How candidates should prepare for executive-level interviews

Lars Sunnell our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 10 May 2024

I often speak with senior-level candidates looking for new executive positions who have been at the same company or in the same role for an extended period. Naturally, often they haven’t been interviewed in recent years and might be a little rusty. When you only have seven seconds to make a good impression, you have to make that time count.

And there’s an art to delivering a good interview - a lot of it comes down to practice, but knowing what to expect and asking the right questions yourself are just as crucial.

Why it’s essential to prepare for interviews

Many organizations recruit for senior positions through an executive search firm to maximize their chances of finding the best possible candidate to fill a key position. Executive Search Recruiters, AKA “Headhunters,” are able to use headhunting techniques to reach passive talent and build a broader, deeper pool of candidates than can be accessed through the company’s talent acquisition team and job postings alone.

While a recruiter at an executive search firm will help you prepare through the entire interview process with a prospective employer, you should be equally as ready for the initial screening call with the recruiter as they also act as gatekeepers. 

Your chances of being put forward to the hiring team can hinge on how engaged you are in this initial conversation and the chemistry you’ve built with the recruiter.

How executive-level candidates should be preparing for interviews



Firstly, it’s important to know what potential recruiters or hiring managers are looking for in an interview. The interview process is a chance for you to show how you can solve their problem. The hiring manager, and their organization, have a gap to fill, and this is your chance to convince them that you are the one that can successfully bridge that gap.


During your interview(s), the hiring manager will essentially be trying to uncover three things:


Can you do the job? 


The interviewer will ask for specific examples of things you’ve been successful at and your roles, ideas, or projects that have failed or not gone according to plan. 


Be ready to discuss what you learned from these experiences and what you would do differently in a new scenario. If you can, statistics to back your examples up work well and help you get your point across.


Will you enjoy doing the job?


In other words, is this role enough of a challenge for you to be stimulating and provide personal and professional growth? On the other hand, will you be bored six months later and regret your decision to take the position?


Are you a cultural fit?


Will you enjoy working with the team, and will they enjoy working with you? What sort of personality are you, and does it fit with the type of culture they have at their organization?


Research the company and the interviewers


Other things to think about: Number one is researching the company you’re interviewing with and the people who will be interviewing you - 47% of candidates fail an interview simply because they don’t know enough about the company. 


Whether you’re interviewing with a recruiter or the hiring manager whose team the position sits on, before the interview, you should view the interviewer’s LinkedIn profiles and form an understanding of what role they play in the interviewing process. You may even uncover some information about them that you can use in the interview: “I saw from your LinkedIn profile that you’ve recently…” to demonstrate that you’ve done your research.


Prepare open-ended questions


It’s also crucial to prepare open-ended questions. These are some excellent examples of the questions you might want to ask. Still, it’s also a good idea to look at the job description and ask specific questions that pertain to the responsibilities and qualifications of the role.


About the role:

  • What should this role accomplish in the first month, first three months, and within the first year?
  • Why is this role open? (Was it just created? Did the previous worker leave? Was the last person promoted?)
  • What do you want the new person to bring to this role?


About the team:

  • Does your team do team bonding events?
  • How often does the team update each other on their work?
  • What is the team structure, and how do they work with other teams?


About the manager:

  • How do you help develop members of your team?
  • What is your management style like?
  • What are your goals for the team?


About the company:

  • What measures does the company take to ensure diversity and inclusion?
  • How often do you interact with people from other departments?
  • What do you see as the company’s main challenges?


About the interviewer:

  • Why did you choose to work for this company?
  • Are you involved in any company activities outside of work?
  • What are the biggest pros of working for this company?


If you’re on your second or later interview, it’s also important to reference questions and discussions you’ve had in previous interviews and ask more profound questions on the subject matter.


Share what makes you unique


Finally, don’t forget to bring your personality across. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and consider what parts of your personality impact your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions. Be sure to list some unique characteristics that make up who you are.


If it’s a video interview, wear an outfit that is professional but makes you feel calm, cool, and collected. There aren’t many things you can control in this world, but your wardrobe is one of them.


Be yourself as much as possible, and be honest about your work experience. Plan ahead of time how to list the key points of your work experience and tell engaging stories that paint the picture in detail.


If you’re an executive who needs support in preparing for interviews, contact me today, and let’s schedule a time for a chat.

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