If you’re interviewing for a position on an organization’s leadership team, you need to ace the interview, just as you do for a job at any level. You need to discuss your accomplishments, for example, with key results in tangible form. (Think: “I managed a team of 12 professionals responsible for generating $500,000 in revenue.”)
But for a higher level position, you also must know several things about the business and position itself. Your fit into and understanding of the organizational culture, for example, is important in any job, but even more crucial when you’re interviewing for an executive job. Here are the elements that contribute to a successful executive interview.
1. What problem needs to be solved?
You need to know what problem the company is looking to solve with the position. Do they need to roll out new products successfully, for example, or rebrand existing products? Are they an aggressive start-up seeking to re-energize the market, or a legacy company interested in maintaining its position and standing in the community?
To find out what problems need to be solved before the interview, research the company thoroughly. Read the materials provided on the web site, on everything from mission and vision to recent sales and revenue figures. Research stories in both the business press and general press as well.
If you have contacts within the company, don’t hesitate to pick their collective brains before the interview. Ask candidly what problems the position will be expected to solve.
Finally, “what problems do you need solved?” is a great interview question for you to ask, if it doesn’t come up otherwise during the interview. It can be the springboard to a great discussion of how you can solve their issues – which is what the job is all about.
2. Deep dive into the position’s needs
Once you’ve identified what problems the position will be expected to solve, deep dive into what you’ll need to perform successfully. Will you have a sufficient budget, for example, or will negotiation likely be needed? Will you have a team on the ground, or be expected to hire key roles?
Knowing potential and actual needs helps you frame the job for success. If you already have a team, for example, you can help guide management to integration as the first short-term goal. Achievement of key metrics for the company (increased revenue or sales, for example) will be a long-term goal depending on the shorter-term goal achievement. But if you have to hire a team, the complete hiring itself is likely to be your first long-term goal.
3. History of the position
It’s always important to know the history of the position you’re hiring for, but it’s especially important for executive roles. Why? Because the history of the position often exerts a pull on the position that affects the person who gets it.
If the previous holder of the position succeeded, for example, you will inherit a mantle of success. The wind will be at your back, so to speak – you’re much more likely to be viewed as a potential success. But if the previous holder didn’t succeed, you may be viewed much less positively. You’ll need to strategize how to overcome negative perceptions.
If the position is entirely new, it’s important to know if the C-suite championed the role or showed some initial reluctance. You need to know the C-suite stance toward your role, to capitalize on the positive elements and counteract any negative ones.
4. Conduct informational interviews
While research can net you valuable information about a company, information directly from the company can also be valuable, as we mention above. But how can you glean this information if you don’t already have contacts?
One solution is informational interviews. Informational interviews are designed to be short (20 minutes, say) with people willing to talk to you. They are not generally conducted with any reference to a specific job, but rather to obtain general information about a company or how to obtain an executive position in general. (In fact, because higher level positions are rarely advertised, informational interviews can also be an excellent way to find out that a company is thinking of hiring on an executive level.)
Here are some potential informational interview questions that can help you position yourself for success.
- How would you describe the company’s leadership style?
- What are the organization’s goals for this quarter? For this year?
- Can you walk me through a specific team’s contribution to the goals?
- What are the key performance indicators of your department?
- How were the key revenue milestones achieved last year?
- What does success in the company look like?
- What two or three things does the company do the best? If there anything you would change?
You need to know about a business to successfully interview for a high level role in it. Understand what problem needs to be solved, research the position’s needs, and know the history behind the position. Informational interviews can be a valuable way of obtaining information from within the company.
Want additional information on executive-level interviewing? Check out our blog.