coach, I’ve interviewed hundreds of leaders over the last three decades. Some interviews have gone well and led to very successful career moves and some haven’t, and here are three simple truths to think about.
Know what you want
When you prepare for your next interview, ask yourself the most important question, “What do I want and why?” You’d be surprised at how few people ask themselves this question. In preparing for interviews, it’s too often viewed as rehearsing for a performance, and that’s where people at all levels miss the opportunity.
Think about it. You prepare a resume summarizing your responsibilities and accomplishments, and you might add a section summarizing your strengths or objectives. You prepare examples to highlight your accomplishments, and you think about how you’ll answer the tough questions. You know the ones like, “Why did you leave your last company?” And, “What would your boss say about you and why you left?”
But leaders rarely prepare for the question, “What do you want?” This is the question that transcends all the interviewing practice, and even if not asked, thinking about your answer is the key. Think about what you want and what you’re prepared to do to make it happen. Think about how that translates into the role, the company, and the people with whom you will work, and why that matters. You’ll learn a lot more about your fit for the opportunity, and the interviewer will see you as authentic, self-aware, and goal-oriented.
Focus on your strengths
You might be saying to yourself, “Tell me something I don’t know,” and I can understand why. Of course, you need to focus on your strengths in an interview, but how? This is where too many people miss another opportunity by talking about their accomplishments and not highlighting their strengths that allowed them to achieve success. It’s more about the how than the what.
This can be difficult as the words we typically use to describe our strengths are frequently overused and can come off as being arrogant or boastful. The trick here is to discuss your accomplishments in a way that allows you to describe the challenges and problems you faced. In doing this, you can talk about how you and your team addressed the challenge, solved the problem, and achieved the accomplishment. Highlighting your strengths in the context of how others perceive you, or how your strengths will guide you, is much more effective than bragging about your accomplishments.
Follow your gut
We’ve all been in situations when our head is telling us one thing and our gut is telling us another. This happens a lot, and most people overweight the practical reasons why they should be interested in a job, and underweight how they feel about the job. Let’s face it, even if you know what you want, building a career and making money can involve a series of compromises, and you don’t want your feelings to get in the way.
But the reality is that 40% of executives leave their new jobs in less than 18 months. This is a shocking statistic given all the money spent on recruiting top talent, and some of these mistakes could’ve been avoided if candidates listened to their gut. If you’re interviewing with a great company for a great job with highly attractive compensation, what else do you really need to know? Next time you find yourself in this situation and ignoring your gut, slow down and take a good look at what that means. Sometimes saying no is the right answer.