3 Executive Interview Mistakes to Avoid

I hear often from clients that they have no problem interviewing well. Many people are great at interviewing, but I’ll be honest, many are not.

When people feel confident about interviewing, it’s because they feel they can create rapport easily or articulate their experience well. These are great skills to have and are certainly necessary. But even if you’re doing these things, you may be making the following mistakes, whether you’re a mid-level professional or executive. Here’s what they are and how to avoid them.

  1. You don’t have a focus in mind for the first interview. Don’t bolt out of the gate in your first interview. You don’t need to have all your questions answered. Ask only questions that demonstrate a strong interest in the role and company. You can ask about the future of the company, role expectations, company culture, and leadership.

    Show enthusiasm for the role, company, and industry. If you come across as uncertain whether any of those are a good fit for you, the interviewer/s will be able to tell. This happened to me when I was interviewing in my 20s at an insurance company. I lost the offer to the other top candidate for one simple reason – they felt the other candidate was committed to working in insurance as a career. If I had showed more excitement and dedication to working in that field, I may have gotten the offer.

  2. You talk about your background and don’t align it with the company’s needs. Too many people ramble on about themselves when answering questions without linking their answers to the company’s needs. As you prepare for an interview, try to shape your answers using the You – Me – Us framework. That is, make sure your answer not only provides an example of what you’ve done in your past work, but also refers to how that experience could be an asset in the role for which you’re interviewing. In other words, you’re stating how your past experience - “Me” - benefits this company – “You” - when you work together “Us.” Practice so that you can state concisely and clearly the value you bring to them.

  3. You answer questions with examples that support only 1 or 2 of your strengths. When I help clients prepare for interviews, they often provide examples when answering my questions that support the same 1-2 strengths over and over again. An interview is an opportunity for you to showcase multiple unique strengths.

    For example, if you’re really good at developing a vision and strategy, the example you give in answer to one of the interview questions should support that. You are also great at financial management. Excellent – use another example to answer another question that supports that. Do you have other key strengths that would be important to this role and company?

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How to Focus and Improve Your Job Search

It’s easy to get pumped up when you’ve thought about looking for a new job. You talk to people, think about it, and start to put yourself out there. But if you haven’t created a strategy for how to go after that next job, it’s going to be rough and take a long time, unless you get lucky. And most of us are not in that boat.

Whenever a client says to me, “I’m open to anything. I’m a jack of all trades!” I get nervous for them. Why? Because if you don’t narrow down your targets, no employer is going to take the time to do it for you.  

Gone are the days where employers took a lot of time reviewing your resume to determine if you have all the characteristics and skills they need. They won’t take the time to translate what you do to what they do, or infer that you would know how to do X because you’ve done Y in the past.

When it comes to creating your job search strategy, here’s where you need to start. It’s all about refining your search.

Determine target companies. You might roll your eyes, but believe me, this will give you a lot of insight. Sure, none of us know every company located in our immediate area but once you start writing down companies you admire (near or far), you may soon discover a pattern. Think about companies you admire for their leadership, initiatives, mission, or customer service.

Take a good look at your list. Are the majority of them large companies or small companies? Startups or established? Examining it closely will give you some hints as to what you are seeking.

Identify industries. Don’t limit yourself to healthcare because you’ve worked in it for many years. There are many elements of the healthcare industry, and many industries that touch it. For example, there are medical device companies, hospitals, health-focused nonprofits, private medical practices, elder care facilities, and healthcare-focused tech firms.

There are industries galore that work with the healthcare industry as suppliers or in other capacities. Think insurance, equipment, technology, food and beverage, and more.

Review and engage with your network. There are a lot of people you know – from family and friends to former classmates (even those you don’t know who graduated in your year or different years!) to former colleagues.

Who are those people? Who works in one of your target industries and/or companies?

Don’t think of everyone as the key to get in the door. People may provide invaluable advice about your direction or give you new ideas. Others may introduce you to someone who can get you in the door. Engage with as many people as you can because building your network will get you a lot further now and later than applying blindly online. A quick, simple email exchange or phone call can lead to introductions, priceless advice, and new job opportunities.

Narrow your targets to refine your search. You will go far much quicker than if you are too broad with your strategy.

How to Begin Your Executive Job Search

Have you put your executive job search on the back burner because you don't know where to begin? 

Start by brainstorming companies. Don't limit yourself by industry or company size. If it feels overwhelming, set a timer to 10 minutes and write down as many as you can think of. Here are some questions to help you brainstorm:

★ What are the first brands/companies that come to mind? Don't overthink this!

★ What companies have I read about or have colleagues told me are great to work for? 

★ What companies do I admire for their mission, products, and/or customer service?

Add "Umph" to Your Resume

“I don’t like my resume. It doesn’t help me stand out.”

I hear this every single week.

Why do you feel that way? It’s probably the same reason most people do. When I look at a resume, most often I find that the resume does not show the strength of someone’s talent and ability. So of course you feel it’s blah.

There’s no strength to the resume because your strengths are not highlighted appropriately, so you won’t stand out.

How can that be remedied? I find there are three main culprits:

• Examples are not strong enough

• Words are not strong enough

• Accomplishments and awards are buried in job descriptions

Strengthen Your Examples

Most career profiles and job descriptions contain lists of responsibilities. Almost all the resumes they get will be people with similar qualifications, right? So they probably have the same or at least a very similar list of responsibilities on their resume. Who will stand out?

No one.

Not unless you use stronger examples. A lot of people think specific examples of work should be saved for a cover letter and/or interview. Don’t let this trap happen to you!

Examples with detail will demonstrate how you have performed your responsibilities. Use names of partners or clients (if it’s confidential, come up with vague descriptions). Include titles of people with whom you work. Incorporate numbers, such as numbers of attendees at a conference where you presented; how many people you trained or supervised; or the number of people in the organization you support as director of IT.

Most importantly, what outcomes did you achieve in each case, or aim to achieve if no result is yet evident (or if nothing came of it)? Don’t tell the employer you are results-oriented! Show them through these examples.

Isn’t it much more interesting to show what you’ve done than to have a laundry list of duties that mirrors everyone else’s?

YOU will feel better about your accomplishments when you present yourself this way, and in turn, you will stand out. If you stand out from the pack, the employer will want to talk to you.

Strengthen Your Words

When you write your bullets with specific examples, use strong language.

Use active voice. Start each bullet with a verb. You want to create a clear picture in the employer’s mind of what you did. Here are examples of some of my favorite verbs:

• Built

• Engaged

• Presented

• Selected

• Introduced

Extract Accomplishments and Awards

Too often I see achievements and awards buried in job descriptions. Pull them out!

Awards warrant a separate section of your resume because otherwise employers won’t see it.

You should write as if all of your job description bullets are achievements. Remember when I said to include the outcome or aim, if a result is not yet evident? These are all ahceivements. Forget about listing responsibilities first and bullets below labeled “accomplishments” or achievements.

Your resume is a story of your achievements, so strengthen your examples and your words to make it that way. That is how you will stand out.