By the time people have worked their way up to the executive levels, they’ve generally had a lot of experience on both sides of the interview table. So it’s surprising that so many executive candidates continue to make essentially the same mistakes as more junior job seekers. Here are the top five missteps you can’t afford to make if you’ve got your eye on a corner office:
Not researching the company – Any candidate should spend some time browsing the company’s website, but executive applicants need to dig deeper. What is their business plan; who are their competitors; what are the major challenges and opportunities? The deeper your understanding of the company, the more clearly you’ll be able to communicate why you’re the right person for the job.
Not articulating the value of your skills – Platitudes are deadly in an executive interview, so instead of clichés, describe how your unique skills will add value. If you say “I have a gift for collaboration, not only with suppliers and internal teams, but also with competitors,” you’re opening up the possibility of joint ventures the company may not have considered. That’s a lot more likely to make the interviewer sit up and take notice than “I’m a people person”.
Focusing on salary and benefits – It’s a huge mistake to try and set your price before the company’s ready to “buy”. There’s a lot of latitude for compensation at the executive level and companies are willing to pay for top talent, so focus on convincing them that’s what you are. If you can establish how your unique strengths will contribute to achieving the company’s goals, the money will follow.
Criticizing past employers – This should be obvious, but it’s one of the most common mistakes. Negative comments make the interviewer wonder what you’ll say about your new employer down the road. Focus on the positives instead – what you learned, the skills you gained – and address any mistakes head-on. They’re going to check anyway, so be honest if you’ve been down-sized or fired, and use the opportunity to demonstrate your ability to deal with adversity and learn from your mistakes.
Not letting your passion shine through – At the executive level, no one is looking for melba toast. Employers want a leader, a unique individual with a backbone and distinctive likes and dislikes. What makes you excited to go into the office every day? Expressing that passion, energy and individuality will really make you stand out.
In general, remember that the bar is set much higher for executive candidates. It’s not enough to convince them you can do the job. You also need to demonstrate that your unique blend of skills, experience and personality will have an impact on the company that no one else could make.