Top 5 tips : How to Nail the Perfect Executive Interview

I believe in keeping things simple. So, here is the simple “tell it as it is” 5 key points for nailing the perfect interview, and getting that elusive big job.

1. Pre work. Know your stuff. Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.

2. Nail the first 5 minutes. First impressions are everything. Go overboard and take a risk by getting out of your comfort zone, and get them out of theirs.

3. Whatever happens be positive, enthusiastic, engage and smile a lot.

4. Be authentic about your journey – warts n all. Just don’t make them bitter warts.

5. Prepare lots of relevant and thoughtful questions to help ensure the conversation is genuinely two way.

That’s the substance done. If you were tempted to click the link due to a curious or desperate desire to know the secret sauce to getting hired, then good luck to you and on your way. That list is the right stuff and will help you.

However if you’re interested in the back story, if you want to know the finale to the roller coaster ride of emotional turmoil that led me to this place, and if you’re happy to experience a bit of unadulterated self exposure and hyperbole, then read on. Because after a year of coming to terms with being on the outside looking in, of getting old and grouchy, and of fighting hard to not become a victim of circumstance, as pretty well depicted in any number of previous strangefish updates, then this is the one giant two fingered salute back to the big corporate world, that I am now, once again, irreparably tied to. I finally got re-hooked!

The story went like this. I recognised an opportunity was likely to arise by READING THE INDUSTRY PRESS – not my natural “read of choice”, but needs must – and noticing an executive “moving on” for pastures new from a key role that I knew I would be interested in. I had met the global MD of this organisation once, when I had forced myself out of my comfort zone and ATTENDED A NETWORKING FUNCTION. I emailed him directly and followed up with a call having found the business card he had given me at our meeting. He put me in touch with the Executive recruiter together with a seemingly positive email about me which he copied me in on. I called the recruiter, whom it just so happened I had already spoken to a month previously having cold called him on the back of a recommendation. So, THE EXEC RECRUITER ALREADY KNEW OF ME and was perhaps put on the back foot by my proactive stance. Guilt is a wonderfully effective recruitment tool.

On to the actual process. I did my research. Not just the easy stuff about the company strategy, history, challenges and financials, but also some real digging about the people. I spoke to people who could GET ME THE REAL INSIDE VIEW of the business and what needed fixing. I found some gems. Huge gaping factions, massive functional silos and deep mistrust. Gold, to be used sparingly but effectively at interview stage, but if used well it would cast a shadow over almost every other candidate. I knew this as I had also taken the time and research to FIND OUT WHO I WAS UP AGAINST. Stage 1 screening and the first formal interview went well, mainly as they were with the recruiter, and I could already tell he was not bold enough not to have me on the final list given the direct route my application had taken.

Final interview and I was given a choice. Skype or jump on a plane at my own cost and make it face to face. I took this to be a test. I spent the money and went for FACE TO FACE – always the best option, and you have to speculate to accumulate. I was the only one of the final 4 that thought so.

And the big interview itself? Suffice to say that until now I’ve had a lifetime of wariness and self doubt about my performance at interviews. It started early. Straight out of university I went for a job that I didn’t want in the financial services sector, and vividly remember a “Mr Maurice Schlader” informing me at the end of a tortuous hour that “frankly, Mr ‘Fish’, I don’t see why any company worth its salt would give YOU a job. Ever.” Words that stayed with me hauntingly for more than a while. A few years later, just when I had almost got over this, I landed my first internal promotion, and was understandably feeling good. After a couple of weeks I got the informal interview feedback over a beer from my new boss, “well, to be honest you completely screwed up the interview and came across as a complete moron, but as you were the only candidate, I had to give you the job”. More gentle polishing of the ego. Since then, strangely, I have tended to stick with only a few companies, and have moved based on reputation, or to roles led by people I already know, and who know me.

But this time, finally it was different. I only really knew this on reflection, but probably also, despite my intrinsic red flags, I knew during the interview it was truly going well. I was also helped by the immediate feedback from the recruiter, as he walked me to the lift, and asked me how I thought it had gone. I mumbled something about being my own biggest critic and that I hadn’t quite nailed the first five minutes as I’d wanted to, and he just pulled me aside and stopped. “Look, I don’t believe in giving feedback this early as a rule, as you can never really tell what people are thinking”. Great. “BUT, you were phenomenal in there. You completely knocked it out of the ballpark.” I floated down the 15 floors and back out onto to the street.

And so now on to the real business of living up to the self proclaimed hype and expectation. Delivering on the “massive potential” I explained so eloquently. Launching the “cultural turnaround” to rid the business of its “toxic environment” and “unleash its latent talent”. Oh, and delivering the numbers. Don’t forget that bit. But first, just for a short while, I’m going to laud it up a little. Because I truly thought the day may not come. And whilst it’s a million miles from the challenges in this cruel world that many have to face and overcome, all you can do in life is tackle what’s in front of you, in the best way you know how, and if it doesn’t work, then learn from it, and try again. Just when you’re considering giving up, you may get that elusive big win.


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