Effective C-Level Job Interviewing Strategy

Effective C-Level Job Interviewing Strategy

Many executives fear interviewing almost as much as public speaking. Proper rehearsing overcomes this.

My 40+ year retained search experience has been predominantly focused on both traditional jobs (salary, bonus, & stock options) and investor C-Level hiring (salary, bonus, required equity investment & stock options). I have concentrated in the lower middle market representing manufacturing, industrial and specialty chemical companies with sales of $10M to $100M. Candidates preparing for either a CEO, CFO, COO or CSO job interview require a more hardball strategy and execution than applicants for a bookkeeper, facilities manager or purchasing agent jobs.

Beware of interviewing advice from books, blogs and executive coaches focused on propping up mediocre or “stretch” job candidates by offering slick answers to typical job interview questions. This would require the interviewer having an excellent memory and delivery but hide key job incompetencies. In Texas, this job applicant would be called “big hat, no cattle.”

My proven interviewing strategy is for highly qualified and interested C-Level job candidates lacking confidence who may not be great interviewers. I am not trying to help unqualified job candidates purposely con their way into landing that job at all costs.

I have sat in dozens and dozens of job interviews where the client will typically ask my candidates to “tell me about yourself” (see my blog on the Perfecting Your Three Minute Personal “Elevator Pitch” on my LinkedIn site). Do not get caught off guard by this interview question. Expect it. Avoid a rambling answer. Practice beforehand in front of your spouse, friends, the bathroom mirror, even on video using your iPhone. During your live interview, execute your elevator pitch smoothly and pace yourself. Make and maintain good eye contact with your interviewer.

How can the C-Level job candidate gain confidence and get control of their interview? By connecting on your current and past job performance to the profitability of your employers. Simple, straightforward. I can assure that a private equity group (PEG) company ownership lists profitability as their prime objective in buying any portfolio company. Now they seek a C-Level investor job candidate to help grow their company’s equity and share in the liquidity event with any hired C-Level candidate after this company is resold.

Generally speaking, a typical VPHR is a politically correct job interviewer who will interview a typical standard company C-Level job candidate more about their “soft skills.” How were you rated in your last 360-degree performance appraisal by your subordinates? This will include determining the potential company culture/candidate match. Does this candidate know how to terminate an individual properly to avoid a lawsuit? Is the candidate an inclusive decision maker? I would bet a lobster that the subject of how profitable the candidate’s current and former employers were would not enter the typical middle market VPHR C-Level job interview.

Contrast that experience to a job interview with the boss to whom any C-Level interviewee hire would report. This is typically more no-nonsense, cut to the chase lay our cards on the table encounter. The boss wants to discuss your employers’ EBITDA, profitability, turnaround numbers, expenses, labor rates and sales growth. This fact applies to any C-Level function. What effect did this job applicant have on company profitability during your last job tenure and the prior job?

So, with profitability as your ultimate focus, the first step in building up a C-Level job candidate’s interviewing confidence begins when they write their “Indiana Jones” Bio. See my blog, Writing Your Indiana Jones Bio, on my LinkedIn site for more information. The next step is to write their resume that is eventually provided to the C-Level job interviewers. Lastly is during their job interview itself. Think about a few exhibits you have from your past job performances that would show how your function impacted the profitability of your employer.

For current C-Level job interviewers reading this blog post, compare my advice on this profitability focus with your current resume. Are there too many job responsibilities expressed regarding direct reports, goals, and objectives? What about your job performance results? Are there too many adjectives including great, good, productive, dynamic instead of some of these examples:

Company profitability increased ___ %, DSO improved under my direction from 45 days to 15 days, I reduced excess inventory ___ % contributing to the bottom line or improved cash flow reducing bank debt ___ % in 3 years.

To reinforce your resume’s results claims, bring along a few examples of outdated spreadsheets indicating company turnaround you spearheaded from negative EBITDA to increased profitability 3 years in a row. Maybe it’s a chart showing improved top line growth based on your entering new untapped markets? You get the idea.

Pick up my book, Skin in the Game, on Amazon here.


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