When it comes to job interviews, tech executives – those at the vice president or C level – face the same challenges as application developers, project managers or anyone else: They have to prove their technical skill, demonstrate knowledge about their prospective employer and its industry, and convince interviewers that they can handle the challenges they’ll face if they get the job. At the end of the day, that means they have to prepare for their interview just as carefully as anyone else.
We asked Jason Kranz, a partner in the Menlo Park, Calif., office of search firm Heidrick & Struggles, to share his thoughts on what executives need to consider before they sit down at the conference table.
- Don’t Talk Too Much: One of the most common mistakes people make in interviews is that talking a lot, rather than listening, will yield favorable results. “If you talk 55 minutes in an hour interview, you’re likely offering inconsequential or irrelevant information,” Kranz says. “A good ratio is when you’re talking about 60 percent of the time.”
- Preparation is Everything: More than 30 percent of executives don’t do their homework on the company that they’ll be interviewing with. They either feel they’re a shoe-in for the job because the company contacted them first, or it’s with a competitor whom they think they know everything about. Says Kranz: “It’s surprising that with as much information that is available on a company, people don’t read analysts’ reports, industry publications, or even the company’s website to understand the challenges of that company.”
- Use Real World Examples: When faced with interview questions, roughly 70 percent of executives often respond with theoretical examples of how they would handle a situation, or use their industry knowledge to describe what type of action the situation calls for. Don’t do that, says Kranz. Instead, rely on real world examples. “If an employer asks why you have had success in your CIO career, most candidates ramble on for 20 minutes about their knowledge of technology or cycles of growth,” he observes. “But companies want to hear real world examples. You need to say, ‘here’s what I faced, here is the strategy I used and this was the outcome.’ You need to demonstrate you have scar tissue. Nothing is more powerful than real world examples.”
- No B.S.: “One mistake people make is they pretend to know something, when they don’t,” Kranz says. “Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know about a particular technology or industry, but then show examples where you have come up to speed quickly on new markets or technologies.” It’s pretty clear when the B.S. meter is running: It starts when you begin to talk in circles.
- Develop a 90-Day Plan: Employers rightly get excited by intelligent questions from candidates. To come up with some, pretend that you’ve been hired and need to gather as much information as possible to develop a 90-day plan for your new job. Says Kranz: “Framing it this way will define the questions you ask in the job interview to provide the granularity you would need if you had this role.”