The worst is when you go to an executive job interview, especially when you made the second round, and it goes nowhere.

No job offer.

No callback.

You muster up the courage to call and they say, “we’ve gone with someone else.”

How could this happen? You googled “How to prep for an executive job interview” and followed the advice in the first 10 hits.

Guess what, that stuff was baby advice.

Like BASIC INTERVIEW ADVICE. You went to a CEO interview with baby advice. You used the same phrases and formulas that new grads use.

Basic interview advice includes stuff like:

  • prepping your “Tell Me About Yourself
  • asking smart questions
  • using the SOAR or STAR method
  • prepping for questions like”what is your greatest weakness”

All of these are fine to prep for, but an executive-level person needs to go beyond the basics for an executive job interview.

They are hiring for someone to take their organization to the next level, you gotta show up as NEXT LEVEL.

Don’t trust your future and reputation to a few high-ranking articles from 5 years ago. Because the chances are, the next person they interview also did the same as you.

And the next person.

And, so on, until someone shows up with an executive presence, business acumen, solid examples, and a plan that makes hiring them a no-brainer.

That could be you. You could be a no-brainer.

Here are some signs you need to improve your executive interview skills:

  1. You get referrals from your network, but you don’t make it past the second interview.

If your reputation is strong and people are referring you for great roles, that is awesome. That means you have a strong career brand.

What could be going wrong though: It could be that people in your network don’t know what you are good at. Or your interview skills are underdeveloped. You have the “on paper” qualifications but can’t back it up verbally. That is an issue because an executive needs to be able to convince people, board, staff, investors, etc. in their strategy and execution. If you can’t sell yourself, how can you sell that?

2. You keep getting told there is nothing wrong with your resume, or interview skills, and they’ll be in touch.

There is a chance this might be true, but I worked at a recruiting firm and we treated awesome candidates a lot differently than sub-par candidates.

Awesome candidates got treated to things like having their resume updated by a pro, invitations to networking events, regular calls to keep them informed about new projects, and sometimes gifts. If your recruiter said, “we don’t have anything for you right now, but we’ll call you when we do”, and they haven’t called you in two weeks. That could mean you aren’t showing up as a great candidate.

But why won’t they just tell me that I need work?

  • they don’t want to hurt their reputation/relationship with the person who referred you
  • they don’t have the faith that giving you feedback will be a quick process, and they don’t have time to help you
  • you appear overconfident and they are worried about an aggressive response.
  • Their job is to find the best people for the job. Your job is investing in and improving your executive presence. Your job is knowing how you come off.

How is an executive interview different than a manager interview?

The expectations are different. You are expected to have:

  • business acumen that is off-the-charts
  • know what you are great at
  • back up your experience
  • stay on track with your answers
  • have a plan
  • show you can execute, just as well as you can strategize

How do you prep for this?

  • Find or hire a neutral person, who knows about hiring executives, to hear your introduction and answers. Ask for direct & specific feedback
  • Know your career brand and stories to back it up
  • Practice with a coach, friend, or video

I just worked with someone over two sessions to get her ready for a senior level interview.

  • During the first meeting we assessed her answers and delivery, she was given specific tips on how to improve. I use my past experience as a theatre practitioner to ensure she is making a positive impression and holding her own.
  • We compared her interview delivery style and examples to that of the target company. We adjusted the answers to ensure everything was relevant to them.
  • She researched and practiced her answers between sessions.
  • The second meeting was a mock interview with even more advanced tips, super small ones — like how she held her neck when answering — were addressed to ensure the best possible impression.
  • We planned what resources, plans, and examples she needed to have on hand to back up her vision.
  • She was confident for the interview and self-aware. You can too.