The Spectrum Guide to nailing the interview

Chances are, as a senior executive, you may not have attended an interview for many years. Like any skill, the less you do it, the rustier you get. So, here is Spectrum’s 13-point plan to maximise your performance at interview.

  1. Do your own research. Before the interview, do as much research as possible into the company, the market, the opportunity. Ensure you know well the profile of the person you will be meeting. Ask relevant contacts for their insight. If a headhunter has introduced you, ask them everything they know about their client.
  2. Arrive 10 minutes early, but no more. Sitting in the company reception for a few minutes will tell you a lot about the company.
  3. First impressions really do count. Get you personal presentation right, and use the first few minutes’ ‘small talk’ to relax and build a rapport. A common interest, experience, contact with your interviewer will greatly help the opening minutes. Start on a good footing, and your interviewer will give you every chance.
  4. Listen, listen, and listen. Never interrupt, takes notes. Don’t make assumptions about the company.
  5. Keep it brief. Brevity is the sister of talent. When asked to tell the interviewer about yourself, give a very high level overview of the key points. Pick out the most relevant aspects. Do not talk for more than three minutes. Let the interviewer drive the meeting: if the interviewer wants more, s/he will certainly ask for it.
  6. Your interviewer is not (really) interested in you. Your interviewer is however very interested in what you can do for their business. The quicker the discussion gets on to this, the better.
  7. Treat the interview as one hour of free business consulting – not an “interview”. The reason you are there is to solve the business’ problem, you are not there to talk through your CV. Start the process of assessing the strategic challenges at the first opportunity.
  8. Ask questions. As a headhunter I learn as much – if not more – about a candidate from the questions they ask, rather than the answers they give. The more perceptive the questions, the more interested your interviewer will be. Write down key questions in advance.
  9. Be brave. Don’t sit on the fence. As a senior executive you will be expected to provide vision and inspiration. Don’t be afraid to provide it at interview.
  10. Challenge the interviewer. At least once, otherwise you may not be remembered.
  11. If asked to deliver a presentation, remember this is where it can – and often does – all go wrong. Again, be brief: five slides maximum. Your interviewers will probably only remember one core message, so give them three at most. Get to the post-presentation Q&A as soon as possible – again you are letting the interviewers drive the agenda and allowing them to access the information they want and need.
  12. Close strongly, but don’t close. Say you’ve enjoyed the meeting (if you have) and would welcome the opportunity to continue the discussion, but don’t ever put the interviewer on the spot and ask if you will be invited for a second. Do send a courtesy email after the interview – hardly anyone does this these days, which is a surprise.
  13. Finally, and most importantly, be authentic.