How to prepare for an executive interview

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Stephen Tarrant. Published on 12 April 2017

Remember the basics

Thinking back to the interviews early on in your career, you’d probably spend a number of hours researching the company at which you were interviewing, writing up your notes, preparing answers to common questions, and thinking of your own questions to ask.

The important news is, nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter how senior you are, there are standard interview practices that should never be ignored. And as the old adage goes: fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.

Of course, you don’t want your answers to seem robotic or over-prepared. But when asked to reveal your weaknesses, you want to have prepared something that seems compelling and authentic without painting yourself as inept. Similarly, if quizzed on your biggest managerial regret so far, you don’t want to be floored into revealing anything that may hinder your chances of success.

Whether you’ve been headhunted or are meeting a potential employer for a casual coffee, spend time understanding their business’s operations and strategy, and prepare examples of past projects, future ideas and business wins that may be relevant to discuss.

Rehearse the traditional interview techniques

Depending on the interviewer and the nature of the interview, you may be asked competency-based interview questions, thinly veiled or otherwise, required a structured response. The answer? It’s still the STAR approach. Standing for ‘situation, task, action, result’, STAR is a behavioural interview technique that provides insight into your performance capabilities.

You’ll start by describing a situation – highlighting a recent challenge or situation you faced. This is followed by the task element – where you explain what you were aiming to achieve. Next, you’ll explain your action – articulating what you did, why you chose that option, and what your alternatives were. Then, you’ll detail the results – explaining what you achieved, whether you met your objectives and what the experience taught you.

You could show initiative and take things one step further; use the ‘What went well’ and ‘Even better if’ methods to emphasise which aspects of your activity were a success, and what you would improve upon. Critical hindsight demonstrates a proactive attitude to improvement despite your seniority.

Demonstrate knowledge and inquisitiveness

When preparing for interviews, we often advise candidates to employ a technique called ‘I know, I know, I don’t know’. This offers a way to demonstrate your interest and strategic understanding, while highlighting your initiative and investigative skills. So, if you’ve researched the company at which you’re interviewing, and can’t find information on their longer-term strategy, ask them using the ‘I know, I know, I don’t know’ formula.

Here’s one example:

“I understand your company has a burgeoning presence in Asia and you’re considering expansion there. But how will you carve out a niche given the fierce competition in the region?”

And remember, this formula can be applied to a range of scenarios, so practise employing it before your interview date.

Adhere to the four Ps

The four Ps, as they’re known, are the golden rules of interviewing. We’ve already covered ‘preparation’, and the second commandment is ‘presentability’, which should be self-explanatory. The third is ‘personality’ – i.e. showing the real, authentic you. After all, if you’re not an appropriate fit, it’s better to discover this at the interview stage rather than during your probation. The fourth is ‘positivity’, which is an irrefutably attractive and encouraging trait. We’ve also taken the liberty to add a fifth ‘P’, which is ‘punctuality’.

Drop the name dropping

An easy trap to fall into is dropping names of the more well-known figures from your industry you have worked with. Don’t name drop, no matter the circumstance. It can create an impression of someone trying to skate into success on someone else’s coattails. The way round it is to simply ‘level drop’ instead, by which we mean articulate the level of the individual you have worked with and concentrate on the work. Odds are, if they were worth name dropping, the interviewer will know exactly who they are anyway.

Put your headhunter to work

Finally, don’t be afraid to crack the whip – although working with Eton Bridge means you shouldn’t have to.

Make sure you have all the information you need to feel equipped and confident before stepping into that interview. It’s your recruiter’s role to help ensure you’re prepared and clear about what’s involved in the interview process.

After the interview, chase up both positive and negative feedback – whether or not you get the role. It’s important to know whether the interviewers have any concerns about you. You may have an opportunity to allay those concerns, or you may just be better prepared to pre-empt these issues during future interviews. Either way, when it comes to interview success, knowledge is power.


Stephen Tarrant
Associate Partner – Executive Search – Finance
T: 01753 303 600