Interviewing Best Practices

PE-Backed Executives, or Operators, face career transition situations more often than any other type of business executive. Some of these executives gain many interview opportunities for the roles they want yet fail to land their next job efficiently. One reason may pertain to interviewing skills.

The Operators, LLC runs a Career Resource Council peer group that hosts a monthly discussion, which is led by Adriana L. Cowdin. Adriana is a former PE-Backed C-Suite executive, an experienced large corporate executive, and an entrepreneur. She has leveraged her corporate experience for over 25 years serving as an Executive Coach and is the founder of Be Bold Executive Coaching. In her experience coaching 5,000+ executives, she’s proven that her clients land 90 days faster and earn at least 10% more in compensation on average.

This article is a summary of the discussion that Adriana facilitated on the importance of interviewing well.

The First Step - Determining if your interview skills are holding you back

Do you land interviews for jobs you want? If not, you should work on optimizing your personal brand and career kit (resume, LinkedIn profile, etc.). However, if you are landing interviews for the jobs you want but are not receiving offers, there is a good chance that you have opportunities to improve your interviewing skills.

Do your homework

Good preparation leads to good interviews. You’ll want to read as much as you can about the Company, the person you’re interviewing with, and recent news about the company. Also, try to discover more about the job itself by using sites such as GlassDoor. This site has a wealth of information including salaries, bonus opportunities, etc. for individual companies and, if your target company isn’t listed, it’s available by title, geography, and industry. When it comes to learning about those interviewing you, look at their professional and educational background, interests and hobbies (where do they volunteer, etc.), the summary section and so forth. The goal here is to find a nugget or two that you can use to connect on a more personal level. Remember, people hire people they connect with. Finding a way for the interviewer to remember you on a personal level is always a win.

Speak their language

Mine the job posting and/or description for keywords or phrases are repeated. Write these down and practice your interview answers incorporating these keywords or phrases. This is a way to subconsciously answer the question “Does this person fit our organization and culture?”

Terms that are repeated indicate the problems they’re trying to solve. Answering questions while using these terms naturally can serve to proactively address any objectives they may have.

Listen more than you talk!

The best interviews are those in which you can spend 75% of the time listening. Why? Because of Mehrabian’s Rule. Words are exactly 7% of what people remember about you. Tone of voice accounts for 38% of the lasting impact you make, but the winner is body language, which is responsible for 55% of people’s feelings about you. A good way to remember to listen more than you talk is to think that you have two ears and only one mouth!

The interview is not about using your voice to communicate information easily found on your resume. The only people who are even qualified for an interview are those who appear perfect or near-perfect on paper. 

Focus on being clear and concise while giving explicit examples. Then, ask quality, relevant, well-researched probing questions specific to each interviewer.


Consider Using The STAR Method

When answering questions or providing stories as examples, use the S.T.A.R. format (Situation, Task, Action, and Result). You’ll want to prepare and practice several STAR examples so that you’re confident when relaying your accomplishments. The best way to do this is by answering in a focused way with an example that’s relevant to the job and company you’re interviewing for. 

As an example, you will want the STAR examples to be sufficiently meaningful, impactful, and demonstrative of relevant results. Lastly, avoid getting caught up in the details. The trick is to be concise and well-rehearsed without seeming overly formal. Practice, practice, practice.


Practice makes perfect

Speaking of practice, consider doing mock interviews and soliciting feedback from family, friends, your partner, etc. If no one is available, record yourself on your phone and play it back. The good news about this approach is that 82% of employers use video interviews, giving you a chance to truly see how you’re showing up. Consider your tone of voice, energy, body language, and the words you choose. Note areas for improvement, write down the revised approach and do it again.


Manage your nonverbal communication

The key reason that some people interview well and others do not involves nonverbal communication. Those offered jobs are typically not hired based simply on the words they chose in the interviews. For some interviewers, an ability to use energy (level, strength, positivity) to influence, inspire, and change the emotional state of the interviewer is at the top of the list of success factors.  It takes conscious effort to be aware of nonverbal communication techniques, practice them, and utilize them in interviews.

Posture is an obvious area to focus on, but there are subtleties. Sit straight with good eye contact and be aware of your face. Smile, look ahead, not upwards or downwards, toward the interviewer. Lean forward in your chair because doing so indicates interest and enthusiasm. Smiling indicates approachability and friendliness. 

That said, you will want to mirror the body language of your interviewer. If he or she is relaxed and leans back, wait a few seconds, and follow suit. If they take a sip of coffee, wait a couple of ticks, and then do the same thing. Mirroring is a good way of establishing trust and subtly indicating you are a fit for the organization.

Dressing professionally is intuitive, but a great way to hint subtly that you are a fit with their organization is to wear the colors of their logo. It can be an accent (a tie or a scarf), but doing so is thoughtful and may create the sense in the interviewer that you’re a fit because you look like they do.


