Recent Trends in Human Resource Management

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sailing Through Senior-Level Interviews

Sailing Through Senior-Level Interviews

A candidate for a mid-level executive position visits the organisation a couple of times before the job is finally offered. The interview focuses on his skills and abilities. Hiring decisions are primarily based on past performance.

When screening candidates for top-level jobs, the interview protocol changes. The atmosphere is friendlier and the candidate socialises extensively with the senior executives. Under this congenial façade is the fact that candidates are being assessed for their potential compatibility with the job, cultural fit and their ability to represent the organisation in public. Hiring managers focus on what the candidate can do for the organisation and his ability to support organisational goals. As Terry Harlow, a corporate vice-president says, “They’re looking for a person who can create and communicate the vision for the organisation.”

Skip Fiordalis conducts senior level searches for various organisations. He ensures that the candidates are ‘good fits’ especially with the administrative management team. Skip attributes his selection success to his interviewing skills. He tests the candidate’s flexibility in dealing with a new environment, pragmatism in approaching problems and excellence in managing various relationships. With so much at stake it is imperative that candidates master senior-level interviews.

The set-up

The initial interview for top level posts usually spans a couple of days. The candidate meets other senior employees in groups and could be invited to dinner. Subsequently, the invitation may extend to his spouse. Some organisations headquartered in other states/countries fly the candidates to tour the area and meet would-be colleagues. Often such meetings are breakfast to dinner affairs involving lengthy negotiations over salaries and perks.

Interviewing candidates is a stressful job-full of interactions with a large number of people and involves extensive travel. An exhausted interviewer has little patience with an ill-prepared candidate. For instance, just as the interview began one candidate forced his resume and recommendation letters onto the interviewer. A rookie mistake! “People who begin the interview with a resume, portfolio, deal sheets or financial statements don’t understand that the interview is already over,” says Andrea Eisenberg, a consultant in a placement firm.


An organisation has high expectations from interviewees appearing for senior posts. Janet Jones-Parker, managing director of a recruiting firm insists that interviewees should exude confidence. Janet advices, “You (interviewee) have to go to an interview as though you’re already there. Everything you do must speak of that. If you act as though you’re stepping up, that’s how you’re perceived.” Dave Opton, CEO of ExecuNet Inc., selects interviewees who carry themselves as leaders.

An interviewee can gain confidence with some basic research into the organisation both, cultural and financial. It also helps to learn more about the other employees, traditions, organisational values and defining historical moments.

Fitting in

“As part of every senior-level interview there’s a high level of social interaction.” The way a candidate speaks, writes thank-you notes, even his spouse’s behaviour all are important. Poor etiquette is the biggest stumbling block. A Philadelphia recruiting firm bought books and videos to educate an interviewee on good table manners! As senior-level executives socialise at high-levels they need impeccable social skills.

A post interview meal with the hiring officials shouldn’t be misconstrued as a confirmation dinner! Dave Opton knows of interviewees who light up cigars after dinner without seeking permission. One such interviewee was rejected after he blew smoke into the eyes of the CEO’s wife!

The better half

Surprisingly, a candidate’s spouse affects hiring decisions. ‘Spouses should seem eager, excited, flexible and positive.’ Quite often candidates need to relocate. The candidate’s spouse should view any career move as a family investment. This should be reflected in conversations with other employees. Spouses need to be cautious. Any negative comments could mar job negotiations.

What is the interviewer looking for?

Interviewees who anticipate the job requirements instantly figure out changes necessary to accomplish a task. An interviewer discovers such an interviewee by asking ‘fact-finding’ questions.

A great way to start a senior-level interview is to ask the single best question: “Can you describe your most significant accomplishment?” The interviewer gains insights into the individual’s accomplishments and how they relate to specific job needs.

Another question that reveals an interviewee’s problem solving abilities, leadership qualities, intelligence and vision is: “If you were to get this job how would you go about solving this (major/typical) problem? “How would you” questions focus on the planning and visualisation aspects. Lack of either skill can disqualify an interviewee.

Think before you speak!

To gauge an interviewee’s problem solving abilities, organisations often show them negative financial information. Organisations expect them to use their leadership skills to wriggle out of complex situations rather than bank on experience and background. Buster Houchins, managing director of an executive search company says, “It’s all about getting people excited about a vision that’s bigger than your own personal goal or vision.”

Organisations typically hire candidates willing to take calculated risks. Hence, the interviewee should freely express his views when asked to comment, even if they are contrary to the interviewer’s viewpoint. He should evaluate the consequences of his remarks. Patronising comments and critical remarks are taboo.

More questions

The interviewer should allow interviewees to ask questions too. In an interview for the position of a vice president Ms.Kenny asked her employers questions that gave insights into the organisation’s strategies. The question, “What’s important to you?” helped her to determine if her perception matched the organisation’s and whether she could support it. Jean-Claude Noel, COO of Christie’s too believes that interviewees should ask a lot of questions.

Channel ‘ WE’

An interviewee did well but on his way to the airport in the company car yelled at his subordinate on the cell phone. The driver promptly reported the interviewee’s attitude to the higher-ups. Needless to say, he wasn’t selected.

Interviewees aspiring to make it to the top echelons should adopt the ‘we’ attitude. They should consider themselves part of a team and be unbiased. Those who lack humility don’t make it to the higher ranks. As Ms. Eisenberg says, “It’s dangerous to assume that the person you’re meeting with matters a lot and others don’t matter. That’s the landmine. Be certain to engage every person at his or her level.”

On guard!

Interviewees naturally feel comfortable with hiring officials after dining and spending time with them. But as Paul Villella, CEO of an executive hiring firm warns, “You have to be most cautious with the most casual, you don’t want to treat them as though you have known them for years.” The interviewee should learn how to manage his relationships.

The computer savvy era encourages informality; most techies are used to ‘winging in’ and come ill prepared for interviews. However, it is important to be conservative and professional in dress and style, during an interview. One CEO recommends making bullet point notes for the interview.

Cultural changes

With recruitment going global, senior level executives are required to travel, and at times relocate to different countries. Hence, the interviewee should have the ability to adapt to different cultures. For instance, German companies are more formal than American companies. Interviewees would have to address people as Mr., Ms. or Mrs., and never by a first name. “Ability to adapt makes a good leader.”

‘Interviewee’ skills are critical for a smooth and successful transition into the higher slots. An interview is a ticket to the job!

Ref: Manage Mentor


Domestic Water Meter said...

Nice posting. This gives an idea on how senior level interviews are being conducted and what are expected out of the candidate. This post will help candidates to prepare in a much better way. Keep posting such informative blogs.

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