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Career Mastery Series for Executive Leaders (Episode 1) - Westgate Career Coaching
Get Hired Up! Podcast


Maureen Farmer 

&

Maddison Shears



We are so excited to share our summer series on the Get Hired Up! podcast with you. 


We reviewed and analyzed more than 280 executive CEO and board-level client profiles from large corporations, private equity firms, as well as family offices as they navigate promotions, board appointments, transitions, and start new businesses. We uncover the most pressing questions CEOs have today. These questions are aggregated to protect the confidentiality of our clients.



Transcript

Maureen Farmer

In this Get Hired Up! podcast series, we review and analyze more than 280 executive CEO and board level client profiles from large corporations, private equity firms, as well as family offices as they navigate promotions, board appointments, transitions and start new businesses join medicine and then me as we uncover the most pressing questions CEOs have today. These questions are aggregated to protect the confidentiality of our clients. We work with high profile leaders who are seeking peak performance through personal branding and key messaging. If this describes you, and you would like to speak privately with me. Reach out to me at Maureen at westgatecareercoaching.com. I hope you enjoy the show!

Maddison Shears

Hello, Maureen. Thank you for joining me today. I'm very excited to be talking about interviews with you.

Maureen Farmer

Thank you, Maddison, I'm excited as well. Let's go!

Maddison Shears

Yeah, let's do it. We're gonna jump right into the questions. So, as Maureen mentioned, these are questions from real people, real clients of ours in the last 24 months. And Maureen is going to shed some insight on giving you a little bit of expertise around interviewing to hopefully make you feel more confident in the process. So one of the number one questions that we received is what has changed in the last 20 years in regards to the interview process?

Maureen Farmer

Well, that's a great question. And it's a logical one. From my point of view, my perspective, aside from the technology point of view, perspective, nothing has changed. So it's the tools to conduct the interviews that have changed. And those are obvious, I don't think we need to go over those today. At the end of the day, interviews are one part of the risk mitigation process and due diligence process that organizations undergo to vet their candidates very, very carefully. The more senior the candidate, the more critical it is for the organization to do the due diligence. And so especially since 9/11, things have changed tremendously. But that's been a long time. So if you've not interviewed since before, September 11, 2001, think about the types of things that organizations will care about...criminal background checks, credit checks, reference checks, security clearances, making sure that you have all of your paperwork up to date. And understand that, you know, if you have a criminal record, some people have one and don't even know they have one from ages and ages and ages ago. If it's a minor offence, it's different in every country, of course. So understanding that the interview process is really about mitigating risk from an organizational point of view. Of course, from your point of view, the candidates point of view you're doing your due diligence as well. And the interviewer provides an opportunity for each party to do their own respective due diligence. Interviews will likely last a period of time, weeks, months, I've seen some interviews last years, in fact, so it's important to understand where the interview falls in that risk mitigation process. There is one hot button that comes up a lot which is ATS applicant tracking systems. And we are going to be talking about that later in this series in detail. I will say however, there is so much emphasis inappropriately attached to applicant tracking systems that it detracts from the actual job search or board search strategy. So, we will come back to that later (as one one piece of technology that is getting a lot of attention these days).

Maddison Shears

Wonderful. That's great. Moving into the next question. Another one we've received often is how do I sell myself?

Maureen Farmer

Yes, and I understand that creates a lot of anxiety for people, especially those who have not had the opportunity to interview for a very long time. So never sell yourself, you won't need to sell yourself because you are already qualified for the role. You wouldn't be invited in to the interview unless you are qualified. Think about it from a relational and not a transactional perspective. Remember, you are the product and the solution. So you're not going to sell yourself, you're going to sell your product. So what does that mean? So organizations, you know, as we've mentioned before, are looking for a solution. They're looking for someone to make money, save money, solve a problem, that's the value proposition. So it's important to remember that the interview to the degree that you can do so is really about the company or the board of directors. They're looking for a solution when you understand that and you are Using your resume as a product specification for the organization, so what is it that you do to make money, save money solve a problem? Well, you're going to use the signature stories that are in the resume the bullets, if you will, to tell the story and evidence based story that you're going to tell the interview are about how you make money, save money, solve a problem.

