Prepare to Ace & Brand Your C-level Executive Job Interview

by Meg Guiseppi on August 9, 2010

Your understanding of your brand and promise of value is solid. Your career marketing and brand communications plan is building and working for you – you’ll be landing interviews soon.

For many executives, this is where the scary part starts.

You may be cool and calm on the job – leading companies and global operations – but the mere thought of presenting and marketing yourself in an interview puts you in a panic.

Research, strategic planning, preparation and rehearsal for interviewing are more important than ever, if you want to position yourself as the best hiring choice for jobs that are a mutual good fit for you and the right organization.

Remember that many interviewers aren’t particularly good at interviewing. The better prepared you are to own the conversation and keep it focused on what you want to cover, the easier you make their job and the more you improve your chances.

Here’s what you need to get busy doing before you enter the interview. Some of these things should have been part of the work you did to create your career marketing strategy (resume, biography, online profiles, etc.) and job search campaign:

Demonstrate Your Industry and Company-Specific Knowledge

Research Your Target Industry

Find out what issues and challenges your industry is facing. Determine who the subject matter experts and key thought leaders are.

Research the Company

Prepare to intelligently answer questions like “What do you know about our company?” and “Why do you want to work here?”. You also want to be prepared to ASK intelligent questions about the company.

Learn about the company’s past performance and future plans so your interview will be more interactive.

Here’s how and where to conduct your research:

The actual job description is one of your best interview preparation tools. Go through the entire description and align each of the qualifications, skill sets, and personal characteristics with what you have to offer in that area.

If you’re working with a recruiter, ask them for all the information they can provide on the company and the position.

Contact the prospective employer to get specifics on the position you are interviewing for or ask for company literature.

Review the company website.

Get a subscription to ZoomInfo’s Fresh Contacts and view the company’s profile. Zoominfo boasts a database of 45 million professionals at 5 million companies.

Google the company name and products related to the position you’re seeking.

Check out the company’s LinkedIn profile.

Tap your own network. Tell them which companies you’re targeting and ask if they have connections they’ll share, see if they know a potential interviewer, and ask them for insider information about the company and job opportunity you’re seeking.

Research the Interviewer

Google the names of your interviewers to read up about them and find a few points of interest to break the ice at the beginning of the interview. They probably have LinkedIn profiles. Review their career history and education, see if you belong to the same professional organizations, see which LinkedIn Groups they belong to, see if you share the same interests.

Look for the interviewer on Twitter. Another way to break the ice at the start of the interview would be to mention something they recently tweeted. This also positions you as social media-savvy.

Break the Ice

Be ready to greet the interviewer with a firm handshake and pleasant, upbeat comment, “It’s a pleasure to meet you” or “Thank you for this opportunity” or “I’ve been looking forward to talking with you”.

Have a question to ask them, based on your research, that will immediately engage them and impress them that you cared enough to find out about them.

Look around their office and find some item to comment about – a photo, diploma, award, etc.

Brand the Interview

Reinforce your brand throughout the interview. Be sure the interviewer knows what your pivotal strengths, passions, drivers, and personal attributes are.

Let them know what differentiates you from the other candidates they’re talking with. As you work on the interviewing FAQs below, align your answers with your brand and value proposition.

Adjust your written brand positioning statement to comfortably answer the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” initial interview question.

For instance, instead of saying

“I’ve been leading global business development in consumer goods for over 20 years”,

Try something like this:

“For over 20 years I’ve been steering new vision to capture record-breaking double-digit revenue, market share, and profit growth for consumer goods startups and multi-billion dollar global brands.”

Then be ready to back up your statement with examples – tell your story.

Tell Your Story

Develop career success stories to provide evidence of your brand and value proposition, using the Challenge – Actions – Results (or similar) exercise. Use your practiced stories to deal with behavioral-based questions, such as “Tell me about a time when you . . .” See my post, Storytelling Propels Executive Branding and Job Search.

Prepare and Rehearse Your Answers to the Tough Questions

Here are some interviewing FAQs:

  • What is your greatest strength?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • Why did you leave your job, or why were you laid off?
  • How do you handle stress and pressure?
  • Describe a decision you made that was unpopular and how you dealt with implementing it.
  • Describe a decision that you made, or a situation that you were involved in, that was a failure.
  • What has been the greatest disappointment in your career?
  • How do you lead organizations?
  • How do you create a team spirit where everyone feels engaged?
  • How do you put in place the best processes to get things done?
  • How do you create core competencies?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • Why are you the best person for the job?
  • What are your goals for the next 5 years, and the next 10 years? How do you expect to achieve them?
  • What are your salary expectations both long-term and short-term?

And one of my favorites — How did you prepare for this interview?

To really make yourself crazy, check out the monster list of 2,000 Interview Questions from – organized by topics, including Achievement, Goals, Leadership, Compensation, Organization, Loyalty, Stress, Environment and much more. Note: scroll down to the bottom of the web page to find the question categories.

Know What Questions YOU Will Ask the Interviewer

Both of you are assessing each other for good fit. The interview process is part of your due diligence. Now is the time to find out if this job and company are really right for you. It’s okay to bring a written list with you to refer to. Here are the kinds of questions you should be asking:

  • What does your best-fit candidate look like?
  • Why is the position open?
  • What responsibilities in this job are really going to define success for this person?
  • What skills and qualities will be most important in this position?
  • May I see a copy of the job description?
  • What would the hired candidate be doing the first three months on the job?
  • What are the prospects for growth and advancement?
  • Are there any major changes coming internally that I should know about?
  • Where do you see this division/company in the next five years?
  • How can I demonstrate that I’m a good fit for this position?
  • What do you (the interviewer) like and not like about working here?
  • Are there any questions that you have for me?

Keep Your Professional References Informed

I’m assuming you’ve picked the right references – people who are qualified to speak intelligently and compellingly about your past performance, qualifications, brand, and good fit for the company. If you haven’t already provided the company with your references, you’ll may be bringing your list to the interview, along with your resume.

Let your references know who you’re interviewing with and when, so they’ll be prepared to say what you need them to say when they’re contacted for a recommendation.

Send your references the same personal marketing communications you sent to interviewers (resume, bio, LinkedIn profile, etc.), so they’ll be on the same page.

Keep your references in the loop as you move through the hiring process. And always, always thank them and find some way to give value to them. Don’t just tap into them for help. Give to get!


Executive recruiter Jeff Lipschultz’s e-book for, Successful Interviewing, What Candidates Need to Know.

Job-Hunt’s Job Interviewing Expert Laura DeCarlo’s series of posts on interviewing styles.

Barbara Safani’s e-book for Job-Hunt, Winning Negotiation Strategies for Your New Job.

Related posts here and on Executive Resume Branding:

10 Steps to an Authentic, Magnetic Personal Brand

What NOT To Do in a Senior-level Executive Job Interview

How to be a LOSER in Executive Job Interviews

Mastering the C-level Executive Interview

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