Editor’s Note: John will be a faculty member for the American College of Healthcare Executive’s annual Congress in Chicago in March 2017.  He will teach the course on interviewing skills for senior executives along with his colleague, Nancy Swain, a nationally recognized outplacement and career transition coach.  This is the second year John and Nancy have taught this highly rated course.

This is another in a series of blog posts on executive interviewing. Today he files from Atlanta where he is interviewing CFO candidates. 

ATLANTA — Stop shooting yourself in the foot! 

When asked by a potential employer to share information about your career, please understand they are not asking for 25 minutes of ramble with twists and turns of shooting-footshutterstock_34418356explanatory digressions and footnotes.  Candidates who fall into this trap are telling the would-be employer what they want them to know, not what the interviewer is interested in hearing.  This is a form of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the foot.

The employer wants to know what you have done in your career, your experience.  Yes, that is true, but they are typically more interested, and will respond more favorably, if your career summary is tailored to address their needs — why they are looking for someone and how your experience will help them meet their need.  Make it interesting, make it endearing when you can, or even add a short funny story.  But all of this takes careful planning. 

I have seen several otherwise terrific candidates be eliminated from consideration because when they were asked that typical first question, they launched into a historical rundown replete with details, even side stories, that were not that relevant or even particularly interesting. 

You know how you can tell that the candidate is not self-aware?  When the interviewer interrupts his or her career summary with a question, and you can easily detect that he or she is frustrated because the flow of their self-absorbed pitch was thrown off.

This is not an introduction of new subject matter for this blog.  I have been harping on this issue for the past several years.  Why?   Because a poor, less than effective performance with this question will create a fairly deep hole from which a candidate must crawl out.  The longer you talk, or the more uninteresting your summary, the deeper the hole.  When you come in and fumble and stumble on this initial question — one that you had to know was coming (probably at the outset of the interview) — it puts more pressure on you not to make any other mistakes during the course of other interviews within the organization, and that is hard to do.  It is like being behind in the World Series three games to one.

Let me add some perspective with my own confession.  In my younger years, I lost several positions that I really, really wanted because my ego overloaded my judgment and sense of self-awareness.  When I was asked to summarize my career I was off to the races, regaling my audience with a career summary that was loaded with stories and numerous name drops.  I did not impress.  One dream job in particular, a PR leadership position that would have afforded me ample opportunities with consistent overseas travel, was a painful loss, but thankfully, the interviewer took pity on me and explained my multiple offenses and what I had to do to improve in the future.

His primary recommendation was to do more advance preparation — research the organization to understand their needs and challenges — and then to be more brief with my answers if I expected to compete effectively in the future.  This was the first time anyone had told me that I was failing to communicate appropriately.  That was one of my strengths, I thought.  It was doubly frustrating because this poor performance cost me what I believed then was the be-all, end-all of dream jobs.

Lesson learned: You can be a talented extemporaneous speaker but if you are not prepared and you do not have a well thought out message, you will not do as well; poor preparation trumps talent more often than not.     

Remember, recruiters and prospective employers are looking for a reason to hire you.   Doing your homework, thoughtful preparation of your message, and connecting it to the needs of the client, will give them a reason for serious consideration.


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