Job interviews: these two words conjure a range of emotions and reactions.  Whether those sentiments are anxiety, dread, excitement, or something else entirely, the fact is that job interviews are an indispensable part of professional life, especially for executives. 

Even so, there is still an incredible amount of ambiguity and conflicting advice when it comes to interviewing.  

There are the “usual suspects” or topics regarding job interviews: maintaining an up-to-date resume, answering questions using the STAR format (situation, task, action, result), and “walking through the resume”, to name a few.  But surprisingly, senior executives often neglect other important aspects of their candidacy. To be truly effective in an interviewing situation, an executive must certainly know how to properly answer questions that arise in an interview.  But just as important are two other critical points: knowing one’s story and being honest with oneself. In the end, this will lead to a better interviewing experience and allow one to truly assess her fit with a potential role.

One would be remiss were she not to at least address some of the more basic components of the interview experience.  One should always have an up-to-date resume when approaching the interview process. Yes, there are those who never use resumes.  However, the practice of providing a resume is standard enough that it is wise to have one at the ready. In a similar vein, be sure to know what is actually on one’s resume as a candidate will almost always be asked to walk through her experience.  Additionally, properly structuring interview questions using a consistent and tried-and-true format is effective in that it provides structure when providing responses to interview questions and ensures that answers elucidate the proper level of detail and results. 

A common practice is to use the STAR format. The format is used when providing an answer to an interview question by first offering a bit of background on the situation or task that one will be speaking to before providing greater detail on the actions one took before ending with arguably the most important point which is the overall results.  It is one thing to provide details on actions, it is quite another to address the results. The fact is that there is an almost endless supply of questions an executive can be asked when interviewing for a role. It is thus impossible that one can have answers memorized to all of these (nor is it recommended). Instead, focus on having three to five different situations that can be used for a variety of different question types.  Among all of these, at least one will likely have a situation that can address many different types of interview questions such as leadership challenges, teamwork examples, moral dilemmas, and so on.

Beyond these more foundational elements to interview preparation and performance, it is critical that an executive give thought and consideration to truly knowing her own story.  What have been the main motivators throughout her career? Why has she made the choices she has made? This could be the companies she has joined, the roles she has assumed, the education she attained, and so on.  It is this exercise of self-exploration that provides insight into not only her past performance and reasons for the career moves she has made but also a view into her compatibility for and interest in a new role. This exercise will hopefully prompt an executive to focus on one of the last, and arguably most critical, aspects of the interviewing process: being honest with oneself.

It is this process of self-assessment that will hopefully lead one to be honest with herself.  Past performance is certainly not always a future predictor of success. But by assessing one’s career and motivations to-date, she can gain an invaluable perspective on her desired future role.  It is this honest dialogue that elicits an answer to questions such as: What are the weaknesses that I will likely bring into this potential new role? Conversely, what are the strengths? How do I feel about this company and its industry? What value do I believe I can bring and is that enough for what the role requires? Only by being honest with oneself will the executive arrive at an understanding of both the value of the role and the value that she may be able to bring to it.

The interviewing process is a dynamic experience that varies from firm to firm and from position to position.  Preparation of foundational interviewing skills will always be worthwhile and expected. However, it is by truly knowing one’s story and being honest throughout the executive search and recruitment process that a candidate may achieve a better outcome for both herself and the organization.