The interview process for an executive-level role is often far more complex and lengthy than that for a traditional role. Consequently, your preparation will require more consideration and nuance. In this comprehensive guide, I share:
- How to prepare for an executive interview
- Common executive interview questions
- Questions to ask at the end of your interview
- What to include in your thank you email
4 Steps To Prepare For Your Executive Interview
Let’s dive in. Here are four steps you can take to ace your next executive-level interview:
1. Conduct adequate research on the company and role.
Before you craft your interview talking points or stories, you’ll want to begin by conducting research on the company and the role you’ll be interviewing for.
Glassdoor, Blind, and Reddit are often helpful starting points, as they can provide a high-level overview of how employees perceive the organization. Though you’ll always want to take reviews and comments with a grain of salt, you can begin to identify the company’s current strengths as well as any areas of opportunity, which you can then weave into your interview.
While you’re at it, I advise completing a cursory review of the company’s social media channels, as they can give you an understanding of what customers are saying about the brand. Plus, customers’ comments might even provide you with valuable insights you can leverage during your interviews.
During the research phase, I also recommend checking out Crunchbase to review relevant financial information and funding types, as well as the company’s latest annual report. As an executive, you will also want to be able to zoom out and speak to potential risks and threats, competitors, and white space in the market during the interview.
Finally, you can use LinkedIn to look up key players at the organization, as well as research who held the role previously or see if it’s a new role.
2. Develop your key talking points.
Once you have conducted your due diligence on the company and position, you’ll want to decide on the key talking points you want to communicate during your interview. Importantly, you want to be sure to weave your unique value proposition (I call this your fabulousness) into your key talking points.
I often encourage my interview coaching clients to narrow themselves down to three to five primary talking points that can fit on a single 3″ X 3″ Post-it Note. This can be helpful in focusing and aligning your core message.
Later, once you’re in the interview, you can mentally cross the talking points off as you mention them. Or if you’re conducting a virtual interview, you can physically check them off.
3. Craft memorable stories to back up your key talking points.
After you’ve decided on your key talking points, you want to develop stories that “verb” each talking point. Stories are critical when interviewing because hiring managers are far more likely to remember the emotions and feelings associated with your qualifications compared to cold hard facts.
You can use the following, five-part formula to effectually outline and organize each of your interview stories.
- Situation: Concisely describe the situation.
- Task: Briefly describe your task.
- Action: Detail the actions you took.
- Result: Explain the result(s) of your actions. In other words, why would the CEO/shareholders care about your efforts?
- Tie: Tie the story back to the company and position you are interviewing for.
In most situations, it makes sense to develop approximately a half-dozen stories that align with your key talking points.
4. Practice rehearsing your stories like a politician.
Okay, it’s interview practice time. If you have the capacity and energy, I recommend breaking this step into a few phases, as you can expect anywhere from three to five-plus interviews at the executive level. These may include a recruiter interview, an interview presentation, and a hiring manager interview. You may also be assigned one or more peer interviews, a skip-level interview, and an interview with your potential direct reports.
So how do you improve your interview skills at the executive level? I encourage my clients to “practice like a politician.” What I mean by this is to rehearse, but not memorize your key talking points, to ensure you are comfortable reciting them without notes. Then, practice answering tough interview questions using only your talking points as a response, like politicians often do.
After you feel comfortable altering your talking points to fit common interview questions, it’s time to step it up a notch. Next, I want you to record your answers, then watch yourself back three times:
- The first time, only watch the video. Take note of your executive presence.
- The second time, only listen to the audio. Focus on your answers and your speech.
- The final time, watch the video while listening to the audio to get the full experience.
Once you’re ready, and if time permits, you can also prepare for your interview with a friend or mentor. Importantly, you’ll want someone you can trust who will provide honest feedback. I recommend asking them to not only provide you with constructive feedback but also to tell you what you’re doing well so that you can continue doing it.
You may also want to prepare with an interview coach, as they can help you optimize your answer, as competition is stiff when going for executive-level roles, and several small tweaks can make the difference between securing the offer and coming in second. They can also help you prepare effective and impactful responses for the tougher questions that executives tend to be asked during their interviews.
Top Executive Interview Questions
Speaking of questions, what can you expect to be asked during an executive interview? While every industry and company is unique, here are some of the most common questions leaders get asked:
- What are your greatest strengths as a leader?
- What are some of your areas of opportunity?
- Why do you want to work for our company?
- What is your leadership style? (Alternatives: What is your management style? What is your leadership philosophy?)
- How do you prioritize your time?
- What gets you out of bed in the morning?
- What’s your approach to building team morale?
- How do you motivate employees during challenging times?
- How would your peers describe you?
- How do you gain buy-in from those you don’t supervise?
- What do you hope to achieve in your first 30, 60, and 90 days in this role?
- What’s your strategy for driving revenue growth? (Depending on your industry and role, this question can be swapped out for other important key performance indicators.)
- What do you think will be the most important KPIs/metrics in this role?
- Tell me about a time you prioritized diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB).
- Tell me about a time you delegated effectively.
- Tell me about a difficult business decision you’ve had to make.
- Tell me about a time you failed.
These are just a few of the countless questions you may be asked during an executive interview. If you are looking for additional common job interview questions, give this article a read.
Questions To Ask In An Executive Interview
While you’ll likely be the one in the hot seat for the majority of the interview, you’ll likely also be asked, “What questions do you have for us?” So what questions can you ask during your interview to assess the prospective role and company culture? Here are a few to consider:
- Why is this position available?
- How has this role evolved since it was originally created?
- What are some of the biggest challenges you envision the company facing, and how will this position support you in tackling them?
- What do you hope that I’ll achieve in my first 90 days?
- Are there any other questions I should be asking you?
While I provide these questions to serve as inspiration, I encourage you to develop additional questions that you truly want the answer to, as that will result in the most impactful and memorable conversation with the interviewer.
Executive Interview Thank You Note
Finally, how do you follow up after an executive interview? While you’re not required to send a thank you email, doing so can be particularly impactful when interviewing at the executive level, as it’s an opportunity to not only demonstrate your communication style but also the art of follow-through.
Moreover, you can use the note to mention anything you might have forgotten to mention during the interview. That said, keep your thank you email concise, as recruiters and hiring managers are exceptionally busy these days.
Here’s what you can include in your thank you note:
- Thank the interviewer for their time.
- Reinforce your interest in the company and position.
- Summarize your key talking points.
- Highlight anything you forgot to mention during the interview (if applicable).
Final Notes On Preparing For Executive Interviews
This comprehensive guide provides a comprehensive overview of preparing for an executive interview, but since every interview is unique, you may wish to partner with an interview coach, as they can support you in preparing to make the best first impression possible. You’ve got this!