Top Three Interview Mistakes

Over the last twenty five years, as a C level executive in large companies and within my own firm, I have interviewed executives for the top C-level jobs and coached executives for top C-level interviews. Generally, CEOs, Presidents, CFOs and CMOs are experts at communication and promoting their companies. Unfortunately, they suffer from the mistakes many lower level executives make in interviews-and they can suffer even more due to the prestige of their position. Here are the top three mistakes C-level executives frequently make:

  1. They RAMBLE: C level executives are used to talking. In most environments, people listen. Even if the executive is boring or off topic, people feign interest. The more prominent and successful their reputation is, the more they are indulged. Everyone has a tendency to ramble under stress, but the CEO gets little advice about behavior that can limit his or her next career options. It is very difficult for this level executive to obtain hard feedback from those who surround him or her-and it is extremely rare to get truthful feedback from interviewers. The result is that ramblers are viewed as undisciplined with questionable communication skills. As we all know, communication is a core criterion for success in a C-level role, therefore it is evaluated as a key criterion for success within an interview setting.
  2. They ANSWER THE WRONG QUESTION:  I have had CEOs answer the wrong question two to three times in a row-even after being corrected! We all can have a tape running in our head when we are under stress. The tape tells us to make sure we say certain things or it can even anticipate the questions we think are going to be asked. If your interviewer grows impatient or comes to conclusions early about your communication style because you are not answering the right question, they won’t even bother taking you back to their original question. Their questions will remain unanswered and the interview will be over sooner. C-level executives don’t often get told “You didn’t answer my question”. Interviewers find it harder to directly challenge very senior executives.
  3. They DON’T REVEAL WHO THEY ARE AS PEOPLE. The senior executive spends the whole interview proving his or her credentials and no time connecting at a more personal level. In the end, the interviewer is just glad to get the meeting over with, rather than enjoy the discussion and look forward to a follow up meeting.  The C-level candidate   may be competent and successful, but who wants him or her around? Even at the very top levels, this is a serious consideration. If a Board member doesn’t relate to you, they assume that customers, employees and investors will not. Also, if they see you as someone that they cannot relate to, they conclude they will not be able to build a relationship that will also achieve their own objectives.

What can a C-level executive do to correct these mistakes? Role play with a skilled and trusted advisor or coach who will provide candid and expert feedback. Practice until you get it right. Video your interviews so you can see for yourself what mistakes you are making. It will rapidly accelerate the self-correction process.

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