Chief People Officer Insights on Winning Interviews

Accountability Authenticity Organizational leadership


Key Point: Most of us only have job interviews on an irregular basis. We don’t necessarily become practiced at it. Frankly, for most of us, it’s not a skill we want to be seasoned at because we’re interested in holding jobs, not interviewing for them. Yet, there are those key occasions when we want to “sell” ourselves to be selected for an opportunity we really want. My observation is that for even the most senior positions, people could do much better if they followed a few guidelines and practiced. The 10 below are not necessarily comprehensive and are primarily table stakes, but they’re a great foundation to build on:

  1. Do deep research on the organization and people interviewing you. Be fully capable of reciting the vision, mission, value proposition, and go to market strategy of the company. Know something important about each of the interviewers and be able to connect with them personally. Then consciously make an emotional connection with the group interviewing you, both individually and collectively.
  1. Be able in less than three minutes, to answer EACH of the following:

*Give specific data driven examples of how you achieved results including solving a nasty problem or bringing exceptional value in past or current roles.

*Identify how you have collaborated, built relationships and got things done with others.

*If you’ve been in a leadership position before, be specifically capable of identifying how people working for you have progressed and developed under your coaching.

Then be able to effectively translate and connect this past behavior/ experience to the role you’re applying for.

  1. When someone asks you a question, listen very carefully to be sure you understand what exactly he or she is asking (check for clarification until you have it right) and then answer it succinctly and directly. Any answer over three to five minutes is too long. Practice, practice, practice on possible questions before the interview.
  1. Be absolutely authentic. Everyone is going to ask you what strengths and shortcomings you have. Be self-aware enough to reference feedback you have sought and received from others. And tell them about your personal development areas like it is. Don’t be coy with lazy, often disingenuous responses like: ” people tell me I work too hard,” “I have too high of expectations of myself.” Blah blah, bye bye. 
  1. While some nervous energy is good, become relaxed through proper preparation for the interview, getting there early and having everything with you. Don’t overlook the basics. Bring a pen and pad to take notes and politely explain beforehand if you’re going to do so on a mobile device. For goodness sake, look each person in the eye and shake hands like you mean it. Dress according to the culture. Ask what the best practice is beforehand if you’re not sure. 
  1. Understand that the interview begins with how you walk in the door, treat other people to and from the interview area, and ends when you leave the parking lot. I have personally not hired people based on the way they’ve treated receptionists and wait staff during lunch. True story… One interviewee threw his gum wrapper on the ground after leaving our offices. We just happened to be watching out the window. Wow… Bye bye.
  1. Be able to specify and explain how you have fun during and after work, why you’re going to make the place better and give concrete examples of how you will continue to self develop, improve yourself and why.
  1. Demonstrate that you can be a great storyteller by referring to crisp, engaging examples. And be prepared to tell the interviewers exactly who you are (your core values) and vision (what you aspire to bring to the opportunity if selected).
  1. Be prepared to present a strong close, explaining why you’re the best match and candidate, in less than one minute, while looking at every single person (ideally with a genuine smile). Remember you’re there because you’ve passed all the technical filters. People are mostly determining how well you will match up with the team and culture.
  1. Remember if you do all nine above to the best of your ability and still don’t get the job, that’s probably a good thing. You’re doing the selecting too. It’s as important that you match and fit versus just getting the job. However, put your best foot forward. Prepare, practice, prepare, practice… Then practice some more. The higher the job, the more experienced and accomplished you are, the more you have to exercise this. Like any business deal, the interviewers are looking primarily for the “NO,” or how come they should reject versus select.

Character Moves:

  1. Even if you’re not applying for any new role soon, it’s good mental practice to go through the above 10. How well could you go through one to nine if you were applying for your current job? Hmm. Anybody out there who might do better?
  1. I’ve seen candidates for a “C” suite job search I’ve been recently involved with miss on most of the above, Seriously. Their credentials and experiences are impeccable. However, their ability to really present themselves in compelling, attractive, and authentic ways leave much to be desired. They certainly have not demonstrated applying a framework like the above and as a result we haven’t seen them at their best.
  1. And don’t expect to win opportunities if you aren’t great at executing on the above 10 basics. Someone else will be. And the best organizations will patiently wait to find them.

CPO interview tips in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: As much as we’d like to separate our professional and social lives, I’ve recently heard a business guru discuss how important it is to “fit in” with a potential organization. Interviewers apparently ask themselves, “can I hang out with this person?” Know and find your niche. Think about being on a road trip with friends… That car is a specific group of people you’re willing to be in close proximity with for a long period of time. I feel like we sometimes overlook this and think credentials alone are the best way to lock down the position. Yeah, you’re primarily there to do business and be an employee, but not unlike a group of friends, I think we can be most successful when we’re in environments that just click, with likeminded individuals,  similar interests, life experiences and attitudes. I want to work and win with a team I can road trip with. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis.