Eight great ways to ace an interview

Succeeding at the executive interview

Let’s say that all of your hard work in networking pays off, and you actually get an executive interview. You want to be very careful not to blow this opportunity. They don’t come along as frequently as they used to! Here are a few general strategies to employ in your all-important interview.

1). Shut up! The most important strategy in an executive interview is not to talk yourself out of a job. We see more people talk themselves out of a job than sell themselves for a job. Think of the executive interview as a police interrogation where you are a suspect for a crime you didn’t do. You want to give the cops the information they ask for, fully and completely, but you don’t want to give more information than necessary.

2). Remember that the interviewer is not your friend. A good interviewer (like me) may well put on the persona of almost complete confusion. They may talk about fishing or the local sports team. They may try to talk about politics or religion (more on that below). An interview with a very experienced interviewer will feel very much like an interview with a very incompetent interviewer. Be careful. They’re trying to have you lower your defenses, see them as a friend, and blab. Don’t. Keep your guard up the entire time of the interview, and ditto in subsequent interviews.

3). Politics and religion are traps! An interviewer may make a favorable or disparaging remark about, say, Sarah Palin or President Obama. They may ask about your religious preferences, or make a remark about a hot button issue. Don’t fall into the trap. Give answers that do not show your commitment to any one side. For example, if a derogatory remark is made about Sarah Palin, the best thing to say is “She certainly is getting a lot of coverage lately,” and let it be. Even if pressed, stay neutral. Neither agree nor disagree with the remark, even if you have strong feelings about the person or issue mentioned.

4). Universalize, minimize and maximize on negative questions. There are three steps to neutralize a question that requires you to give negative information about yourself. Step 1: Universalize: Say, “Well, like everyone else.” Step 2: Minimize: When giving the negative information, use phrases like “every once in a while,” and “a little bit.” Make your negative information seem very small. Step 3: Maximize: Either before or after giving the negative information, talk about what you do well.

5). Take every interview seriously. In many executive positions, you’re going to have a telephone screen and/or an H.R. interview. The temptation is to see these as joke interviews. Don’t. Remember that, to get to a decision maker, you have to pass the lower-level interviews. So your job is not to blow it in these interviews. Give nice, safe answers, and don’t get impatient, even if H.R. asks you one of their absurd questions like “What is your favorite animal?”.

6). Don’t answer right away. One of the biggest mistakes that interviewers make is to jump right in with an answer. There are two problems with that. First, you are likely to give a canned sounding answer. Second, you aren’t really thinking about the interviewer’s question. Always pause a moment to think about your answer before giving it. In other words, engage brain before putting mouth in gear.

7). Listen to the question. Most interviewers are so tense that they don’t really listen to the questions that are being asked but, rather, race ahead in their minds to the answer. This can be fatal in the interview. Shut up and listen fully without formulating an answer in your mind until you’ve heard the whole question.

8). Don’t be a politician. Do you notice how politicians never answer the question that they’re actually asked, but, rather, answer with a talking point? Don’t let this terrible habit creep into your interviewing style. Actually answer the questions that you are being asked. Politicians can lay on the fertilizer, but you are expected to actually say something worthwhile.

These are very general principles for a great executive interview. Keeping these in mind will help you succeed at your interview. However, I strongly recommend professional preparation for the executive interview, especially if you’ve deluded yourself into thinking that you’re a good interviewer. Prepared candidates can avoid the traps and pitfalls that every executive interview has, and have a better chance of getting the offer. Good luck in your interviewing!

John has lots more great interviewing advice, which he has put into his brand new book, Interview to Get That Job.  Order your copy before your next interview!

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