The (almost) definitive guide to what’s required for success in an executive interview! (Part 2)

Written by: James Dunne
Published on: 11 May 2016

    If you were with me last time, I have conducted a little experiment by looking up 20 different blog pieces on what not to do in an interview, from companies big and small in the USA and the UK*.  There were 157 separate things listed across all 20 of these.  Clearly, no-one is likely to remember 157 things to do in an interview, but fortunately there was a degree of communality, albeit not so much as you might think.  Some of these blog pieces were based on earlier research surveys, others were simply opinion.  However, considered together there were several key themes which came across time after time and I’d suggest that these are the areas you need to concentrate on if you are putting on your best suit/dress for a forthcoming interview.

    In my first blog on this subject, I noted that the single biggest problem encountered by interviewers is “lack of preparation”, cited by 75% of the blogs I surveyed.  Now while this covers a multitude of sins, it is somewhat staggering to think that executives who clearly want a job (or promotion) don’t do their homework on the company that might employ them, the people who are going to interview them (try Linkedin!), the work involved etc.  However, plainly they don’t, and that’s not the only thing that causes interviewers to reject them.

    The second most common fault, specified by 14 out of the 20 blogs surveyed, was almost universally described as “inappropriate dress”.

    Nowadays, when dress-down Friday has spread to every day of the week, this may seem strange, but clearly interviewers like to see conventions maintained.  However, this does not mean you should automatically head to Messrs Moss Bross (or their US equivalent) for a pin-stripe suit to wear at your next interview – or rather it does if that interview is for the kind of firm where pin-stripes are de rigueur.   The golden rule here was taught to me many decades ago by a man who rose to the rank of General Manager for the UK for one of the country’s biggest insurance companies (i.e. someone who was very successful indeed). He had started his career selling life assurance to farmers in Yorkshire and his advice was simple. The key word is “appropriate”.  If you’re visiting farmers, tweed is a safe bet for an insurance salesman. If you’re visiting the City, tweed is a no-no.  Stick instead to pin-stripes or a plain, high quality suit. On the other hand, if you’re being interviewed for a ‘Head of Creative’ at a left-field digital agency then neither of those is “appropriate”.  Mind you, I’m not entirely certain what is, but probably not the tie for the Carlton Club of London or Union Club of New York.

    The third most common errors revealed by my survey involved questions at the interview. This included those who felt that candidates fail to ask questions (45% of the 20 blogs surveyed) and those who note a failure to answer questions (35%).  In fact, combined, problems with “questions” either not asked or not answered were mentioned even more than “lack of preparation”, but I’ve separated them as they are distinct issues.  However, these are, in my opinion, the “basics” of which every interviewee should be aware. The ability to ask intelligent questions will clearly stand you in good stead, while an inability to answer questions intelligently will not.  Preparation is vital: like a politician facing a journalist you must think what questions are likely to be asked and how best to answer them.  You must also think what questions you would like to ask (but not necessarily about remuneration – see my next blog) and how best to ask them.  While not guaranteeing success, sound preparation will help prevent failure!

    James Dunne,

    * These were: Undercover Reporter,,, a Linkedin Pulse article, CheatSheet, Career Builder, Michael Page,, The golden girl blog, The Muse, The Guardian, Prospects, Business Insider, Indeed, Money, JobSearch, Robert Half, Forbes, My World of Work, Monster, another Linkedin Pulse article.