How to Nail the Interview: Late-stage interviews / CEO Interviews (9 of 9)

December 9, 2013


Our last installment in our series: How to Nail the Interview. This is a forum to discuss the different types of interviews that exist to help prepare you as a candidate. Why have you ended up in this particular format of interview? What are some common pitfalls to avoid? And what are some potential advantages to this type of interview that you can benefit from? Read on to find out!

Thank you to everyone for all the positive feedback about our interview series. It’s been very gratifying laying out our interview expertise in blog format. This series is by no means exhaustive. There are other types of interviews other than the ones we’ve outlined here. If you have any more to suggest, please do bring it up in the comments and we’d be pleased to do a bonus article. But in any case, here’s our final post in the series, the CEO interview.

What is it? The CEO is obviously the last stage of the interview process. The company has brought you to this point because you’re very close to closing the deal. But there’s also another factor to keep in mind: The company have asked you for another interview instead of just extending an offer for a reason, and that means you still have something to demonstrate in terms of fit. This interview is not the “rubber stamp” some candidates think it is.

Where an interview with a hiring manager is all about metrics and results, and an interview with Human Resources assesses soft skills, the CEO interview is all about that ‘magic match’. It’s usually a gut  decision that will push the deal over the edge. As Rosanna Palermo, one of Argentus’ top recruiters, counsels candidates: “When you get to this point, all the technical stuff has been taken care of. It’s going to come down to personality and fit.” Because of this it can be unpredictable.

Pitfalls: The biggest pitfall for the CEO interview is hubris. Don’t assume that just because you’re close to the finish line you have the job. People often make the assumption that 3rd or 4th interviews are merely a formality, but they’re not. You want to project the usual confidence that great candidates have, but you want to avoid seeming overconfident. You don’t want to necessarily treat a C-level interviewer more formally than you would an HR or hiring manager. But the worst thing you can do is come across as overly-familiar and send a message that you think you’ve got it in the bag. That is absolutely a deal killer.

At Argentus, we’ve seen candidates push themselves off the cliff at this crucial stage. Sometimes, it’s beyond the control of the candidate, and the CEO or high-level interviewer just doesn’t feel a good fit. But there have been a few sad cases where a CEO, the CFO or Chief Procurement Officer has formed this impression because the candidate acted like the interview was a formality and wasn’t able to speak as strategically as they should or address their accomplishments and vision for how they’ll fit into the role. Bronwen Hann, Argentus’ President, says: “CEOs have been known to make a gut decision about fit without providing a specific reason. Sometimes the person just doesn’t show the right energy or passion for the position and the company.“

Even though this type of interview is mainly about fit, that doesn’t mean there are really any steps you can take to go out of your way to present yourself as someone you’re not. Be honest and be yourself. Do some more research about the company and see what core values they try to represent, and think about how those values overlap with your own goals and ambitions as a professional. If you’re working with a recruiter, they may be able to give you some inside information about the company culture.

One final pitfall is that candidates in the late stage interview sometimes don’t adequately convey their sincere interest in the job. It seems obvious and it seems like a given, (why would you be at the interview if you don’t want the job, after all?) but it’s something you have to make a concerted effort to do, especially in a late-stage interview like this. Tell her/her how interested you are in the role.

Opportunities: One piece of advice for this type of interview is that research is important. You’ve probably already looked into the history of the company for you previous interview(s), but now is a time to look at recent company history and do some research about the CEO or C-level candidate themselves. Reach out to your network and see if anyone knows that person or has worked with them in the past. What are their strategic goals for the company? The CEO or C-level interview is more of a global discussion. It’s an opportunity to see the broad strategic view of where the company is heading, and an opportunity to orient yourself with that.

CEO Interviews can be either very straightforward or very tricky, so it’s hard to know what to expect going in. A piece of advice about this is to follow the interviewer’s lead. Mirror and match without being obvious about it. These are experienced people after all.  If they’re more formal, be more formal. If they want it to be more of a chat, be open to it being more of a chat. And although it’s hard to prepare for this, expect some curve ball questions.

As with any interview, be sure to have a few of your own questions ready for the inevitable “do you have any questions for me?” question at the end. At this stage of the game, you shouldn’t be asking too many questions, because it makes you seem as though you’ve failed to grasp the role from previous interviews. But have two or three questions. Unlike previous interviews, try to make these questions global and strategic, while still relating to your role in the company. For example, ask “what results do you want to see from this particular role in the next year?” or “What are the biggest challenges that the group I’ll be working with have faced in the past year?”

This is an opportunity to get buy-in from the highest level of the company and make a lasting impression, and if you have that, you have the job. Period.

Thanks again to everyone for reading this series, and stay tuned for our forthcoming “How to Nail the Interview” eBook that will consolidate all the information in the series into one package!

Thanks to Sam White our Research Specialist here at Argentus for designing and writing this series

Over and Out







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