By the time you get to senior level positions in a company, you should know how interviewing works, and what needs to be done to close the deal and get the job.
Yet sometimes arrogance creeps in, and those who should know better make rookie mistakes. Someone at the top of their game may feel they shouldn’t have to sell themselves the way someone less experienced would. These are people who believe their talent speaks for itself. And even if that is the way it should be—it’s not. Often it happens that a candidate with 15 or more years of experience, seeking an officer-level position, will interview without having done even a cursory perusal of the hiring company’s website.
Part of the problem is that many successful executives don’t spend much time or energy proactively engaged in job searching. And the less proactive they’ve been, the more likely they are to be rusty at it or simply misunderstand and mismanage the process. At the senior level, job seekers are often working with recruiters or networking with others at their level or above, to see what’s out there, and they make plenty of mistakes.
Here are five of the biggest mistakes executive job seekers make
Assuming Experience Speaks for Itself
Executive candidates can walk into an interview with an air of arrogance, thinking they should be beyond having to interview for a job, but that’s not the way a job search works. Everyone has to sell themselves to a certain extent. Coming in with an attitude that you are greater than the people interviewing you and their subordinates will not serve you well. It sends a message that you are inflexible and hard to please and that you may be the kind of leader that is highly critical and difficult to work with. Flexibility is an asset in business at any level but especially at a senior one.
If you believe your resume speaks for itself, think again. Senior executive or not, you will have to show your enthusiasm and readiness for the job. Spend your prep time thinking how to articulate what you will bring to the company, to the specific group and department. How will you integrate into the organization in a warm and welcoming manner? Your behavior during the interview, your preparation, your questions, all give clues about what your character as a leader and a colleague. Your resume can’t show your best qualities, things like humility, honesty, intelligence and compassion. Those are shown during the face-to-face interview. Remember that executive recruiters and hiring managers see hundreds—maybe even thousands—of high-level resumes a year. So even if you think you’re sure to be the most qualified senior exec they’ve ever seen—the reality is you’re probably not.
They Aren’t Able to Discuss Failures Positively
It’s unrealistic to think that you won’t be asked to discuss a situation where you were part of, or headed, a failed effort or project. You are human, you make mistakes, and those who work for you make mistakes too. If you can’t discuss a failure or mistake, a recruiter could conclude you just don’t have enough experience for a particular job. They aren’t expecting perfection, but they do need to understand your true level of responsibility, how you make decisions, your ability to take responsibility for mistakes, and, perhaps more important, recover from them. Things go wrong at companies all the time, but learning from mistakes is essential as you move up in an organization. And learning how to talk about them in positives terms is important in an interview.
When you talk about failure, talk about what you learned—don’t whine about what happened. As Lee E. Miller, author of “UP: Influence, Power and the U Perspective – The Art of Getting What You Want” has said, “Leave all the suffering at the door.” Instead, focus on the fact that you have learned something valuable from every mistake you’ve made. Having a story from your experience that illustrates that will also help you end the discussion of failure on a note of redemption and greater understanding.
A Lack of Passion
Passion, as cliché as it may sound, is extremely important in a job search. Whether you’re reaching out to your network about switching positions, sitting in a recruiter’s office or interviewing with the C-suite, you can be the most competent person in the world but without a passion for the work, the company, even the industry, you are at a disadvantage. The interviewing company needs to know why you want this job. What should come across in your answer is that you love what you do, and your success in the field is partially attributable to that love (e.g. passion). As a senior exec, you can probably learn any job in your field at this point, but no one can teach you to love your job. That’s where passion comes in.
Give examples of passion in action. Instead of saying something like “I’m passionate about meeting project deadlines and keeping clients happy,” give an example of that. It might be a line or two about how, at the last minute, a client changed their mind about the direction of an ad campaign, and you and your team worked all weekend to change it by Monday morning. Passion isn’t just about work, it’s also about how you live and work, so talk about what you do to stay awake and motivated during long days. For example: “I bring running clothes and go for a 20 minute run at 3 every afternoon, so I can come back refreshed physically and mentally.” All of those examples illustrate your passion and energy for what you do.
No Readiness to Roll Up Their Sleeves and Get Dirty
That arrogance and aloofness we talked about earlier will come back to haunt you if you seem unable or unwilling to get down in the dirt, so to speak, with your team? If you are reluctant to do that, how passionate can you be about results? How much of a team player—even as senior management—are you? Ultimately this readiness is really about business results and what you’re willing to do—and how far you’re willing to go– to get great results. If that means once on board you will immediately roll up your proverbial sleeves, that’s what you need to communicate. During the interview give examples of how you have overcome problems by pitching in at the ground level. Better yet, tie the problems this company faces directly to your experiences and abilities to help them confront those issues.
Another way you can show your readiness to jump in and do whatever is needed is by asking results-oriented, thoughtful questions. These are not the kinds of questions you’re going to find by looking at Glassdoor or Monster, these are questions that are specific to this company’s challenges and are aimed at helping you understand those challenges and formulate solutions. Some questions might be, “Can you tell me more specifically how the person in this role interacts with key stakeholders?” That’s designed to help you understand how your new role fits into the teams with whom you’ll be working. Or “What are the biggest challenges I’m likely to face in this position?”
Also Read: 5 Things to do The Day Before an Interview
You Don’t Tell Stories
You can wax on and on about the strategies in which you believe, and what you have employed before and think would work well at this company, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Storytelling is much better than strategy telling. It’s more engaging and far more memorable. Tell a good story about a strategy you implemented to confront an issue and how it changed things. Maybe you modified a business or manufacturing process and made it more efficient, or decided to give your workers the ability to work from home part of the week and how it translated to higher morale, lower turnover, and higher productivity. Have your numbers at the ready—after all, these are business stories–but in doing the storytelling and talking about yourself, you’ll reconnect to the passionate feelings inside and that will come through, loud and clear, to your listener.