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10 Job Interview Tips From A CEO Headhunter

Whether you're being interviewed to be an intern or a CEO, you're going to run into a few notoriously tricky questions—here's a road map of what you'll be asked, and how to craft impressive answers to even the toughest questions.

No two situations are ever exactly the same, but as a general guide, these are the types of questions that could come up in a typical interview.

1. Why don’t you tell me about yourself?

This question, often the interview opener, has a crucial objective: to see how you handle yourself in unstructured situations. The recruiter wants to see how articulate you are, how confident you are, and generally what type of impression you would make on the people with whom you come into contact on the job. The recruiter also wants to learn about the trajectory of your career and to get a sense of what you think is important and what has caused you to perform well.

Most candidates find this question a difficult one to answer. However, the upside is that this question offers an opportunity to describe yourself positively and focus the interview on your strengths. Be prepared to deal with it.

There are many ways to respond to this question correctly and just one wrong way: by asking, "What do you want to know?" You need to develop a good answer to this question, practice it, and be able to deliver it with poise and confidence.

The right response is twofold: focus on what interests the interviewer, and highlight your most important accomplishments.

Focus on what interests the interviewer

Do not dwell on your personal history—that is not why you are there. Start with your most recent employment and explain why you are well qualified for the position. The key to all successful interviewing is to match your qualifications to what the interviewer is looking for. You want to be selling what the buyer is buying.

Highlight Important Accomplishments

Have a story ready that illustrates your best professional qualities. For example, if you tell an interviewer that people describe you as creative, provide a brief story that shows how you have been creative in achieving your goals.

Stories are powerful and are what people remember most.

A good interviewee will memorize a 60-second commercial that clearly demonstrates why he or she is the best person for the job.

2. How long have you been with your current (or former) employer?

This is a hot-button question if your résumé reflects considerable job-hopping. Excellent performers tend to stay in their jobs at least three to five years. They implement course corrections, bring in new resources, and, in general, learn how to survive—that’s why they are valued by prospective employers.

If your résumé reflects jobs with companies that were acquired, moved, closed, or downsized, it is still viewed as a job-hopper’s history. Volunteer and go to events where hiring authorities may be found. Ratchet up your networking to include anything that exposes you to hiring authorities who can get past your tenure issue because now they know you. Your networking efforts have never been so important.

3. What is your greatest weakness?

An impressive and confident response shows that the candidate has prepared for the question, has done serious self-reflection, and can admit responsibility and accept constructive criticism. Sincerely give an honest answer (but not a long one), be confident in the fact that this weakness does not make you any less of a great candidate, and show that you are working on this weakness and tell the recruiter how.

4. Tell me about a situation where you did not get along with a superior.

The wrong answer to this hot-button question is, "I’ve been very fortunate and have never worked for someone I didn’t get along with."

Everyone has had situations where he or she disagreed with a boss, and saying that you haven’t forces the recruiter to question your integrity. Also, it can send out a signal that the candidate is not seasoned enough or hasn’t been in situations that require him or her to develop a tough skin or deal with confrontation.

It’s natural for people to have differing opinions. When this has occurred in the past, you could explain that you presented your reasons and openly listened to other opinions as well.

5. Describe a situation where you were part of a failed project.

If you can’t discuss a failure or mistake, the recruiter might conclude that you don’t possess the depth of experience necessary to do the job. The recruiter is not looking for perfection. He or she is trying better to understand your level of responsibility, your decision-making process, and your ability to recover from a mistake, as well as what you learned from the experience and if you can take responsibility for your mistakes.

Respond that you’d like to think that you have learned something valuable from every mistake you have made. Then have a brief story ready with a specific illustration.

It should conclude on a positive note, with a concrete statement about what you learned and how it benefited the company.

6. What are your strengths?

Describe two or three skills you have that are relevant to the job. Avoid clichés or generalities; offer specific evidence. Describe new ways these skills could be put to use in the position you are being considered for.

7. How do you explain your job success?

Be candid without sounding arrogant. Mention observations other people have made about your work strengths or talents.

