Executive Interview Preparation: The Checklist

If you are a typical executive, it’s a challenge to find time on your calendar to prepare for interviews. When you do carve out that space, here’s a checklist of what you should cover.

Businesswoman working in the office

Due diligence – know as much as you can about the target organization and management beforehand, including what they do, why and who else is in the game

If you are extra short on time and not familiar with the market, management team, products or other other important data points, check if there are videos online that you can watch or hear while going about your other activities. 

Common ground – find out what you have in common with your interviewers and who else you might know (or can get to know) at the company; use LinkedIn® and other resources; reach out to colleagues and their networks where appropriate

Posture / Energy – plan how you can gear up on interview day with a power pose; watch your body language in the room (eat well the night before and that morning!)

Confidence – “I can handle it. Here’s what I’ve done that’s analogous….”

Concise, targeted value proposition – why should they hire you? what do you offer?

For phone interviews, you can have this in front of you, with a page for each of your three to five most important points and examples that support each.

Edge – what’s unique about you that others won’t bring to the role?

Curiosity – ask light, open-ended questions to get better answers

Story / Narrative – who are you as a candidate and a person? why is this organization a fit?

Accomplishments – have your accomplishments at the ready; fit their presentation to the role; give examples (without revealing proprietary information)

Behavioral questions – be ready for “what would you do if…?” e.g., if an organization is expanding into new markets or lines of business and they hit a snag; if an employee came to you with a certain problem or opportunity, etc.

About you – be ready for “tell me about a time when…” e.g., work style, challenges, successes, etc.; have a short list of versatile examples prepared for these questions

Reason for leaving current role – have a positive way to tell the story; negativity doesn’t sell; give a concise answer and move to why current role excites you

Organizational vision – if you will be leading a company or team, share your vision

Resume – know your experience cold, be open to discuss anything on your resume

Gaps – if you have any that are key to the job, be ready to address them head on

Weaknesses – prepare for the ubiquitous “strengths and weaknesses” type questions

Follow-up – ask intelligent questions to determine if it’s a fit, tailored by interviewer

If you falter, do it gracefully – have a plan to recover from surprises

Interview them back – it’s a conversation, not an interrogation

Compensation – be ready to “talk comp” if they ask; know how you’ll approach this conversation and deflect tough questions

Red flags – save the toughest questions for when you have the offer letter in hand, but note them so you don’t forget

Re-read the job description (if any): prepare for any point that might come up; research terms you don’t know, so you can sound intelligent on what you might be asked

Concise answers – answer the questions asked; avoid tangents; speak to your value

Close well – find out next steps on their end; know yours; if you want the job, make it known

If you need help formulating a personal value proposition, check out my worksheets here.

Congratulations on your interview! Best of luck!

Anne Marie Segal - Web Image (Credit Alejandro Barragan IV)

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, resume writer, Forbes Coaches Council member and author of two well-received books on interviewing and career development. She was a corporate attorney for 15 years before launching her coaching practice.

Image above: Adobe Stock.

How to Prepare for a Second Interview – What’s Different than the First?

AdobeStock_83147118 (interview prep).jpg

If you are moving onto a second interview with the same company, congratulations! You have passed through the gatekeepers and are now poised to refine your presentation and move one step closer to getting the job.

So what changes in the second round and how should you prepare yourself differently than for the first interview?

Often companies use further interviews to introduce you to more people, ferret out any concerns, check for consistency (from one interview to the next) and gauge your overall energy level, interest in and fit for the job. They may also present you with new challenges, such as behavioral questions (e.g., “Tell me about a time when…”).

Here are some of the key ways I suggest you prepare for a second interview:

  1. Research any concepts, other companies, approaches or themes presented in the first interview you did not understand or with which you were not familiar.

    For example:

    – a business line, product or service that is new to you
    – a partner or competitor that is significant to the company
    – a type of organizational structure (e.g., matrixed organizations)
    – a certain leadership approach or management style

  2. Reread the job description and make sure you can address all aspects of it.

    Job seekers often have a tendency to focus on certain aspects of a role – the ones that they find more interesting – and assume that the rest will fall into place. You do not need to know every aspect of the job before you even start – and in some cases there will be considerable ramp-up or stretch goals – but you do need to be able to formulate a plan of how you will learn what you don’t know.

    For example, if the job description indicates that you will interact with the Board of Directors or manage a team of 100 direct reports, and you are lacking one or both of these skills in your background, be ready to explain (without sounding defensive) what you have done that is analogous or prepares you for it. In the absence of any related background, you can also build out from what you have learned.

