How to Avoid an Executive Job Interview Disaster

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Setting Yourself Up for Executive Job Interview Disaster

Jack, an accomplished and talented Sales Vice President, can only thank himself for the way his promising interview ended with a perfunctory “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” dismissal. He’d just been congratulating himself on how his high-power executive resume had won him this sought-after interview, and on how well the interview seemed to be going–just before he shot himself in the foot.

To this executive’s bafflement, the atmosphere in the room seemed to chill after he said, “I don’t know exactly what products your company manufacturers or what markets it serves, but my 15+ years of award-winning sales leadership results make me positive that I can dramatically boost your revenues and profits.” From this point, the interview goes downhill.

Sporting a deer-in-the-headlights look, Jack is puzzled at what went wrong. Unfortunately, he had made one of the worst and potentially fatal mistakes that can be made in the interviewing process: arriving unprepared. He had not researched and learned everything he reasonably could about the company, its industry, vision, products, markets, customers, issues and challenges, financial health, etc. By showing his lack of knowledge, his candidacy was immediately eliminated from consideration.

The interviewer could not be blamed for thinking, “If this candidate has so little interest in us, why should we be interested in him?” Not only has he offended the potential employer and committed a major faux pas, he has also put himself at a disadvantage with regard to touting his skills as they apply to this company and the bottom-line benefit he might bring. He found himself poorly equipped to paint a picture of how what he had to offer was specifically matched to that company’s needs.

To look at this from another perspective, why on earth would Jack have interviewed with a company that he knew almost nothing about in the first place? Would you make a major consumer purchase without researching different brands and their features and benefits? Most of us would agree that selecting an employer is much more important than buying an automobile or refrigerator! His relationship with his employer is a critical one: Jack’s current livelihood and future earnings, success, personal satisfaction, and ultimate career path will be greatly affected by the employer choices he makes along the way. There is no way he can know that this company is right for him if he hasn’t taken the time to learn all he can about it!

Avoiding Epic Fail on Your Executive Job Interview

If you are like me, you shudder at what happened to Jack. This failure vividly illustrates the importance of intelligence gathering regarding companies before you ever set foot in the interview room.

You may be wondering, “How can I best gather this information and avoid a scenario like the one above?” The simple answer is: Be sure to do your homework.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the easiest and fastest ways to find the information needed to both evaluate a company’s fit with your career needs and prepare yourself to ace that interview, shown below.

Give Your Favorite Search Engine a Workout

Unlike the pre-Internet days, today you have at your fingertips information about everything you would want to know about an employer you are considering. Query the company at major search engines such as Google and Bing. By trying different engines, you will get a broader range of results to help you round out your picture.

A valuable source for information will of course be the company’s own commercial website. You’ll want to spend substantial time reviewing it thoroughly. But don’t stop there.

Review articles that mention the company and any blogs where it is discussed. (This is often a good way to learn less favorable facts about the company’s dealings with its employees and also to gain insights into its corporate culture.) A visit to Glassdoor can also provide great insights into how happy their employees are as well as many other facts about the company.

Peruse summaries of the company contained on the websites of Wall Street analysts, business periodicals, etc. Study industry and market analyses to gain a perspective of the company’s current and emerging challenges and opportunities.

Visit Company Information Sites Such as Hoovers and Vault

Some of these sites are free, some carry a fairly nominal cost, and others involve hefty fees. You will find many by querying any search engine with phrases like “company information,” “company profiles,” etc. Here are a few of my favorites:

Hoovers has long been known as an excellent source for extensive company information, but be aware that a very limited portion of the information there is free.

Corporate Information provides free snapshot reports on all companies, and expanded information for a fee.

Vault offers basic company information for free, and expanded information with membership. The site spotlights employers, displays employee surveys, and provides ranking lists.

Forbes provides a variety of lists such as the 400 Best Big Companies, 200 Best Small Companies, Fastest-Growing Techs, Largest Private Companies, Global High Performers, and others.

Fortune provides lists of the Fortune 500, Global 500, Best Companies to Work For, etc., with reports on them and links to News, Analyses, Blogs, and Press Releases

The Inc. 5000 lists and briefly describes the nation’s fastest-growing privately held companies.

AnnualReports offers free and easy access to companies’ annual reports.

Visit an Old-School Resource: The Public Library

Nowadays many larger library systems allow card holders remote access via the Internet, or you can find information the old-fashioned way by visiting the library in person and enlisting the assistance of the often amazingly helpful research librarian.

Valuable resources to be found in your local library include databases of periodical articles such as Onefile and Proquest, Standard and Poor’s Industry Surveys, Mergent’s company overviews, and a variety of business directories. The New York Public Library publishes an online, printable guide to searching for company information that is available either in print or on the Web. You can access a copy at the NYPL website.

Pump Your Personal Circle for Information

You may be surprised when you ask your family, friends, and acquaintances if they know anyone who works at the company. If you are lucky enough to identify one or more such treasure troves of information, interview them thoroughly to get an insider’s perspective.

Leverage Social & Professional Networking Sites

First, look up the company on LinkedIn and review the company page carefully. Follow any links you may find there.

Secondly, in the process of using the above techniques, you will identify names of people who work for the company. With this information in hand, search for them on networking sites such as LinkedIn and even Facebook, and read their profiles carefully. See if you can find their Twitter account and read through their tweets.

By doing these things, you will likely uncover links to articles by or about them, their personal or business blogs, etc.

You may even be able to strike up an acquaintance with one or more employees at your target company. Wouldn’t it be great to arrive at the interview able to drop the names of a few people in the company?

For a Successful Executive-Level Job Interview, Don’t Be Like Jack

The bottom line is that it is so easy nowadays to find a wealth of information about a company you are considering or one that you are scheduled to interview with that there is just no good excuse not to do so! Shame on the candidate who shows up at the interview without substantial knowledge about the company whose representative is sitting on the other side of the desk!