And the way I look at it, is treating it like a consulting engagement, treat the employer, the board, the recruiter, as though they were a client. And so you're going to be very curious, you're going to ask deep questions, and you're going to make it about them. So the answers to the questions will inform the next set of questions. And really, again, it's about building a relationship. And remember that throughout that entire ecosystem, you know, we talk about the resume is the roadmap for, you know, the the interview, and the interview becomes the roadmap for the offer, the offer becomes the roadmap for the negotiation. And the negotiation becomes a roadmap for the first 90 days on the job. So understand, you know, where your product fits in, in that distribution channel, if you will, and understand that it is a long game, especially at the board level, it can take a number of iterations before you come to the conclusion that you're both the right fit for each other. Does that make sense?

Maddison Shears

Yes it does. I was just going to tuck in a sub-question to that one. You said earlier that sometimes it takes years, is there any way for the candidate to determine how long it might take the interview process? In general? Does it depend on the role? Does it depend on the company, the size of the company? Does it depend on, you know, the personality of the hiring manager? Like what factors could we tell the audience that go into determining maybe the length of the interview process?

Maureen Farmer

I think it depends on whether the organization has a succession plan in place. And the candidate can ask that question, you know, in terms of succession, because many organizations invest years in the succession planning process, some organizations are not quite that evolved, or that developed. With a recent acquisition, for example, in an M&A environment where there is an integration that needs to happen, that will likely potentially evolve quicker than, let's say, a fortune 500 company. So, you know, fortune 500 companies, most of them have been around for a period of time and will have a fairly sophisticated succession planning process in place where a smaller organization, a recently acquired organization, a private equity fund, that may have a number of portfolio companies in their portfolio may have a shorter cycle when it comes to, you know, time to hire for a CEO role. for example. Does that answer your question?

Maddison Shears

Yes, it does! Great. The next question we have is, do you have any tips for mitigating nervousness...it's uncomfortable, nobody likes being interviewed. So any tips that you might have because you've interviewed people before yourself and you've been interviewed, of course, so...

Maureen Farmer

Right. And I prefer not to do either. But I have done both many, many times. And so what I would say to the person listening today is to take a leadership position in the interview. So, what do I mean by that? Well, you're going to treat this meeting like any other business meeting, you're going to be very, very well prepared. In fact, you're going to be so well prepared, that you are going to be able to anticipate questions that are going to be asked of you. And when you are able to anticipate the questions and have a process for answering them, you'll be even more confident. So, we do have a model for answering questions. I'm going to explain it here very briefly. We are going to have another session in this series on the actual model itself and where we will do a complete example, but for today, we're going to briefly talk about it. It's called SARI. And many of the management books in human resources, books and executive leadership programs have a version of this. Our version is called S A R I. S stands for Situation. A stands for action. R stands for results. And I stands for impact on the organization.

So, you're likely going to be asked a question like tell me about a time when and in this situation. We're going to name this issue ration just as it says, we're going to tell the interviewer the actions that we took to address the situation, then we're going to very clearly and articulately deliver the results, preferably, preferably in terms of metrics and numbers, percentages, some type of a tangible result, the the AI is the impact on the organization. And this is the most critical part of the answer. And it's one that many executives overlook when they're giving an answer, they think of the result will that's the result. But what I want to know is the interview, what's the impact of the result on that situation? So did you make money, save money, solve a problem? And then what was the result of that? So were you able to serve more clients? Were you able to allocate more capital to a major project? Were you able to develop key relationships with the media, for example? So those are the types of impacts that we're looking at at that level?

Maddison Shears

I think that's great. I think that when the hiring manager and the or the employer is hearing the impact, as you said, being the most important thing, regardless of what the situation is, maybe they can't quite envision how you're going to do that for them, because maybe they haven't had a similar situation. But when they hear the impact dealer, they're instantly going to be able to see like, okay, so like they did this exact thing for this company. And that's how it impacted them. And I think that that's just going to help them feel a little bit more informed on what you can do for their company, regardless of the exact parallels or mirroring of the situations.

Maureen Farmer

Yeah, transferability of skills is definitely an outcome of this model. And the the other consideration, too, is that that many, very, very well established and successful executives often overlook the how of the result and the impact. So, it's one thing to say that you produced a result. But if you're able to walk the interview, or the CEO, or the chairman of the board, through your actions, and the steps that you took to get the result in the impact, they can very clearly envision how you can do the same for them.

Maddison Shears

Exactly. That's great.

Many of our clients have not had to interview in many decades. And it might be sort of unfamiliar territory for them, if they're looking to transition into something different. And I was wondering if you could let let us know what your approach is, and helping executives prepare for these interviews.