    For example:

    “As you know, I have managed teams of 20, and a good portion of my day is already spent on leadership-building, evaluating and mentoring team members. I’ve spoken with a few of the senior managers in my network, and they have told me that some of the adjustments between managing 20 and 100 are [fill in with some wisdom you have learned]….”

    Half of the battle is to sound upbeat and ready to rise to the task and suffer any growing pains gracefully. Yes, this may nonetheless be a breaking point for your candidacy, but you cannot create experience that doesn’t exist. You can only give it your best shot.

  3. Learn more about management and any interviewers you expect to meet.

    You have likely done some of this diligence before the first interview, but it is good to refresh yourself for the second time around and also check whether what you see presented online matches your view of a company based on what you have learned in the interview and through your additional research and connections.

    LinkedIn® and other online sources provide a great deal of information, as many company CEOs and marketing and recruiting leaders have released videos or articles discussing their goals for the company and talent acquisition. Find out what you can from these sources.

    In addition, become a “mini-expert” on the people who will interview you. You don’t need to know their shoe size or most recent vacation spot – of course! – but you should find out basic information to understand their perspective of the world and what they may want from a candidate.

    For example:

    Do their values match with yours?

    How do they see the firm’s culture and do they participate in creating it? 

    What is their leadership or management style?

    What or whom might you have in common? 

    What topics should you avoid discussing?

    How can you build a bond?

    As an example of the above, I worked with a job candidate on interview prep, and we discovered that her interviewer placed a strong value on diversity. We crafted her “tell me about yourself” story – which was entirely authentic, or it would not have been appropriate – to include the fact that (1) she had moved to the U.S. from Europe at a young age and (2) she was looking for an environment where there were people from many different backgrounds and perspectives. (Yes, she got the job!)

    This candidate had not initially thought of herself as “diverse” but we reframed her perspective, and I believe she will take this larger point of view with her into the job and life going forward.

  4. Be ready for multiple interviewers simultaneously (the panel interview.)

    Another common strategy companies employ in a second interview is to engage you with multiple interviewers at the same time. Some keys here are:

    Remember it’s a conversation, even if it feels like a panel inquiry

    – Show that you are able to relate to multiple people at once

    – Address and show respect for everyone in the room, even if only one person is asking questions (especially if the person leading the meeting is the “boss” and the others will be your colleagues; you don’t want to give the impression that their opinions are not important)

    – Pay extra attention to your body language, as the second or third person may be watching you closely (i.e., facial expressions, hand gestures, eye contact)

    – Give consistent answers and don’t falter if challenged (which is different than thoughtfully revising an answer based on new information)

  5. Prepare follow-up questions to decide whether the job is a fit for you.

    At this second interview, you want to ask what I sometimes call “stage- appropriate” questions to understand fit. That means you can ask more in-depth questions on some aspects of the job than the first stage, but tread lightly on other topics.

    Example:

    I worked recently with a candidate who was encouraged to hear that the office closes early on Fridays but discouraged to note that there seems to be a “difficult person” with whom she will be working closely. We formulated a plan to address the latter but determined that she should save any questions about the workday – do they actually leave at lunchtime every Friday? – until a later stage or (possibly) after the offer.

    On word of a difficult colleague or other negative aspect of the job, I suggest approaching it from a place of curiosity rather than negativity.

    So if Kendra says Lisa is difficult, ask Tomas if he knows more about how you’ll be working with Kendra and what he knows about her rather than seeking confirmation if she is difficult as Kendra would have you believe.

    You also will want to understand – if it hasn’t been explained already – how your group relates to each other and the rest of the company, what success will look like in this role and what you’ll be expected to complete on a daily and long-term basis.

  6. Plan how you’ll clarify any “loose ends” from the prior interview. 

    If your first interview generally went well except that you floundered on a certain answer, be ready to circle that topic back into the conversation in a positive way.

    You may, for example, say that you were reflecting on your earlier conversation and have more to add about a certain question. It could be how you would approach a certain situation or whether you have experience in a certain area.

    Make sure your additional information puts you in a confident light, rather than sounding worried or apologetic. You do not wish to dwell on the point, only supplement and clarify. In addition, address this topic at an appropriate point so you don’t break the flow of the new conversation. For example, if the interviewer asks if you have any questions, you might say, “Do you mind if I expand on something we discussed last time…?” If you have already addressed the topic in a thank you note, you don’t need to revisit it again.

  7. Rehearse situational or behavioral questions.

    As I mentioned above, you may be asked hypotheticals about how you would approach a certain situation or prompted to tell the interviewer “about a time when” you rose to a certain challenge, faced an ethical concern, needed to break bad news or otherwise.