How to answer the most hated job interview questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself – This is the perfect opportunity to relay your personal brand. Add a personal anecdote or interest to ensure you come across as personable. Whatever you do, wrap it up within 30 seconds.
  2. Why did you leave your last job – The question serves as an opportunity to convey personal attributes, traits, and characteristics. Honesty, integrity, growth, and loyalty are attributes that might be discussed during your response to this question. Remain positive about your current/former employer and team members.
  3. What do you think of your boss – As with the last question, focus on the positives. Be prepared to cite several favorable attributes that you appreciate.  While you should take the high road, you can use this question as an opportunity to describe a situation or relationship with your future boss that might be more productive for you. However, when you mention traits of a future boss, be general and not specific. You will want the listener to see themselves in the person you’re describing.
  4. What are your strengths and weaknesses – The trick is to share strengths that are reflective of qualities or traits that they have stated they are looking for, while also demonstrating an ability to be vulnerable, humble, forthright ,and honest. When providing strengths, be sure to offer specific, tangible examples. When offering up strengths, ensure that they can be perceived as opportunities for improvement or that they can be perceived as situational.

    Cowdin suggests using the pig in a blanket methodology. This methodology is to wrap any weakness in the shroud of a strength. It’s important to be prepared for this question in advance. Obviously, you will want to avoid citing a weakness that is one of the important traits or characteristics mentioned in a job description. Also, be prepared to cite examples of action steps you have taken to mitigate the risks of your weakness or simply to grow from the awareness of the weakness. How are you addressing your weakness proactively?
  5. What is your salary expectation – A good tactic to address this question is to turn it around. “I do not yet understand the full scope of the position, expectations of the role, or your budget for this position. Can you share more with me so that I can provide a thoughtful answer?” Another option is to say something along the lines of  “Joining a company is about culture, fit, and the full compensation package. It is more than a simple salary.” If pushed to provide an answer, you can say “I have done my research on similar roles in similar companies, with my experience and my past salary level and the range is __. How does this align with your expectations and budget?”

    Even if they say you’re outside the range, if you are interested in the position, you can respond with, “I appreciate your transparency. How far apart are we? Do you think we can find a middle ground? I’d like to continue the conversation and learn more.”


Ask questions during the interview. The following are great questions to use.

  1. Six months from now, how will you know you have hired the right person?  The answer to this question will reveal useful insights about what they’re looking to achieve – outcomes, problem-fixes, or simply personality traits. However they choose to answer this question, you can use their answers in the interview and in future interviews to set you apart from the pack.
  2. What metrics will be used to evaluate and measure success in this role? You will want to ask this question to determine if they have identified how to measure success. If they have, you can use this to your benefit by citing examples of similar accomplishments in the past. If this question, and question 1 above, are not answered satisfactorily, or they struggle to answer the questions, you may use this insight to prioritize other job opportunities.
  3. Who do I need to focus on building relationships with to be successful in this role? – The answer to this question will provide intelligence for you on whom to research, which future interviews might matter most, and which traits or attributes might be viewed as most important in the role.
  4. If you had one piece of advice for the person coming into this role, what would it be? – As a result of asking this question, you will receive great insight on the corporate culture and how best to strive to fit in, right away.
  5. Can you walk me through the next stages of the hiring process?
  6. How can I show you that I’m the right person for this position? – Rather than paying strict attention to the answers to this question, you can leverage the response by sharing, again, how you are a fit. This is your closing argument, and you will want to have it well rehearsed.


Thank you notes.

Only 25% percent of interviewees write thank you notes, yet 70% of hiring managers say that they expect one! In fact, 68% percent said that receiving a thank you note impacted their hiring decision. Talk about an easy way to stand out and put yourself into the top 25% of the applicants!

So, to whom do you send thank you notes? Send a personalized thank you note to every interviewer you meet with. You’ll also want to send them to any assistant or coordinator that helped arrange the interview, schedules, travel, etc. In today’s remote-first world, email is the best format for this. However, to truly stand out, ask for their mailing addresses in the email thank you note. Then, send a handwritten thank you note. 

There are a few rules of thumb to remember when it comes to thank you notes. First, you should not expect a response. Be expeditious about sending them out – within the first 24 hours, ideally.  Personalize the note to each person you send one to and use a friendly tone. Make sure you say “thank you” sincerely and authentically. In addition to summarizing the key points of the interview, use the note as an opportunity to restate your personal brand and convey your interest in the role and the company. Be sure your writing is grammatically correct! And be concise, clear, clean and Be Bold!

A special thanks to Be Bold Coaching and Adriana Cowdin for leading the discussion in our Career Resource Council! For more information on Acing an Executive Interview or Executive Coaching in general, contact Adriana L. Cowdin on LinkedIn.

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