10 Job Interview Tips From A CEO Headhunter

This article is written by a member of our expert contributor community.

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?

If I had to thing of three words to describe myself, I would say honest, hardworking and a great communicator.  Honest in the respect that I will always reply honestly to any question that I receive; hard working because I wont go home until the job is done; and a great communicator as I believe that with good communication any problem can be solved.  

One situation that springs to mind was wen one of my junior staff was having an issue with an upset customer.  Using my diplomatic skills, I was able to calm the situation, secure the relationship with the customer and then follow up with them later to ensure everything was still OK.

On a more personal level, I like to get involved in sport and various interest groups like toastmasters.

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 con?dent 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 ?nd this question a dif?cult 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 con?dence.

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

Focus on what interests the interviewer

I feel that I am at my best when contributing to a team project, knowing that my contributions are making a difference to the overall outcome.

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 quali?ed 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

One skill that I have developed strongly is my ability to negotiate.  Working in the produce industry, I worked for farmers, worked with farmers coordinating the transport of their produce and negotiating sale prices for farmers in various market outlets throughout the country.  I would be on the phone to them every week, finding out their projection figures and combining that with my weather forecasting data.  I was able to build strong relationships with my customers.  This role also gave me a lot of job satisfaction as each small success that I had, made a big difference in the lives of my customers - hard working Australian farmers.

I also feel that these negotiation skills and relationship building skills are very transferable to all sorts of business dealings.

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?

I have been with my current employer for 2 years now and feel that I have been able to contribute significantly to both their corporate culture and in sharing my knowledge and experience to improve their end product offering.  Carrying out several roles, I became the company's training officer and also held down a teaching position.  While I have been in other positions for up to 5 years before I felt it was time to move on, I feel that in the case of this company, it is time for a change.     

Looking to the future I can see the real need to embrace technology and am therefore looking to a company that is on the cutting edge of teaching training and facilitation.  This is why I am very interested in working for your company.

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 re?ects 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?

My greatest weakness is sometimes being too hands on.  I want to know how everything works and operates.  Knowing how to do something before I delegate the responsibility to somebody else....My first job was working in the hospitality industry, where I learnt every facet of hotel operations before working my way up to manager of the hotel.  

I am however aware of how this can make others feel, and through hard won experience.  I am now more trusting in the strengths of my co-workers. But acknowledge that I still like to get my hands dirty.   

An impressive and con?dent response shows that the candidate has prepared for the question, has done serious self-re?ection, and can admit responsibility and accept constructive criticism. Sincerely give an honest answer (but not a long one), be con?dent 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.

In one situation, I found myself in a corporate sales role working for a young manager in their first managerial role.  In this position my sales figures were outshining my manager and I was getting rewarded for it my senior management.  This made our working relationship very uncomfortable, as she started looking over my shoulder trying to find mistakes.  Trying to find common ground with this manager proved ineffective and the senior manager who had hired her refused to offer any positive intervention.  In the end I could no longer work in this position as it was effecting my health and happiness.  My only regret is not being more proactive sooner.    

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.

At one stage I put together a joint venture with another company to bring a new product to market.  The original partner that was to come into the project reacted badly to me researching market buy in figures with one of his competitors.  The project as a consequence fell over and the replacement partner didn't live up to market expectations.

This was a very big lesson for me in terms of to amount of openness and trust required when putting a project together worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.    

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 speci?c illustration.

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

6. What are your strengths?

1. When I present or teach I have to ability to hold the interest of my audience.

2. My sales skills are also exceptional, learning a lot form some very skilled people in the area of corporate trade shows and marketing.  I also had the opportunity to work in different fields where the sales cycle varied in length considerably.  Once a customer is engaged, I was able to produce high levels of closure.  

Describe two or three skills you have that are relevant to the job. Avoid clichés or generalities; offer speci?c 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?

Sometimes I feel that job success can be found through the positive impressions and success received from customers.  As a teacher, I pride myself in my ability to communicate with other effectively in such a way that I impart understanding.  Each of the private students that I have taught has found success and met their goals.  One student in particular even topped her university.  I find success through those that I am able to help.   

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?

When I am not working I like to learn, spend time with friends, network and meet new people.  I also like reading (David Baldacci) and playing sport.  At the moment my sport of choice is swimming. 

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 con?ict with those of the interviewer.

9. Why did you leave your last position?

I left my last position because my employer was small with limited growth potential and I did not want to stop growing.  My current company is a national company and willing to offer opportunities for professional growth.

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 ?t in with the client company. The recruiter may also be ?shing for signs of con?ict that indicate a potential personality problem.

Be honest and straightforward, but do not dwell on any con?ict 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?

I work in this industry because I love speaking and teaching.  They are two of my passions and they are areas where I excel.  The new technology that is coming is also something that revel in.  I am always looking to the future with keen interest and excitement.  Speaking in front of people where I am receiving high praise is its own reward.

Think of a story to tell about how you ?rst 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.