The Seven Deadly Interview Sins

Interview SinsAs executive recruiters, we are often coaches of senior executives heading for potentially huge new opportunities and we get to hear client feedback within hours. 

A lot of things can go wrong, but some of them are simple to address. Here are the Seven Deadly Interview Sins that can be committed by even the most senior executives looking for leadership positions at some of the largest and most dynamic companies in the world.

Not doing your homework. No matter how senior you are, failing to spend a couple of hours researching the company and the people you are likely to meet is fatal. No-one will hire an executive in the modern age who “wings it.” You may be an expert in the industry or function, but you need to be an expert in the company and where they are headed. The company will always be fascinated with any ideas or questions you have about their future and any preparation in this regard will be powerful.

Failing to dress for success. You’d think it would go without saying, but you don’t want your interview outfit to be a topic of discussion. Find out what people wear at the company and dress accordingly. We had one high potential candidate go to an interview at large and cutting edge media company with no socks. That was all anyone could remember about him. Admittedly it was a “hip and cool” media company, but he misjudged fatally. The personal assistant to your host can advise. When in doubt, dress as though you are going to a client meeting.

Showing up late. Again, it may seem obvious, but I believe only about 75% of people are punctual and the rest are chronically late. When interviewing, you want to be in the first category and send the message that you respect their time and that your schedule is under your control, not external forces.  Anticipating drive times and traffic contingencies is a preview on how you will run the business. I suppose there is five minutes grace for any business meeting, but after that, your star is falling.

Not answering the question that is asked.  It is remarkable how many candidates resist giving a simple answer to a direct question and it is remarkable how often hiring managers tell us after the interview that the candidate “really didn’t answer the question.” This is not a media interview, where you can dodge a question you don’t want to answer. If you want to maneuver the conversation, answer the question that is asked and then explain your point of view, ideally with examples or facts.

Failing to credit the team. Or conversely, failing to credit yourself. All success is a combination of team effort and individual performance. Make sure you are clear about what you achieved and how you helped build a team that got it done. Examples of team members who followed you from job to job are always a good sign for a leader. Give specific examples of your individual contributions and your team building skills.

Talking too much. If you find yourself talking for more than 2-3 minutes, stop. This is not a time for long stories on your many successes. The hiring managers have an agenda they and you are probably spending too much time on one item. An hour long interview should be a high-speed exchange on a variety of topics in addition to your background. Listen carefully. Be yourself. Use your humor. They are more likely to hire someone who doesn’t fit 100% of the criteria if they like you and talking too much does not help build a relationship.

Not getting your agenda on the table. If you have done your homework you should have a strong feel for the key attributes of the position and have thought through some talking points. Writing down 3-4 reasons why you are a great candidate should be part of your preparation. You may think you know why you are a great fit, but it helps to spell it out in as natural way as possible during the course of the conversation.  Part of your agenda must always be a forward-looking summary of how you can help them achieve their goals.

Though these mistakes may seem very basic, we see them made by veteran executives applying for high-profile jobs, some combination of which may have spoiled the opportunity.  Any interview candidate can easily avoid committing the Seven Deadly Interview Sins and keep the focus on credentials, style, and plans for helping the company succeed.

Originally published by President & CEO



Ted Pryor

Ted Pryor

Ted Pryor is a Managing Director with Greenwich Harbor Partners. He focuses on senior-level executive recruiting in Media, Technology, and Digital Marketing including general management, sales, marketing, digital strategy and customer experience. He has over 10 years of experience as a senior executive at GE Capital and over 20 years in corporate finance. He has also been CFO and CEO of a venture-backed start-up company.

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