    I discuss how to approach behavioral questions in this podcast, if you have time to review that before your meeting. If not, keep in mind a few key points:

    – Choose situations that speak to the call of the job

    – Have your top accomplishments in mind and pull from those where possible

    – Do not betray confidences of your current or former company

    – Remember that every interview question is a version of “why should I hire you?”  and speak to that

  8. Drive home your value proposition.

    If you do nothing else, have a clear statement of value proposition and be ready to work it into the meeting.

    What are the three or four key reasons you are the one to hire? What do you offer that they need – in terms of soft and hard skills, knowledge and talents?

    Turn back to the preparation you have done for the points above. What does the company need – more generally and from someone in this role – and how can you deliver it?

    If you need more help formulating a personal value proposition, please refer to my worksheets here.

    The second interview is an exciting time! Best of luck!

    Anne Marie Segal - Web Image (Credit Alejandro Barragan IV)

    Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, resume writer, Forbes Coaches Council member, former practicing attorney and author of two highly-praised books on interviewing and career development.

    Image credit: Adobe Stock.


 

 

 

 

 

Two Book Giveaways on Goodreads

If you are on Goodreads, here’s a chance for U.S. readers to enter the giveaway for a signed copy of one of my books:

Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Value Proposition Workbook

Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals

To learn more about my books, you can visit my Amazon Author Page at amazon.com/author/annemariesegal.

Two Books

Interview Prep: Finding an Authentic Answer to the “Weaknesses” Question

Rope fraying

What are your weaknesses?

When I prepare clients for interviews, this is almost invariably at the top of people’s lists of questions that they are not prepared to answer. When they do have an answer, it is usually one of the “Top Three Answers” to the question or some variation thereof:

  • I am a perfectionist (i.e., my own toughest critic).
  • I work too hard (i.e., can’t take a break, vacation, disconnect).
  • I am a people pleaser.

The problem with these answers is two-fold. First, that they are highly overused. Second, they don’t appear to indicate any self-awareness or reflection (even if one of them is, in fact, your greatest weakness).

It is important not to underestimate this question. While many interviewers do not bother to ask it because they believe the answer will be too rehearsed, others take the answer very seriously as an indicator of whether you will be a fit in an organization and your level of self-reflection. While you should strive to find a true weakness, it is also important to put a positive spin on it and explain what you are doing to work on fixing the problem, with examples of steps you have taken to overcome them.

While you should strive to find a true weakness, it is also important to put a positive spin on it and explain what you are doing to work on fixing the problem, with examples of steps you have taken to overcome them.

Here are sample answers about where your weaknesses may lie, in the hopes that they inspire an authentic response on your part:

