I’d like to acknowledge what I consider to be interviewing table stakes—because there is a lot of generic information out there regarding interviewing. This is not another one of those posts.
Let's hop to it.
(1) Research. Know about the company and the role you’re vying for.
(2) Awareness. Know if your expertise is valuable and how to talk about it.
(3) Connection. Connect with others at the company and speak with them.
(4) Network. If you know someone at the company, work that angle to collect intel.
(5) Why/Motivation. Know if the company fits into your current or ongoing career needs.
If that’s all you needed to hear, stop reading now.
But—if you’re ready to crush your next interview—let's weave those five fundamentals into deeper interview mastery.
Create A Lasting Impression
When you think about the ideal executive leader, what comes to mind? Integrity? Influence? Emotional intelligence? Humility? Assertiveness?
Anxiety and insecurity aren’t likely topping your list of desirable traits. But oftentimes, that’s how we feel before we get our asses handed to us in an interview.
One factor could be imposter syndrome which disproportionately affects high-achieving people. You may find it difficult to accept your accomplishments and question whether you are deserving of accolades. After all, everyone around you appears to be better. A better school or degree. A better career track. A better title.
The problem? When you lessen your successes, you aren’t confident. This mindset serves to undermine your thought processes throughout the entire interview.
Nervous or tense energy erodes your conversations and triggers a response in others that will influence their impression of you. You must avoid this.
Instead, ask yourself what the most important impression is to leave the interviewer with. Sometimes this is informed by the job description or intel you’ve collected about the hiring manager or team. Sometimes it’s influenced by the admiring references made by others about you in recommendations, performance reviews, or when asked casually.
For example, “Kathy is amazing. She is patient, confident, and assertive. I’ve been fortunate to report to her as a leader.”
The most successful executives know what they want. They lead with a plan on exactly what they want and how they want to be perceived, regardless of the role and what others think about them.
Create your own “lasting impression” guiding notes before an interview to better focus your conversation.
For example, “I will come across as accomplished, self-assured, and decisive by guiding the conversation with these two examples. I must leave an impression that I can lead through uncertainty, work across a matrixed org, and that I have the subject matter expertise to lead the team in the correct direction.”
Sustain A Composed Mindset
Perhaps, I’m overcomplicating all of this. I tend to do that.
“Jacob—it’s just hard to talk about yourself and your work. I’m no imposter and I know how to establish a game plan before an interview. I just don’t test well. Okay?”
Well, no, not okay.
Following the five aforementioned interviewing tips and establishing your lasting impression notes with bull-headed preparedness will provide some with comfort before a test. But for those that absolutely need to get an A, what more can you do
Over analyzing how an interview will go is damaging. You frankly don’t know what you don’t know and you waste mental energy forcing it.
Consider this : Interviewers are less prepared and usually less interested than you. There is one of them and a few of you—if not 100s of yous that they’re sifting through.
You’re having a two-way conversation—not an interrogation. Don’t grab a crystal ball to predict each question. Don’t have an answer for everything. Your conversation must be natural and engaging.
Your time is much better spent focusing on how you approach the interview and how you drip the right information to the hiring manager to drive their interest in the direction that you want.
Take Conversational Ownership
Most interviewers suck. It’s not intentional. Interviewing is not the No. 1 priority of their job. This means that oftentimes interviews can meander, be awkward, or the questions asked won’t immediately connect.
If you can’t rely on the interviewer to be on top of their game, who can you rely on?
You. Again, you don’t know what you don’t know about the interviewer, the role, or the company. But you do know yourself. You know? (I hope that landed well)
It’s your job to lead the conversation in a focused direction that both maximizes the information you get about the role and articulates your strengths with clarity. Bonus points if you create the perception that you’re also worth a lot of money.
This means it’s more important to understand how to guide a conversation than it is to know about what’s going to be asked.
You do this by taking the lead and ownership of whatever happens during the conversation. “But the interviewer didn’t even ask about (the topic of your greatest strength)…”
Too bad. It’s your fault for not bringing it up or leading the conversation in a way where your strengths will be brought up naturally.
Master interviewers take ownership and interview the interviewee.
Drive The Interview
When your interview is constantly focused on the past, you’re in a constant state of remembering how something happened, fretting on whether you got your details correct and if you're taking too much credit or being too humble.
You have no control over what’s going to be asked.
“Tell me about the last time you disappointed the board and how it affected the team?
This is a pressure cooker.
You’re on the backfoot waiting for what’s going to be asked next. You may be 110% prepared with structured anecdotes—but you’re not expressing how you’re going to solve the problems for the company you’re speaking with.
It’s a trap that robs you of the decreasingly finite time you have to learn about the role (and whether you even like it) and make a powerful impression.
I have a hack for this. Pretend that you already have the job.
Picture this: it’s day one and you’re meeting with the CEO or board for the first time. What do you ask in order to perform? How do you keep your job? What action do you take?
What you did 10 years ago at a different company bears little fruit in your decision making today. This is a new opportunity. A new team. A new economic climate.
They’re invested in you—let’s talk about what you’re going to do about it.
Driving the interview to understand the current state of the business and what future plans look like puts you in a much favorable position. You’re now talking about solutions and how to execute—not reliving your glory days.
Be The Solution
You need to ask open-ended questions that point forward and incorporate yourself as the solution. You do this by projecting challenges, proposing solutions that you’re included in, and associating yourself with insider vernacular such as the names of teammates or partners.
For example, “Why has the team been limited in finding success and how are you thinking about the next three months? As I partner with Kathy and Omari, what do we need to accomplish?”
Psychologically, using familiarity with names, beating the drum of “we,” and forecasting how you’ll work together creates the mental space of how you are already working through challenges.
Interviewing with this forward-thinking mentality allows you to create value for the interviewer and actually solve problems from your very first conversation. If you can do this in a 45-minute chat, imagine what you can do when you’re hired.
Lead The Next Steps
Have you ever finished an interview and wondered, “Now what?” Then proceed to twiddle your thumbs for 2-3 weeks anxiously waiting for a response, wondering when to reach back out, whether you’re being a pest, then hopelessly taking it personally and falling into a professional slump?
Shame on you.
It’s your fault for not knowing where you both stand after the conversation. The last five minutes of the interview is your chance to understand what’s next and close the next conversation.
You can test the waters to see where you stand with very direct questions. For example, “I’ve enjoyed our conversation today—do you have any reservations about moving forward?”
I’ve arrogantly tried other tactics to catch the interviewer off guard, such as, “Where do you think I screwed up?” Use something like this at your own risk.
Remove any friction preventing you from another conversation. Friction could be defined as, the annoying back and forth that every hiring manager must make with a recruiter and you and other team members to organize the follow up conversation. It’s a hassle and keeps people in their inbox instead of doing anything more enjoyable.
Try this: “Carol, I see that we’ve already come to the top of the hour and I respect the time you’ve taken to speak with me. It sounds like the next step is to speak with Mary, (chair of the board) and Keith, Shari, and LaKesha (other executives). I am available Tuesday from 3-5 PST, Wednesday at noon, and Friday anytime after 2.”
Remember these pro tips:
- Always translate to their timezone for less mental gymnastics.
- Offer your availability sooner to accelerate the process.
- Offer your availability later to slow the process.
- Don’t offer too much availability to increase the value of your time.
If they don’t commit to speaking with you again, you have an opportunity to lay it out on the table before the call is over. “Can you tell me why you’re not interested in moving forward?”
Look who is on the backfoot now!
(1) Create a lasting impression.
(2) Maintain composure.
(3) Take ownership.
(4) Drive toward the future.
(5) Be the solution.
(6) Lead the next steps.