Preparing for an Executive Interview

Preparing for an executive interview is not the same as interviewing with human resources or a recruiter. Interviewing with C-suite executives is less about your technical skill set and more about your leadership style and approach. Your focus needs to shift and your awareness should guide your answers as well as your questions.

Instead of thinking that you need to prove yourself with examples of your past successes, consider the value you offer to the organization. It’s important to remember that you wouldn’t be speaking with this individual if your background wasn’t stellar. This is a difficult mindset shift for many people to make. They are accustomed to the traditional interview approach and if they haven’t prepared for C-suite interviews, they are uncomfortable and can come across as unprepared.


The first thing you want to think about before meeting with the CEO or others in the C-suite, is how have you added value to the organization. Focus on accomplishments that impacted revenue. This could be in a variety of ways, the key is to demonstrate the value you created for the company. Write down and rehearse a one to two minute story describing the situation including the challenge you were facing, your approach to solving it, and the result for the company.  


The second thing to consider is how you go about creating value and the result you achieved. The how demonstrates your leadership approach. CEOs want to know the detail behind your achievements. Did you collaborate with other department heads? Were you able to leverage partners? Did you empower your team to make decisions? This gets to the core of your style and will indicate to the C-suite if you are a good culture fit for the organization.


The third thing to provide is honesty about your wins and losses. If you only talk about your successes, skepticism will emerge. No one is perfect and sharing setbacks and how you addressed them is critical. Great leaders are forged through their failures. You don’t want to focus too much attention on them, but you should acknowledge some and what you learned.


No doubt you’ve done your research on the company, and it’s good to refresh your knowledge and dig a little deeper before meeting with the CEO or others. They want to know that you have put in the effort to understand their company and how you can be an additive presence. It is a great way to differentiate yourself from other candidates. This will also inform the types of questions you ask. Having a list of a dozen or so questions will demonstrate your thinking and how you frame the challenges and opportunities the role presents.


Lastly, be yourself. The top reason people don’t make it as executives in new companies is culture fit. If you’re not being yourself during the interview process, you’re risking a career move. Don’t try to be what you think the company wants. If you are your authentic self and it doesn’t seem like a good fit, you’ll know before you accept an offer. Or if they don’t extend an offer, you have nothing to regret.

Sheer Velocity is an executive search firm that works with a diversified client base including Fortune 500 companies, private equity, and high growth venture capital backed companies. Our approach includes identifying the right culture fit for key positions. To learn more, send us a note.