  • Over the years, I have found that I don’t delegate work as much as I should. I have always believed in the mantra, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” However, I am realizing that I need to spend more time training, mentoring and building my team. In the last year, I have made this a priority. [Be ready to give examples.]
  • I was never one to pay much attention to so-called “office politics” [or, I am not one for small talk] but prefer to put my head down and do my work. At some point, I realized that this would only get me so far, so I am now actively seeking out leadership [or collaborative] opportunities and focused on building relationships [across departments]. I have headed up three important projects in the last year, and I am now part of a working group that includes the CEO and other senior management.
  • For a long time, I was very specialized in one area, but in the last year I realized that I needed to broaden my experience in order to grow. Lately I have taken on projects from other groups and incorporated some volunteer work into my schedule in order to cultivate a wider range of skills. I never thought – being so highly specialized would be a weakness – but I can see now that although I have become an “expert,” a broader range of experiences are what I need to understand the big picture of what we are trying to achieve as a company and how I fit in.
  • I have been lucky to have a very broad range of projects over my career, but I realized that I had become too much of a generalist. Sometimes you really need to get “in the weeds” on certain points, and lately I have realized the importance of having a specialty, which was frankly something I resisted. To do this, I first got certified in [X] – which was a six-month process – and I’ve also become involved in [name relevant organizations] and sought out projects that can deepen my knowledge in the area. [If prompted, have examples ready. Of course, this answer is only relevant if your specialty relates to the target position.]
  • I have learned a tremendous amount by being the only person in my company who focuses on my area, but at times I have gone to conferences and other events and seen how much deeper my understanding would be if I had a team of people committed to the same goal. So I consider it a weakness that I haven’t had this exposure. I realize that the next step in my growth is to join a team with many people working on solving the same problems, so we can mentor and bounce ideas off each other, which is one of the reasons this role is so appealing.
  • I have had great success managing smaller teams of people, up to eight employees as I do currently, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to manage a larger team as I would in this role. I know that I am ready for the challenge, and I have been actively seeking out other managers who do work with larger teams to discuss the challenges of scaling up. What I have learned is….
  • Early in my career, I wasn’t very focused or quite sure what path I wanted to follow. I took a few different jobs, but none of them was the right match. I finally realized that what all of these roles were missing was that I didn’t have a chance to connect with the ultimate customer. As soon I moved over to the sales side, everything clicked. I sometimes wish I had known from the beginning what I wanted to do, but the truth is that all of these experiences have helped me understand various aspects of the company and become a better salesperson as a result.
  • My biggest weakness is that I am completely deadline-driven. I don’t do as well with downtime, although I have learned to create my own deadlines to get things done. For example, I have found it very effective to break projects down into component parts, so rather than thinking of an overall deadline, I make a calendar for myself with interim dates that I need to finish certain points, so that I can keep on track.
  • I consider it a weakness that I have never been very good at public speaking. Earlier in my career, it didn’t matter as much, because everyone liked my work product, and so I focused on that. At some point I realized that if I was going to become a leader in my field, I needed to interact with larger groups of people across all levels. So I started to take some presentation classes and also volunteer for panels with experts in the field. I figured that the best cure to my fear was to get out and do it, and I am frankly surprised that it is working out even better than I had hoped.
  • Honestly, my greatest weakness is that I still don’t know my way around the corporate culture. I have had two great internships in college, but I haven’t completely settled in. The good news is that I am very open to learning more and a quick study. Also, I’m fortunate to have had some really good experiences that taught me how to work across generations and build good relationships from day 1. [Be ready with examples from volunteering, travel, family life, etc. As a younger employee, by the way, being able to bridge the “Millennial-Baby Boomer Gap” is huge.]
  • I would consider it a weakness that, as I am sure you have seen, most of my experience is in another industry. I have spent the last few months getting up to speed on [name of new industry] in anticipation of the change, but there is nothing that replaces actual hands-on experience in the field. Fortunately, I have two good friends who both work in [name of new industry] who have been very gracious with their time, and I also have [name any other research, connections or background that is relevant]. I know that I can hit the ground running, because…. [If you have additional time, you can discuss leadership and other transferable skills that are cross-industry.]
  • It could be perceived as a weakness that for over twenty years I have worked at the same company, especially now when job changes are much more common. And it’s true that I will probably never be as innovative as someone who has jumped from start-up to start-up, for example. But I have realized that I don’t always need to be an “ideas man.” I can hire people for that. What I have is a really strong grasp of the fundamentals, how to execute and how to grow a company. The other thing I have learned is that even the “same company” is a different company after twenty years, and having moved across different functional areas, I have certainly seen how business evolves. [Elaborate and give examples.]

These answers, as you may see, follow a certain formula: (1) identify a weakness that is specific to your professional trajectory, (2) discuss what you are doing to improve, (3) highlight something that may be obvious to your interviewer already, based on your resume, (4) are not roadblocks for you in the target role (e.g., not being a good writer in a job that requires extensive writing) and (5) characterize the “weakness” as a growing pain along the way to advancing in your career. All of these three points can be absolutely true, obviating the need to sound rehearsed, if you study your own career with some detachment.

Imagine that you were a third-party consultant evaluating your own career path to date with a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. Everyone has each of these – S-W-O-and-T – and if you can see your own, you will be much further along in your career. At the same time, the more you consider “strengths” and “weaknesses,” the more you will see that they are often two sides of the same coin. Someone who thrives on being a “people person” may not do well in a job that involves a lot of solitary thinking and problem-solving, while an introvert may not take as well to a role that requires teamwork on a daily basis and does not allow for any “alone time.” These are generalizations, of course, and the goal is to figure out where you fall in this analysis, both to help your interviewer decide if you will be a fit and to help you sort out your best career environment, one that plays to your strengths and does not call on you to continually execute in areas of weakness.

In the context of interviewing, the beauty of a real answer to this question or others is that the true answer is not something you need to struggle to remember when you are in the interview room. If you have been actively managing your career, you will already have these insights and only need to work them into a few sentences, with examples, that you can present into the interview.

If you have not been in the driver’s seat in your career but instead treading water lately (which happens to the best of us), creating your “weaknesses” answer will not only be helpful for your interviews but also be a step in making a roadmap for where you would like to go next and how to get there.

This post is an excerpt from Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals.

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, writer, resume strategist and former practicing attorney. She has conducted individualized interview prep coaching with scores of clients across law, business, information technology, marketing and other fields.

