Monday, May 18, 2009

Interviewing for an Executive Position

Some of the points in the KornFerry Institute report will be familiar to readers of this blog. Some will be new. The report offers a comprehensive approach to preparing for a job interview, so I am linking it, recommending it highly, and offering a few comments on it. Link here.

The report says that when you are interviewing for an executive position you are being judged for your soft skills, your social style and intelligence, your ability to work with and to lead others, and your ability to deal with adversity.

You will need to connect with your interviewer; you will need to show aplomb. You should not sound like someone who gets flustered because he is unprepared for a quiz. An interview is a conversation, not a quiz.

To maintain a good emotional connection, KornFerry recommends that you smile, listen carefully, not speak over your interviewer, not contradict him or criticize your previous employer, and not launch into long-winded prepackaged lectures.

If your answer goes over three minutes you are droning and disconnecting.

The report also makes a point I have discussed often: "Stay focused to show a genuine interest in the organization and opportunity...."

If your eyes are darting around the room, if you look distracted, that means that you are more concerned with yourself than with the job opportunity.

It matters that the report uses the word "opportunity." A job is an opportunity to be grasped, not a reward for someone who is superior or a favor for someone who is needy. I prefer "opportunity" to challenge, because a challenge suggests that you are being called in to solve someone else's problems.

KornFerry offers examples of difficult questions that might come up in an interview. They are designed to put you on the spot and to allow you to show your ability to think on your feet. You should prepare in advance for such questions, to the point that you can fold them into a conversation, not deliver them as a lecture.

Here are some of the questions that KornFerry would want you to prepare for:

1. What constructive criticism has surprised you the most?

2. How would you describe the cultures of your previous employers? How do they compare and where did you fit in best?

3. Tell me about a time when you had to get people with different viewpoints to the same level of understanding.

Knowing how to respond depends on how well you understand the point of the questions.

In the first question, the key word is: surprise. You need to recount an instance where someone-- like a mentor-- criticized you for a flaw you did not know you had. You need to show that you took the criticism in stride, were grateful for it, and undertook steps to correct it. Your story should end with you receiving a compliment for your enhanced skill.

The second question focuses on a point I have often emphasized: your ability to buy into a company's culture. This gets you away from making yourself the center of your narrative. It is formulated to see whether you have done more than a quick Google search about the company.

You should be able to offer a one-sentence description of the cultures of the companies you have worked for and to explain how well you fit into each.

You should not say that you fit into some and did not fit into others.

It is better to say that you were more comfortable in one and less comfortable in another. Hopefully, the one where you worked best corresponds closely to the one you are interviewing.

The third question targets negotiation skills. If yours are deficient, if you have not put in the time and effort to develop them, you are going to have a difficult time landing a high level executive job.

You need to have a deep understanding of the fact that executive leaderships involves negotiation, not giving orders. It involves bringing people together to implement a policy that some of them did not agree with.

Here a mentor or a coach can be helpful. If you are unsure of what is involved, a good adviser should help you to discover situations where you smoothed over differences of opinion, softened personality clashes, and led a group to implement a policy effectively and successfully.

We all negotiate all the time. Too often we are not aware of what counts as a good negotiation tactic and what does not. It may require outside help for you to learn how good a job you did and how you did it.

1 comment:

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