Career Column: Tips For Successful Job Interviews

Jun 21, 2002

CIO Update Staff

Executive career advice from Dave Opton, founder of ExecuNet.

Dear Dave:

After an unexpected layoff, I've found myself in the job market for the first time in 15 years. Not surprisingly, my interviewing skills are a little bit rusty. Any suggestions you might have that would help me improve the quality of my interviews would be appreciated.


Brian M.

Dear Brian,

It's no secret recruiters and companies rely heavily on the interview process to screen applicants. In fact, how you come across in an interview usually determines whether or not the position will be offered. I am sure you have heard the old joke about the guy who stopped a guy on the street and asked, "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" and the answer came back -- practice. Well, when it comes to interviewing, there is no better answer.

Here are a few other suggestions that might help you present yourself in the best possible light during an interview:

More executive career advice
Follow-up Calls To Recruiters: Tips for executives on improving their relationships with recruiters.

Perfect Job, Imperfect Location: Is it worth responding to a position that matches your criteria in every way except location?

Can Job-Hopping Hurt Your Chances?: Learn to put the best face on a "busy" career now that the job market has slowed down.

Six Ways CIOs Can Polish Their Image: Enhance IT's reputation, and enhance your career, by putting a positive spin on your efforts.

Tapping Into the 'Hidden Job Market': When looking for a new job, connect with executive recruiters who may know about 'hidden' job opportunities.

Small Company vs. Fortune 500 Job Search: The fast pace, quicker decision channels, closer relationship to CEO are all reasons to consider a small company for your next job.

Prepare Now For Your Next Career Move: Five tips to follow that will prepare you for finding a new job.


Knowledge is a candidate's most valuable resource. Before interviewing with an organization, research its reputation, leadership, recent accomplishments, and financial status. Fortunately, the Internet has made finding important corporate information easier than ever. Other good sources include members of your network, annual reports, and industry trade magazines.

To help put the information you uncover into perspective, also research the company's top two or three competitors.

After learning as much as you can about the company and its needs, develop key messages or talking points that will demonstrate your understanding of the problems facing the organization or industry and your ability to solve them. To distinguish yourself from a field of other candidates, try matching your strengths with the company's weaknesses.

While preparing key messages, it's also a good idea to develop answers to the standard interview questions. Nearly every interview includes some variation of the basic questions (i.e. "tell me about yourself") and most will be structured around your resume, so anticipating questions is easier than most people believe. In formulating answers to these questions, don't overlook opportunities to communicate your key messages.

The Interview

In addition to evaluating your qualifications, the interviewer is also trying to determine how well you fit into the culture of the organization. To cultivate this connection, it is important to be relaxed and confident during the interview. The process should flow like a conversation with questions spontaneously arising from both sides of the desk.

Keep in mind that your questions will be equally important as your answers. This is where the quality of your research can separate you from your peers. By asking questions relevant to the issues facing the organization, you will demonstrate your knowledge and gain important information that will help you evaluate the opportunity.

Questions can also be used to steer the conversation during an interview. For example, if you've recently had success building strategic alliances, you might want to ask the interviewer to discuss some of the new business development initiatives the company is launching. The response should provide you with an opportunity to highlight your latest alliance-building accomplishments.


Your first move after the interview should be a well thought-out thank you letter sent within two days of the interview. The letter should communicate your interest in the position, briefly reiterate your strengths, and be very specific about the next step in the process.

If a "next step" was not resolved during the interview, use the letter to establish one by referencing when the interviewer can expect your follow-up call. This call should be directed to the individual making the hiring decision and kept short. Your objective is to express continued interest in the position and give the interviewer the opportunity to propose the next move.

Following every interview, it's also important to evaluate your presentation and determine what can be improved upon in the future. Were you able to connect with the interviewer? Did you generate any positive of negative feedback? Did you communicate your key messages? Were your questions answered? By evaluating each interview as objectively as possible, your skills will improve.

Good luck.


Dave Opton is CEO and Founder of ExecuNet, an online career services center for executives. For more information on executive career management visit Questions can be sent to Dave at, he can't answer each individually but look for yours in an upcoming column.


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