Anne Marie is the author of Master the Interview and the newly published Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Personal Value Proposition Workbook.

Image credit: Adobe Stock.

Essential Job Search Tool: The Interview Debrief

Essential Job Search Tool:
The Interview Debrief Form

Your interview went great – or at least it’s over! Now what?

If you have ever worked with a recruiter, you will notice that recruiters invariably request a debriefing shortly after your interview. When I was job searching, I always valued these calls rather highly, because it was helpful to hear the recruiter’s perspective and also have a chance to “hear myself talk” about the opportunity. At the same time, I knew that I needed to have room to think in my own quiet space, without any external influences.

If your first step after your interview is talking to a recruiter (or anyone else, such as a spouse, friend or parent), also make notes for yourself while the meetings are fresh in your mind. Sometimes we lose our train of thought once new information enters the picture, such as questions from others or re-entry into the mix of a current job situation.

Interviewing

If you do not have time to make written notes within the first few hours after the interview but do have the opportunity to record yourself (e.g., in a recording app on your phone), I highly suggest you do the latter and transcribe your notes, or at least email the recording to yourself for safekeeping. You will want to have these notes in front of you when you return for additional interviews and while evaluating (if applicable) multiple offers, and you may even want to keep them for future job searches.

While we all want our job search to be quick and painless, sometimes we get called back months after the initial interview.

Are you sure you will remember what you said and to whom? 

Points to include in your debrief are:

  1. Your Overall Impressions
  2. Thoughts About the Interviewer and Company
  3. Points About You to Emphasize in Future Interviews
  4. Points About the Employer or Role to Emphasize in Future Interviews
  5. Any “Bottom Line” or Potential Stocking Points on Compensation, etc.
  6. Further Questions to Have Answered
  7. Further People to Meet
  8. Pros and Cons vs. Other Potential Roles
  9. Areas of Improvement for Future Interviews
  10. Additional Thoughts or Concerns

Interviewing2

Click here for a sample interview debrief form that you can use for informational interviewing and job interviews. You may wish to compile all of your forms in a single place, whether it is electronically or in a physical binder, so that you can compare and contrast opportunities, have them as a refresher if your “dream job” does not call back for six months and reinvigorate your job search if you have a break and restart (or find a job and then head out into the market again at a later date). We all think we will remember everything from our interview, and invariably we do not. Having these notes available will add depth and continuity to your personal knowledge bank, thereby enhancing your position as a candidate and accelerating your search.

Anne Marie Segal is an executive coach, author, resume strategist and member of Forbes Coaches Council. She is the author of Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals (available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and through local booksellers) and Know Yourself, Grow Your Career: The Personal Value Proposition Workbook.

The above article is an excerpt from Master the Interview.

Images: Adobe Stock.

 

Master the Interview: University of Chicago Webinar

I was honored to speak to University of Chicago alumni last month about highlights from my recent book, Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals.

If you are currently in the job search, looking opportunistically or willing to move for the right role, you will save yourself hours in your interview preparation – mitigating stress and uncertainty in the process and increasing your chance of a job offer – by watching and listening to the discussions in this webinar.

Here are two of the many points I make that will help “frame” your preparation:

  1. You are “on interview” well before you enter the actual interview room. It behooves you to take an expanded view of interviewing, from the initial contact with companies and networking (including social media) to your follow-up efforts thereafter.
  2. While you cannot anticipate every question that will be asked in an interview, you can have examples ready that align with your value proposition and are versatile enough to be responsive to a range of questions. Thinking about questions thematically will help you organize and bring more impact to your potential responses.

For the slides to follow along to the presentation (or speed up the learning process), please click here.

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership development coach, author, resume strategist and member of Forbes Coaches Council. She is founder of Segal Coaching, author of Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals (available on Amazon.com) and a frequent public speaker in New York, Connecticut and beyond. 

Still a Few Spaces Available! Join My Networking Workshop in Stamford, CT.

“If you develop your brand without knowing your value proposition first, you will have a very shallow brand.” – Anne Marie Segal at Forbes.com

Join me in Stamford, CT on May 4, 2017 for a small group workshop on developing your value proposition for networking, business development and job search.

Please click here for details.

If you can’t join us, here’s an article you may like to help think further about value:

Six Key Value Proposition Questions to Understanding Your Personal ROI.”

business team

Anne Marie Segal is a career and leadership development coach, author, resume strategist and member of Forbes Coaches Council. She is founder of Segal Coaching, author of Master the Interview: A Guide for Working Professionals (available on Amazon.com) and a frequent public speaker in New York, Connecticut and beyond. 

Image credit: Adobe Images.