Career Column: Aggressiveness While Interviewing

Nov 4, 2002

Dave Opton

Executive career advice from Dave Opton, founder of ExecuNet.

Dear Dave:

I am a highly qualified executive candidate with an outstanding record of accomplishment and demonstrated effectiveness as a leader. However, the feedback I've received from recent interviews is that I do not appear aggressive and energetic. I know the books say these are valued attributes for executives, but I'm simply not the cheerleader type. How can I give the impression of aggressiveness during an interview when this characteristic isn't natural for me?


John H.


When interviewing for a new position, one of your objectives should be to try to "read" the interviewer to determine how to put your best foot forward. Building trust is obviously a critical part of this process, and as trust builds, you'll find that you naturally become more assertive in your presentation because you will feel more comfortable and in command of the interview.

More executive career advice
Reference Checking By Recruiters: Should you give a recruiter references early in the search process?

The Recruiter's Role In Negotiations: Always remember who the recruiter represents.

Tips On Videoconference Interviewing: There are tricks to handling a video interview.

Having Your Contacts Distribute Your Resume: Is it worth having your friends pass out copies of your resume?

Lack Of A College Degree: Deal proactively with perceived educational shortcomings.

Approach each interview armed with as much information as you can find about the interviewer, the position, and the organization -- the more you know about the needs of each, the more effective you will be in presenting your qualifications and potential contribution.

This research will also help you uncover more about the culture of the organization. In some cases, the "cheerleader" style may be the hallmark of the organization, but for many others, aggressiveness might be measured more in terms of the quiet confidence shown by leaders whose style is collaborative rather than combative.

Gather information on what problems are facing the organization -- particularly as they relate to your functional area of interest. A couple of tips for uncovering this information include talking to people who either work there now or once did and carefully monitoring industry trade publications for any related news.

A collaborative approach to an interview is a great way to demonstrate your effectiveness and value -- especially when you share your ideas with energy and enthusiasm. This positive approach to presenting yourself will leave most interviewers with a clear impression of your management style, your understanding of problems facing the company, and your problem solving ability and skill sets.

At the end of the day, our members report that the best way to succeed in an interview is to come prepared, read the interviewer, respond to his or her needs, and most important of all, be yourself! There is no sense in trying to role-play your way into a job. If the position isn't the right fit for you, it will surface sooner or later, and if the company doesn't get what they thought they were hiring, they may take action and look for someone else.

One last suggestion -- the confidence that interviewers are looking for comes mostly from practice. If it doesn't come naturally, it might mean you need more practice interviewing. Consider interviewing with a friend or career coach who will give you honest feedback. After a test interview, ask them for their perception of you on a passive-aggressive scale. We rarely see ourselves as others do, and the feedback you receive may help you gain a better understanding of how you present yourself.

Hope this is helpful.


Dave Opton is CEO and Founder of ExecuNet, an online career services center for executives. 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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