PrincePerelson & Associates

What Top Executives Look for When Interviewing Candidates

Do you remember your first job interview? Perhaps you were trying to get your first summer job or pay your way through college. Chances are the position was probably not prestigious, the pay was not great, and the bar was not all that high. But we all start somewhere.

Now that you’ve finished your degree, racked up years of experience in the industry, and rounded out your resumé, your goals are much loftier. The c-suite is where you’d like to be, leading the company from the top and making important decisions. Before you waltz into your interview with top executives, though, you should understand how this interview will differ from all the others you have had over the years.

The Perspective of a Leader

Due to their position within the company, c-suite executives generally view candidates differently from lower and mid-level managers. While your previous boss was concerned that you had the proper skills and training to complete your daily tasks, top-level executives will be less concerned with the nitty gritty of your abilities. Your skills are still vital. However, your interviewer will take a more holistic view of your talents, skills, and experience.

As a member of the c-suite, top executives cannot dwell on the minutiae of what happens in the ranks. They depend on lower-level managers to ensure the work gets done. These top leaders must take a step back and consider the corporation as a whole. Where is it now? Where is it going? And what do we need to get there?

This unique view of the business affects not only their day-to-day decisions but also the questions they ask in interviews and the answers they hope you can provide.

What Top Executives Want

Understanding what the c-suite hopes to hear in your interview can help you change your mindset and phrase your responses in a way that resonates with them, making you a stellar candidate.

A Well-educated Candidate

Those applying for top leadership positions probably all have a good deal of traditional education, as well as training and certifications under their belt. That will not set you apart from other interviewees. The candidate that stands out is the one that has taken time to educate themselves. Before your interview, do your research and learn everything you can in these three areas:

  • The Position – Familiarize yourself with the specific requirements and be prepared to explain how your skills and experience fulfill each one.
  • The Company – The more you understand about how the company operates, the more successful you will be in selling your strengths as an asset to solving problems and overcoming hurdles. Learn as much as possible about the company culture, corporate strategy, financial position, and goals for the future. Also, know who you will be working alongside. How will you fit into the c-suite?
  • The Industry – You may be well-versed in your particular industry from the perspective of your past employment. Now is a great time to reach out to your contacts working in other areas or for different companies to build a more comprehensive view of industry trends and challenges.

A Forward-thinking Individual

Individuals in c-suite positions make decisions that guide the organization’s future direction. To keep up with competitors, they must constantly learn and watch the horizon as the industry changes and evolves.

Applicants who demonstrate curiosity and a natural appetite for learning about new and changing trends will likely rise to the top of the list of candidates. Your educational pursuits may appear on your resumé as courses taken, certifications obtained, or conferences attended. These outside pursuits also provide a setting where you can further develop your network of industry contacts and learn about new ideas, perspectives, or processes.

Constant and consistent education is necessary to perform well as a top executive.

Someone Who Learns as They Lead

At the c-suite level, interviewers will often rely on behavioral interviewing techniques to determine whether a candidate is capable of performing well in a given position. This type of interview asks applicants to talk about past job performance, often in complex situations or times when they fell short. The goal of this type of questioning is not to uncover past mistakes. Instead, it is to evaluate how the candidate handled the situation and what their response reveals about them.

These questions are challenging to answer satisfactorily, as many candidates hesitate to discuss their shortcomings. It is essential to remember that your interviewer is likely less concerned with your poor decision than they are with what you did and what you learned after you realized the error. Did you try to ride it out, attempt to make a course correction, or enlist your team’s help?

Your answers to these tough questions should be straightforward. You are not trying to convince your interviewer that you were right. A factual explanation of the situation will demonstrate your business-like approach to the problem and that you can remain calm and collected in the face of scrutiny.

Applicants Who Ask Questions

At the end of your interview, you will have the opportunity to inquire about the company, the position, or your coworkers. The topic is up to you. What you ask about reveals your thought process and what is most important to you. Your interview is not the time to dive into the benefits package or work-from-home options. However, it is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the company’s future and how you might fit into it.

  • What is changing in the organization? What might be different in one year or five years from now?
  • What are the most significant problems facing the current leadership?
  • How does the organization measure success? How will your work contribute?

It is best to avoid questions that your interviewer can answer with quick yes or no answers. Listen closely and be prepared to ask follow-up questions. Your ability to express yourself clearly and listen intently will help you build a rapport with the c-suite and showcase your interpersonal skills.

An interview with top executives for a c-suite position is unique, as the spotlight shifts from your ability to perform tasks to your skills in achieving long-term goals. Understanding what these executives are looking for in their ideal candidate can guide you as you prepare to demonstrate your ability to take the reins and lead the company.

Many companies who are searching for top talent for their c-suite partner with a recruiting firm. Staffed by professional job recruiters, these firms help connect talented candidates with open positions. They can also assist you in finding the perfect c-suite position and prepare you for that all-important interview.