Not being adequately prepared for an interview is a common reason candidates are unsuccessful in an executive search process.

To be perfectly blunt, I am increasingly baffled by the simple lack of readiness.

Question:  Which senior executives go into a board meeting unprepared?  Answer: Those who are destined to be unemployed.

iStock_000022219039XSmallI have been leading executive search engagements for more than 20 years and this is a problem that you would think would go away, but it hasn’t.  The explosion of readily available sources for business intelligence notwithstanding, I am convinced the lack of preparation is getting worse.  Even more worrisome is the fact that when candidates do attempt to “use’ their research, it is frequently done in such a ham-handed manner that it becomes a liability.  Really.

In my shop, we provide qualified candidates with a comprehensive Position Prospectus.  This document averages between 28 and 64 pages, and contains in-depth information on the critical issues.  It is bone jarring the number of candidates who, when asked if they have any questions, begin asking about issues that are covered in detail in the Prospectus.

While we are known for being exceedingly detailed in our process, there are many firms that give candidates a superficial 12 to 18 pages that is sparse on substantive details regarding the client’s cultural DNA, performance expectations, and the hurdles they will likely encounter in pursuit of those performance expectations.  I can only wonder how the candidates in those searches perform.

Here are five things you can do to get prepared:

  1. Understand your value proposition and be able to relate your strengths and accomplishments to the needs of the client – those said and unsaid.
  2. Use a resume, not a curriculum vitae, unless you are seeking employment in an academic or research organization.  There is a big difference.  The resume is your first interview so you need a document that clearly documents your experience, your strengths and your quantifiable accomplishments.  How many posters you have produced for professional meetings are pretty far down the list of accomplishments recruiters want to know about.
  3. Rehearse your answers. Most top companies, including late adapter Google, are using behavior and values interview questions.  Topgrading, by Brad Smart, PhD, is probably the best book on this subject.  The book includes a list of Topgrading B&V questions.  Consider it a take-home test.  Practice. 
  4. Do your homework.  If you do not do your homework, you are, in effect, signaling that you are either not up to the challenge or you are lazy.  Dig, dig, and dig.  Research is not limited to reading the potential employer’s web site.  That is just a start.  Dig into your network on LinkedIn or use your organic contacts to find out whom they know inside the targeted company.  Wayne O’Neill, a superb business development coach, calls it connecting the dots.
  5. Be prepared, not afraid of, the tough questions regarding your terminations, layoffs, project failures, and political train wrecks.  Virtually every great executive has one or two of these setbacks in their history.  Do not act like a cat with a sore tail in a room full of rockers, to borrow an old saying, in anticipation of these issues coming up.  Be confident.  Be prepared.  Be authentic. Be honest but that does not mean you are required to fall on your sword yet again.  Be positive.  Talk about lessons learned, how the experience has helped you achieve success in other areas.  Provide quantifiable examples.

As I have said many times in the past, the best-qualified candidate gets the job only 35 to 40 percent of the time.  Recruiters and employers are hungry for candidates who are prepared and focused.  Those are the people who are getting the jobs.

Having the requisite degrees/academic preparation and a good track record is no longer enough to land a top-tier job, especially in healthcare.  Follow these five rules and you will be ahead of 90 percent of your competitors.

After 20 years and thousands of hours of interviewing, trust me on that one.