Interviews and recruitment processes can be demanding and energy sapping experiences, taking time and much effort. Knowing what’s in store and considering every element of the process you’ll be subjected to will be useful in helping you mentally prepare. As an executive, mastering these events will be key to a successful career. Remember, these are skills which can be learnt!
Get in the right head-space
It can be a long and invasive process, requiring lots of preparation – especially given the probing scrutiny you’ll be subjected to. Knowing what the process will look like can help you fine tune your approach. Before you pick up the phone, or fire off the resume, have a good think about your true motivators behind applying, weigh up your strengths, your weaknesses, your fears and identify the value you will bring to the role.
First contact and application
It’s all too easy to shoot off a resume and covering letter by email and hope for the best. I’m always bemused by execs who don’t take the opportunity to call about the role. I think a succinct call with a couple of pertinent questions about the role/organisation also allows you to provide a 2-3 sentence summary of your suitability. Remember you’re entering a competitive process, making the right 1st impression is essential.
Inform yourself & unpick the PD
Get to grips with the organisation, look at it from a whole of market perspective; try and work out what the strategic imperatives are and how this role fits in. If you’ve had a chat with the point of contact for the recruitment, you may already have this info. Then set to work deconstructing the PD by identifying the key behaviours they are looking for. Most PDs are quite explicit but some may require decoding and inference.
Tailor your application
Resume quality, covering letter and, for some processes, how you address the key selection criteria are also heavily weighted at this early stage. Therefore, it’s essential to check and recheck the application and err on the side of brevity. Use the critical behaviours you’ve identified in the PD to shape the way your frame your experience and your achievements. If you are responding to key selection criteria, then address each succinctly and try to avoid recycling information from your resume.
Interviews – preparation
Typically, there are 3 key interview steps to consider and, as you can imagine, they are all vitally important steps. A great interview will clearly define how you are perceived and it’s an opportunity to influence their thinking about your strengths and suitability. It allows you an opportunity to develop the narrative around your career, framing their understanding of your capabilities and future potential. The interview is where chemistry is established, when essential intangibles such as passion, energy and fit are determined. It’s vital that you perform well at this activity!
Using the critical behaviours you’ve identified from the PD, attempt to predict the behavioural-style questions you might be posed; list them out and logically map out how you might respond, and practice verbalising – even to the point of role playing them: have an independent person give you frank feedback. Prepare for between 10 to 20 questions.
It’s also important to have in your mind the key messages you want to leave with the interviewer (s), and to someway incorporate these into the responses you provide in the interview.
Interviews – In situ performance
The first 10 minutes of the interview are critical in establishing trust and rapport with interviewers – this is the time when they may be making unconscious, perhaps subjective decisions about you. The impact you make here will likely define how the remainder of the interview proceeds.
There are some obvious fundamentals to mention here and are sometimes overlooked: maintain steady eye contact, neat & professional presentation, measured/modulated voice, up-right posture and natural body movements and hand gestures will work in your favour. Introductions with the selection panel are good opportunities to make small talk, to break the ice, and introduce appropriate humour to help build your confidence. All these factors help to build an executive presence which you will strengthen through answers to the questions. In terms of language, avoid acronyms and “insider-speak”, refer to the things you did in the 1st person, rather than using “we” and, if using metaphors (which can work as a tactic), make sure they are unambiguous and clearly appropriate.
The first question
As part of a selection panel, I like to start off with a free-kick question, something like this:
“No doubt you’ve done some research and have built an understanding of our organisation. Please tell us, why do you think this could be the right opportunity for you in your career and why do you think you might be the right leader for our organisation?”
This is a golden opportunity to provide a crisp 4 to 6-minute narrative about your career, relevant experience, professional interests and aspirations as well as a top line assessment of the opportunity. It sets the scene and gives you a chance to establish your credentials and to frame their view of your suitability.
Keep an eye on time
In engagements, we are asked to facilitate, we develop some form of interview guide, aimed at supporting the selection panel’s assessment of the interviewees, and targeting their attention on the most important behaviours and skills to assess. An interview will likely progress for 1 to 1.5 hours and may cover up to 20 questions.
That’s quite a few questions, so it’s important you give enough detail, but without running over time. If you’ve been speaking for about 5 minutes that’s probably about right, if its 10 minutes then you’ve probably lost the panel already. However, be careful to reflect on the questions posed, search for any subtext, or hidden meaning to the questions, before you provide your answer.
Wrapping up the interview – don’t forget to ask 2-3 questions
Show you understand the role and the context of the organisation by asking a few insightful questions. Again, keep an eye on time – after an hour, the interviewers’ attention may be wandering, keep things brief.
What about psychometric testing?
Psychometric and abilities testing is a large specialist topic which probably deserves more attention than I can give it here. Testing usually occurs after the first round of interviews, when the employer has selected preferred candidates, and may be accompanied by reference checking. Try out some practice tests online to become familiar with the types of questions asked before you sit them, and make sure you are well rested. Please see a previous post on testing here for more information.
With careful preparation and practice you can master every element of the recruitment process and influence others’ perceptions of your skills, personal attributes and suitability. As a leader, you will need to master these events and be open to feedback to help you succeed.
Do let us know if you have any tips or suggestions on preparing for recruitment processes and interviews. Other tips and suggestions on interviews can be found in our previous posts.