Job interview with CEO. Help!
February 8, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

[Job Filter] So I've got a job interview with the CEO coming up. What can I expect?

I'm in the middle of a career change (I've got a background in TV production) and applied for the position of Corp Comms Exec at this social work organization. I've already gone through the first interview and it went really well. Met HR and a couple of people from Communications.

Earlier today, I got a call saying that I've got a second interview coming up and this time, it will be with the CEO.

I'm kinda nervous. I really want this job and I know I can contribute to the org. How can I impress the CEO? What will he be looking for in the interview?

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I was recently in a similar situation (fairly dramatic career change, late-stage interview with someone much higher up than I was expecting to talk to). The exec really wanted to hear about my big-picture thinking, in contrast to the earlier interviews which were much more around nuts and bolts. Don't BS, of course, but make sure you understand the big challenges facing the organization at the level the CEO cares about. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know, but here are the relevant inputs and resources I'd use to find out" as applicable.

Also (in case your exec is anything like mine) be prepared for at least one Kobayashi Maru-style question in which you are asked what you would do given a choice among alternatives that range from terrible to catastrophic. I think it's a way of assessing your calm under fire.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 9:16 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Prepare to ask him/her lost of questions, if the moment is good.

"Other than a warm body, what does this role need to provide the organization that it doesn't already have?"

"Let's say we're two weeks into the job, and I'm familiar with the basic nuts and bolts. We're dotting I's and crossing T's. Now what? What's the next level?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:29 AM on February 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

What they want is the truth. They know that interviews are a highly designed environment, commonly studied and easily gamed. Not all CEOs are the same, so really, the only person who knows what the CEO wants is the CEO (and maybe the people directly connected to them). The size of the organization also matters a bit. If you're employee number 20, the interview will likely be different than if you're going in 4 levels below the CEO in the hierarchy. Personality wise, CEOs in big orgs tend to be dominators and may well seek to put forth questions that make you squirm a bit.

One trick I've seen from upper management in interviews is to basically open the interview with 'any questions for us?' And that is the entire interview. It kinda looks like they're just not prepared or good at interviewing, but the defense offered for this approach is that the questions you bring up and conversations that follow informs them more than rehearsed treatises on how to move mountains or greatest weaknesses. Their entire strategy is to knock you off your game and find out who you really are. So if you're a fit for the job and the organization, don't sweat it and be yourself.
posted by pwnguin at 9:31 AM on February 8, 2011

In an interview in a totally different industry, the C level people asked very specific questions, including detailed questions about my BA thesis and a practical "tell me exactly how you would advocate for Employer in this situation."

I think it mostly will depend on the personality of the CEO.
posted by Pax at 9:54 AM on February 8, 2011

I have interviewed hundreds (thousands?) of people.

The one thing all the best interviewees have in common is that they ask questions, often more questions than they field.

They ask smart, careful, insightful questions. This demonstrates that not only are they intelligently considering this position and are capable of investigation, but also that, by George, they've done some research, and they actually know something about the employer and position in question.

So do this.
posted by rokusan at 10:02 AM on February 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

I just want to say: Don't be nervous. CEOs are just people. I'm the Assistant to the CEO of my company and last week he asked me how to spell "plumber." Approach this interview the way you would any other one; be confident and relaxed, give a good handshake, and absolutely ask questions. Find out about how the company fits into the industry as a whole (how long they've been around, what their market niche is, who their customers are) and ask specific questions whose answers are actually interesting to you.
posted by something something at 11:09 AM on February 8, 2011

Good luck in the interview, and in your job search in general!

Do you know enough to sketch out a game plan for the first six months of your job? What you'd focus on, how you'd achieve it, how you'd react to common setbacks, and what budget you'd need (and any new people or tools you'd bring in)?

Do you know the basics of the company's current and recent financials? Research that as much as you can ahead of time, so you can talk at a financial and strategic level with the CEO about the company's goals and plans.

Seconding something something: research enough that you can ask interesting questions.
posted by brainwane at 1:07 PM on February 8, 2011

Data point: My interview-with-the-bigwig experience was that it was mostly assessing fit, confidence, and possibly whether I'd embarrass the organization (there were cultural differences in play). I think it only took about fifteen minutes. The original interviewers had recommended me but scheduled bigwig interviews for the top three.

Good luck!
posted by momus_window at 1:53 PM on February 8, 2011

It would be helpful to know how big the organization is. The CEO's job in a 20 person company is very different from that in a 2000 person outfit. But overall CEO's are just people, there's a pretty big range of personalities and stereotypes aren't helpful. Best advice is just treat it like any other interview and use your best judgement when you meet the person.

If it's a small company (<1>
If it's a big company and you're being hired at a senior position then treat it like any interview with your prospective boss. Be yourself, be honest and open. Listen to the questions asked and answer them crisply. Try and build a rapport with the interviewer and as mentioned above ask smart/insightful questions about the company.

If it's a more junior position in a big company and the CEO wants to talk to you then I would expect he/she is just trying to close the deal and sell you on joining the company. We used to pull out the big guns to impress exceptional candidates and try and get them to accept a job offer quickly.

Good Luck with the interview.
posted by Long Way To Go at 2:28 PM on February 8, 2011

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