By: Rick Mohrman
Executive Recruiter Rick Mohrman has over eighteen years’ experience at Brooke Chase Associates in retained search placement of executives, where the firm works extensively with clients and candidates to structure and prepare for the interviewing process.
It’s a new year and companies are busy putting their 2024 plans to work, not least of which are plans for executive hires. In a two-part series we’ll talk about Preparing for the Executive Interview on both sides of the table, the company, and the candidate. We’ll also highlight how working with an executive recruiter can be to your distinct advantage throughout the process. This first article addresses the company’s side – structuring, previewing, formatting, and setting the right tone.
The Need to Prepare
The executive interview is a little like courtship. This is beyond casual dating. It carries the intent to form a partnership and requires thoughtful interaction to discover the potential for “fit” – compatibility, unity of purpose, and a commitment to each other.
Both parties have to be fully engaged in the process – the interview is a two-way street, and for it to have real value as an effective means of communication and discovery, preparation by both the interviewer(s) and candidate is essential.
Preview the Candidates
Get familiar with candidates’ work history and accomplishments prior to the interview. Review their resume and, even more important, any background an executive recruiter may have provided, either orally or in a write-up. Previewing candidates allows the interviewing team to highlight any particular area of questioning that is relevant to the individual candidate’s background.
At Brooke Chase, along with an oral presentation and review of candidates, we provide our clients with a fact sheet that includes details not usually found in a resume. This enables an effective and efficient use of time. Interviewers come in familiar with a candidate’s background and focused on their structured format and follow-up questions pertinent to the individual candidate, rather than having to cover the basics of work history in the interview.
Structure the Interview
Companies conducting interviews for an executive role bring varying degrees of interviewing expertise to the process. Whatever their level of experience, interviewers need the structure of a set of predetermined, topic-specific questions appropriate to the role being filled.
Following a standard format from candidate to candidate allows the interviewing team to make a direct comparison of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses and avoids the “gut feel” decision making based solely on subjective biases. “Winging it” is never a good strategy.
While cultural and personality fit are truly important in selecting the best candidate, questions that address those issues should be defined and included in the standard list of interview questions.
Reviewing the candidates with an executive recruiter who has conducted face-to-face interviews is a real benefit in filling in the “gaps” in the interview structure. We provide insight and perspective gained from our interaction with the candidate, enabling interviewers to tailor their structure to address specific hard and soft skills.
This prepared and structured approach is important no matter which interview format a company utilizes. In the one-on-one format, each interviewer should have a specific area and set of questions to cover, and a “round-up” should be held upon completion so interviewers can share their results with each other.
In the panel format, one person should be appointed as the moderator, asking questions and allowing other members of the panel to pose follow-up questions that are topic specific. The moderator’s job is to make sure the conversation stays on point and follows the schedule.
In some cases, companies have asked Brooke Chase to act as the interview moderator, especially when they are conducting a panel interview with multiple team members. This allows interviewers to focus on the candidate’s answers, make notes, and pose follow-up questions. It also provides a third-party “referee” who will keep the interview and discussion on track with agenda and time schedule.
Set the Tone
Interviewers must always remember that it’s a two-way street – candidates are interviewing them and, in a sense, the company, as well as being interviewed for the position. In this setting, the interviewers are brand ambassadors, presenting the company’s culture and opportunity.
Be welcoming and personable. Make each candidate feel important by giving them your full attention, making good eye contact, and keeping the atmosphere relaxed but professional. And a little humor goes a long way when asking follow-up questions, even the tough ones, without making the candidate feel they are under the spotlight of an interrogation room.
Final Round – Roll out the Red Carpet
Setting the tone goes beyond being cordial in the interview. Making the candidate feel truly welcome becomes even more important in the finalist round interviews. If relocation is involved, this is especially critical, not only for the candidate but for their spouse and family.
Invite the spouse to accompany the candidate and arrange a time to meet them socially (include your spouses if appropriate). Put them in contact with a trusted realtor to get their housing preferences, school requirements, and schedule a tour of the area. You are welcoming them to a new community, home, and “family”.
Get and Give Feedback
Getting feedback from a candidate is important in several ways. A company needs to know how the candidate processed the information learned during the interview, how that affected their motivation to move forward in the process, and what adjustments might be made in the interview format and structure.
The company should also be prepared to give feedback, emphasizing the candidate’s strengths, and noting areas of question or concern. Never burn bridges! Remember that you want to leave a favorable impression on the candidate regardless of the outcome of the interview.
Again, having an executive recruiter as your partner is most helpful in that it allows both candidate and company to give candid feedback to an intermediary who is skilled in communicating positives and negatives in an acceptable manner.
Successful companies carefully strategize, plan, allocate resources, and execute to achieve their goals. Why would they invest any less in the hire of a key executive who will help them achieve those goals? Identifying a slate of motivated and qualified candidates is only the first step in beginning the “courtship” process.
Interviewers should invest in familiarizing themselves with the candidates, structuring and formatting the interview, setting the tone of warm welcome, preparing to be brand ambassadors, and providing objective feedback. Yes, it’s an investment of time and requires the discipline to follow the structure laid out. But isn’t the reward of a successful hire worth it?