3 Ways to Better Prepare for an Executive-Level Interview

Many people dream of advancing to an executive position, whether out of a sense of entrepreneurship or a desire for an increased salary. The Society for Human Resource Management found executives are more likely to be satisfied with the opportunities to use their skills than other employees are, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed the median top executive salary for 2016 was $103,950 per year.

Because of these benefits, executive roles are highly coveted, and recruiters may have their hands full trying to fill open positions. Thus, candidates must excel at their interviews to stand out among their competitors.

One way they can do so is by making sure they're fully prepared for the job at hand. The Washington State University Carson College of Business offers an online Executive Master of Business Administration program specifically for adults who want an executive edge. Students enrolled in the Carson College study advanced business concepts designed to supplement their management experience and give them the tools they need to succeed in the C-suite.

A proper education provides the foundation for executive-level leadership, but it may not be enough to secure such a position; first, candidates must impress those doing the hiring. Below are 3 ways C-suite hopefuls can prepare for an interview:

1. Research the Company Extensively

Would-be executives should review the organization and its leadership before the interview. Complete knowledge of the company’s history and current leaders—including their prior business experience—can help candidates give informed answers and ask detailed questions in an interview. There are many ways to learn about a company and its leaders, including:

  • LinkedIn, the professional networking social media website. This platform is a great way to research a business leader's work history and, if that person has any published articles on the platform, their corporate philosophies.
  • Press releases about the company. These materials can inform candidates on the types of events the business wants to share with the public.
  • Other company resources. Many modern businesses have a page on their websites for company news and assets.
  • News publications and local business journals. High-profile companies may make local or national news.
  • Other available information like U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings and public financial records.
  • Such extensive researching can help candidates better prepare for the role in question, revealing information such as:


  • The public's view of the company
  • The company's financial situation and upcoming challenges
  • Recent successes or partnerships
  • How the business compares to its competitors

With these details, executive hopefuls can better answer how their previous experience will help them address the business's current and future needs. Additionally, they may be able to ask more targeted questions during the interview, which might impress recruiters.

Research reveals helpful information about a potential employer.

2. Practice Conveying Facts and Stories

Executives are usually the public face of an organization. Therefore, they need the ability to project confidence and authority in any situation - when addressing employees, when speaking at a conference, or when providing statements to the media.

Recruiters will look for these characteristics during the interview process. As such, a candidate's answers should be compelling enough that the interviewer feels engaged in a story, but the response should also be based on specific facts and examples. This goal achieves 2 things:

  • It displays the candidate's leadership capabilities. Great leaders engage their audience through captivating messages and stories. Interviewers want to know their newest executive can inspire employees.
  • It enhances the candidate's statements with facts. Adding specific examples such as dates, locations, and figures gives credibility to a candidate's descriptions. Recruiters want proof of an interviewee's success.

Aspiring executives should prepare by practicing the ability to tell fact-filled anecdotes. The more details included, the better, so candidates should memorize as many specifics as they can. Then, they should practice conveying this information clearly and confidently, ideally with a friend. That person can assume the role of interviewer and ask the candidate common executive interview questions. Examples include:

  • How would you describe your management style?
  • What key performance indicators do you believe best display a company's success?
  • What methods do you use to evaluate an employee's job performance?
  • If hired, what would be your priorities during the first 6 months?

If possible, candidates should record these sessions for later review. Doing so allows the candidate to observe themselves from another's perspective and evaluate their body language and speech patterns.

If a friend isn't available, candidates can use the time-honored tradition of practicing in a mirror. This way, they can still see their facial expressions and body language, identify any weak points—bad posture or lack of eye contact, for instance—and make corrections.

3. Prepare for “Greatest Weakness” or “Failure” Questions

Nearly every interviewer asks a candidate to identify his or her greatest weaknesses or to describe a business mistake. These questions can easily fluster a candidate, but they are surprisingly simple to prepare for. Their purpose is less about describing the stories involved and more about displaying some of the candidate's attributes, including his or her:

  • Decision-making abilities and processes
  • Level of responsibility in previous positions
  • Ability to recover from a setback
  • Ability to think critically and self-reflect

Therefore, when answering these questions, candidates should focus primarily on the positive actions or outcomes of their weaknesses or setbacks. For example, if a candidate answers that he had trouble meeting deadlines, he should describe any steps he took to improve, such as time management techniques or coordinated calendars. Similarly, if a manager is asked about a time her team failed to meet its specified goals, she should explain the situation and then detail the steps she took to progress over the following weeks.

To prepare for this question, aspiring executives should think of a concrete example of a setback or weakness. As in the previous step, they should review all the details of these examples, including who was involved, what parameters were established (deadlines, key performance indicators, etc.), the outcome of the situation, and steps taken to improve. When reviewing their answers, candidates should work to display their determination and recovery. Additionally, they should practice being clear and direct in their responses.

The key to answering these questions most effectively is for candidates to provide proof of their leadership and critical thinking.

Candidates should prepare to answer questions about their weaknesses.

Achieving an Executive Career with the Carson College

The Carson College of Business' online EMBA program can help students gain the advantage they need for an executive career. The curriculum was designed for working professionals with at least 7 years of management, senior management, or executive experience. Additionally, because the program is completely online, students can continue working while they further their education.

By enrolling with the Carson College of Business and properly preparing for an interview, future executives can fulfill their dream of joining the C-suite.

Recommended Readings:
4 Tips to Help You Transition Professionally While Still Employed
More Women Are Joining the C-Suite. Here's How They're Doing It.
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