8. What do you do when you are not working?

The more senior the position, the more important it is to know about the candidate’s qualities that will impact his or her leadership style: is the person well adjusted and happy, or is he or she a company zealot?

Discuss hobbies or pursuits that interest you, such as sports, clubs, cultural activities, and favorite things to read.

Avoid dwelling on any political or religious activities that may create conflict with those of the interviewer.

9. Why did you leave your last position?

At high levels, issues that relate to personality and temperament become more important than they might otherwise. The recruiter wants to know if you will fit in with the client company. The recruiter may also be fishing for signs of conflict that indicate a potential personality problem.

Be honest and straightforward, but do not dwell on any conflict that may have occurred. Highlight positive developments that resulted from your departure, whether it was that you accepted a more challenging position or learned an important lesson that helped you to be happier in your next job.

10. Why do you want to work in this industry?

Think of a story to tell about how you first became interested in this type of work. Point out any similarities between the job you’re interviewing for and your current job. Provide proof that you aren’t simply shopping in this interview. Make your passion for your work a theme that you allude to continually throughout the interview.

Adapted from Heads: Business Lessons from an Executive Search Pioneer by Russell S. Reynolds, Jr., with Carol E. Curtis,  ©2012, McGraw-Hill Professional; reprinted with permission of the publisher.

[Image: Flickr user Steven Meyer-Rassow]

Add New Comment


  • Haris Flopa

    Nice post, I think people sometimes tend to argue with interviewer without understand the mindset of the question and I suggest you to stay honest throughout the interview. If you need job vacancy in Indonesia, this blog is a good start for you.

  • These Insightful questions are very useful for interview effectively. With these questions, candidates will prepare and make a great impression in the Interview.

  • Brian Nicholson

    I stumbled upon a website ( ) that has word-for-word job interview answers to use to get hired. I recently just landed a $65k annual salary job after six interviews, so good luck to anybody who found this because they are nervous!

  • prowriter30years

    This article provides a unique perspective because it helps you get inside the mind of an interviewer and gain a better understanding of how they're probably interpreting your answers. After having gone on dozens of job interviews (understatement), I think confidence is one of the most important attributes to exhibit during the interrogation-- I mean interview! I totally agree with your points about not pretending to be perfect and being ready to give specific examples. Based on the trials and tribulations I've encountered in job interviews, some of which I've alluded to in my blog (below), it pays to be prepared to discuss up to three strengths and three weakness if asked-- although the weaknesses obviously should not be potential "deal breakers." The bottom line is: You'll come across as more confident, articulate, and professional if you're prepared for curve balls and potentially awkward or confrontational questions.

  • Nicholas Livingston

    Instead of answering these same exact questions with every company/recruiter you speak with, 'Pre-Interview' with an Expert in your Industry and function via and then share interview highlights with multiple companies during your job search, saving everyone time, money & frustration. Today's interview process is broken, we're going to fix it.

  • Raina Valzora Bivens

    I've encountered many of these questions in interviews. These are great tips. Thanks for sharing!

  • udinuwais

    Great points! While I’ve only been following your blog for a short time, I appreciate the unvarnished quality of the truths you speak – and it validates my own approach. THANKS!

  • isabale.mary

    Another some other Q would be:

    1. In which you want to see yourself after 3 years? 2.You are overqualified, we can't afford you!!!
    2. Describe a project you have Project

  • VANILLA! I'm sorry, but how is this list of questions unique to a CEO search? These questions barely scratch the surface at getting to the heart in determining if a prospective CEO has the talent and experience for any given CEO role. I hope the book does a better job than this short out-take.

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  • Nagendra Manne

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  • Jay Oza

    These are all good questions but not that important for getting a job.

    A job is about solving a problem.  If you and the interviewer are not aligned on understanding the problem and solving the problem  then the questions in this post are not going to help you get the job, no matter if you ace these questions.

    Never let the interview turn into a test, date or making friends.  Keep the focus on the problem that you can solve faster, cheaper, better and smarter.