C-level jobs aren’t just for the older set. These days, especially in startups, C-level jobs go to young people with the energy and drive to make a new company succeed. The job interview itself can be tricky, especially for candidates who haven’t interviewed for a C-level job before.
“The keyword is preparation,” says Charley Polachi, partner at the Framingham, Mass.-based executive search firm Polachi. He advises candidates to not only visit the company’s website but also to Google the company, read recent news items, review how the company is doing financially and brush up on any patent infringements or other legal issues.
“There’s nothing wrong with tracking down people who used to work with these companies,” he adds. Former employees, especially acquaintances or friends of friends, may be willing to shed light on the company’s culture.
Polachi also advises C-level candidates to prepare a list of questions for the interviewer, as well as three to five key elements of the candidate’s background that would be relevant to the position to discuss during the interview.
Candidates should expect tough questions: why they left a certain company, what their management style is, and what motivates them. But they should be prepared to ask tough questions as well. Polachi advises candidates to ask about the “first year charter” for the company. “If I was hired, and I started on Monday, a year from now, what are we going to talk about?” Polachi says C-level candidates should ask.
Some of the other questions C-level candidates can expect include questions about strengths as well as weaknesses, although questions about weaknesses will be framed in the context of personal and professional development, says Polachi. To draw out this information, the interviewer may ask the candidate what a mentor would say he or she could do for continued personal and professional development.
Compensation questions will come into play in a C-level interview, including how much the candidate actually earned last year in salary. Polachi notes that, in some cases, it’s not uncommon for a C-level candidate to be asked to bring in a W-2 or paystub from the former or current employer.
As with all jobs, speaking negatively about a former employer or employees is a pitfall, as is exaggerating. Polachi advises C-level candidates to frame employer or employee shortcomings in terms of what could have been done differently, as well as be honest and not leave anything out when discussing former jobs. Some candidates, for example, will say they ran a $20 million operation, when it was really $12 million.
Finally, Polachi says, “Don’t take [the interview] too casually. You can’t overdress for an interview. A guy came in [wearing] a pair of jeans and flip-flops, and that made me wonder about his judgment.”
Overall, preparation is the key to success in a C-level job interview. Be prepared, be ready to speak about strengths, and do your research on the company.