Research, strategic planning, preparation and rehearsal for executive job interviews are more important than ever in today’s executive job market. Many job seekers don’t take the time, or don’t know what they need to do, to outshine the competition.
Part of job search preparation, and therefore interview preparation, includes working on personal branding.
Knowing and communicating your personal brand and unique ROI (Return on Investment) for your target employers will position you as a good-fit hiring choice for them.
Sameness won’t “sell” you to employers. Branding will help you differentiate what you bring to the table that no one else does. This is what you really need to put across in interviews. You’re not the same as everyone else. Make that abundantly clear in your interviews.
Also, 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 are the steps to take to brand your interviews. You should have already done some of this work, when you initially prepared for job search and created your personal marketing materials – resume, biography, LinkedIn profile, online profiles, etc.
Research Your Target Industry and the Company
Find out what issues and challenges your industry is facing right now.
Learn about the company’s past performance and future plans. Find out what challenges the company is facing right now, that you will be able to help them overcome.
Prepare to intelligently answer questions like “What do you know about our company?” and “Why do you want to work here?”
As you compile information about the company, rely on the personal branding work you’ve already done. Make note of your skills, strengths, and areas of expertise related to meeting the company’s current needs, aligning them with the personality traits you rely on to get things done.
Research the Interviewer
Google the names of your interviewers to read up about them and find a few points of interest to generate conversation. They probably have LinkedIn profiles. Review their career history and education – see if you belong to the same professional organizations, which LinkedIn Groups they belong to, and if you share any 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 in the Interview
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”.
Have a question or two to ask them – demonstrating your industry and company-specific knowledge – 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. Generate chemistry by speaking about the things you’re passionate about at work, your pivotal strengths, drivers and personal attributes . . . the things about you that have benefitted your employers.
Let them know what differentiates you from the other candidates they’re interviewing. As you prepare to answer the questions you can expect to be asked, align your answers with your brand and ROI.
Be ready to comfortably answer the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question that typically opens the interview. Craft a response that integrates your personal brand with the way you’ll help the company meet their current needs.
Which answer do you think will have more impact?
“I’ve been in medical devices product development for more than 10 years. My specialties are positioning, strategic planning, marketing, and commercialization.”
“People tell me my enthusiasm is contagious. For more than 10 years, I’ve been a tireless innovator in new product development of medical devices . . . particularly positioning, strategic planning, marketing, and commercialization. I envision opportunity where others see complexity, and thrive when tackling the complex, big money projects no one else can handle and the tough decisions that make others falter.”
You can see that the second version gives a feel for the candidate’s personal brand, and will generate chemistry better than the first one.
Tell Your Brand Story
Be ready to back up statements about yourself with examples that include quantified contributions to past employers. Numbers have great impact!
Develop career success stories to provide evidence of your brand and ROI, using the CARs, or Challenge – Actions – Results, exercise. Use your practiced stories to deal with behavioral-based questions, such as “Tell me about a time when you . . .”
Keep your most relevant CARs stories at-the-ready to interject into the conversation. These are contributions you want to make sure the interviewer knows about.
Prepare to Answer the Tough Questions
There are many typical questions you can expect to be asked in interviews, such as “What are your greatest strengths?” and “What are your greatest weaknesses?”
But there are also questions that may come out of left field, such as “What has been the greatest disappointment in your career?”
Spend time preparing your answers to questions like these, and rehearse your answers:
- 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?
. . . And Prepare to ASK the Right Questions
Savvy job seekers also prepare a list of questions that they will ask the interviewer.
Remember that 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, and take notes.
Here are the kinds of questions you should be asking interviewers:
- 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?
- If there’s a job description, may I see a copy of it?
- What will my first assignment be?
- What are the prospects for growth and advancement?
- [If this is a short-term consulting position] How long do you expect the project to last?
- 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?
- [As things are wrapping up] What are the next steps? I’m very interested in this position, will you consider me for further interviews? When will I hear from you? May I touch base in a week to see how things are moving along?
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, bring your list to the interview, along with several hard copies of 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 materials you sent to interviewers (resume, biography, 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!
Send Thank You Notes to Every Interviewer
Did you know that most job seekers do NOT send thank you notes? Those who DO send them stay top-of-mind with employers and impress them with their thoughtfulness.
I often hear stories about job seekers who didn’t get the job, but sent thank you notes, and eventually landed the job when the first hire didn’t work out. Employers were that impressed with the fact that they had sent thank you notes.
Sending a hand-written, snail-mailed thank you is the best way. Use this as another opportunity to reinforce your brand and good-fit for the job and the company.
Preparing well to communicate your personal brand and ROI to your target employers takes a lot of time and effort. But putting in that extra work can mean the difference between doing a good interview, and truly differentiating yourself as the best fit and landing the job.
More About Executive Job Search
[This article was first published for my Personal Branding Expert gig on Job-Hunt.org, a leading online portal for careers and job search.]