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Turning the Tables:

The Executive Interviewer Becomes the Interviewee

Executive interviewee looks appraisingly at her interviewer

The Alexander Group has interviewed its share of executive candidates, and (as revealed in our “Candidates Do the Darndest Things” article series) they don’t always make the best impression: Dressing too fashion-forward, bringing a significant other, or ordering a three-course meal for a coffee meeting are just a few examples… and that’s just scraping the surface. Even extremely qualified, accomplished executives have been known to display bad judgment.

But the same can also be said for the interviewer. We asked one C-suite executive—a candidate recently presented by The Alexander Group—to turn the tables and tell us how interviewers, too, occasionally do the darndest things. Here is her take on how those interviewing executives can improve their interviewing skills, submitted, she says, in an effort to make interviews “better for all”:

During a recent search for my next professional opportunity, I interviewed with several senior-level executives including a number of CEOs. Participating in these interviews prompted me to reflect on my own interview style and behavior. I believe my interview skills to be OK; not awesome, but not the gum-chewing-um-like-um-maybe-sort-of-dead-fish-handshake type of candidate either.

The experience also prompted me to reflect on the behavior of those who had interviewed me. Recalling a very old Saturday Night Live sketch, "Point/Counterpoint" (with acknowledgement and apologies to 60 Minutes), I’d like to offer comments on what it looks like from the other side of the table.

  • Manners. Please remember that I, the candidate, am there because someone on your team acted on your directive to get me there. Whether you are trying to woo me, or allowing yourself to be wooed, at least be present in the moment. Yes, unexpected things come up; yes, your day is packed with meetings and critical tasks. But yawning, taking calls, or continually shuffling through papers on your desk is rude and inexcusable. A special note on yawning: Please keep in mind that no matter how hard you try to hide it or swallow it, it shows. Your face contorts in an odd manner and holds there for a moment until the yawn passes—you know it and I know it.
  • Endurance. Unless you are assessing someone to be a toll collector on the parkway, an interview is really not the time to test the limits of a candidate’s bladder. You spend inordinate amounts of time offering a candidate coffee and water—lovely gestures to be sure—but if you are asking a candidate to interview with several people back-to-back, offering the candidate a restroom break is also appreciated. Please don’t make us ask to use the restroom; it makes us feel a bit less adult in an already challenging situation.
  • Preparedness. Chances are someone on your staff gave you my resume or CV in advance of our meeting. Choosing to read said document for the first time while I’m sitting in front of you is uncool; no, make that really uncool. When you, as the interviewer, fail to prepare even a little, you ask bad first interview questions like, “So, you are looking for a new job, right?”
  • Questions. The “Do you have any questions for me?” part of an interview is a time for the candidate to demonstrate that he or she has done some homework on the company. Please, please, don’t respond “good question,” or worse yet, “great question!” Were you expecting a bad one? It sounds like you were. Give the candidate some credit.
  • Style. Please, please don’t get cute with your questions. You are most likely not a psychologist, a behavioral therapist or a genius. Don’t ask me about my personal creed or my philosophy on life. We all know that the only time answers to those questions are ever really interesting is when a whole lot of alcohol has been consumed. Making me stumble around formulating a response without a decent bit of wine in me is painful for me and certainly maddening for you to have to endure.
  • Recall. Never forget what an interview is, in its purest sense: You, the hiring manager, ask the candidate questions in an effort to determine qualifications and overall fit for the position in question. Therefore, it is imperative that the person conducting the interview (YOU) ask questions. Perhaps even more importantly, have some recall of the question that you asked and the response given. Otherwise, you may awkwardly re-ask the same question. There is no clever way to cover up the fact that you are repeating yourself in an interview. It may be the one time that someone is truly paying attention to what you say.
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