Maureen Farmer

So really, you know, you know your stuff, you know the content, you know the context, you know your figures, you know your metrics, you know your value proposition. And now, it's your turn to communicate that in a way that instills confidence in the interviewer. And so my recommendation is to ensure that you're well rested, that you're well fed and hydrated before you go into that meeting. Because the human brain needs two things to build needs many things, but two critical pieces or two critical components of cognitive performance is oxygen, and glucose. So that's why it's important that you get out for a good walk or go for a workout or, you know, get out for some fresh air. And if you can't get out for some fresh air to do some deep breathing, before this conversation happens, making sure that you're well fed and hydrated, absolutely critical. If you have a maybe a spiritual practice, maybe a meditation practice that you follow. Having some mindfulness and relaxation in advance will produce really positive results during that job interview process.

Maddison Shears

Right. That's great. That makes sense. So that's sort of right before the interview, how long do you think the process is? Like is it weeks? Is it months to prepare for these interviews and I suppose the context of the interview?

Maureen Farmer

That's an excellent question. I've not been asked that before. So this is a new one for me. I think it's different for each person. So I think it depends on the type of communication style you have. So for example, if you are a really highly, let's say, introverted type of person, it will likely take longer to prepare, simply because the more you have to adapt your behavior in an interview or any type of a meeting, or event, the more energy it's going to take to do so. So, you know, I would say that the preparation starts long before you're ever invited to the interview. Because you're going to be doing industry research, organizational research, sort of search and research on the leadership and the board of directors and mental potential investors and things like that's you'll know that the cognitive part, I think, can can happen weeks in advance if you have that if you have that timeframe, as soon as possible because the more knowledge you have, the more more power you will have you've heard that, you know, in negotiation is that knowledge is power. And having that knowledge is absolutely critical. So I would say that you know, a couple of days in advance to start thinking about your presence, thinking about executive presence and visioning the room and envisioning what the setup of the room will be. And just preparing in that way can be very powerful in terms of improving your confidence.

Maddison Shears

Great. So the next item that I want to discuss, it's not really a question, but myth busters. And specifically, ageism, I'd love to talk a little bit more about that. Age not being a barrier. So, I think people might second guess the idea of even going through this process, because they already feel that they're at a certain age, at a certain point in their life, where, you know, there's no point I don't have a shot when there might be a 35 year old, who, you know, is also up for the running. So, yeah, I thought maybe if you could speak to that a little bit?

Maureen Farmer

That's another really good question. That's another common question that comes up a lot in with the individuals that I work with. And, you know, age, I think, really, Madison is a mindset, whatever your perceived barrier is, and this process will determine how confident you feel walking into that conversation. And I think if you have the sense that you're too old, you're too young, because sometimes we have that experience, too. I've had a client who...he is in his late 30s, but looks very, very young. And his concern is that he looks too young to be considered for a senior management position. So it's a mindset. It's a mindset, I once work with an individual who is well, by now he'd probably be in his late 70s, who was an executive working in the in the airline industry doing a very unique thing. And he said, you know, Maureen, do you think I'm too old for this? And I said, Absolutely not, he had never needed a resume before. He had never had this experience before. This is a very first time he had had to have a resume very first time he had to even think about interviewing. And he was in between contracts. And at this particular time a few years ago, he wasn't getting any response to his inquiries. And absolutely not because this person was 73, he was very professional looking, he had a great haircut, his clothing was just impeccable. He had a great smile. And I think the most important thing of all Madison is that he had confidence. And at the end of the day, that's what organizations...of course, they're looking for competence. As I said before, you would not be in an interview with somebody if you weren't vetted carefully by the interviewers. So of course, you're competent. So really what they're looking for are leadership skills. They're looking for confidence. So how can this individual come into our organization, and help us make money, save money or solve a specific problem.

And I think when we walk into conversations, thinking, you know, I'm too old, I'm too young, whatever that perceived barrier is, will show up in the interview in a way of robbing you of confidence in your abilities and your abilities to communicate. So when you know what your value proposition is, so what is it that I can do to make money, save money or solve a problem for this organization, then that's where the confidence comes from...the age and all of those other things will go away.

And further to that, I want to make this point as well. I had a conversation a number of months ago with a good friend and colleague, Karen, in North Carolina, and we were talking about this very thing about age. And both of us have worked as recruiters in one capacity or another over the years. And I said, Karen, have you ever not hired someone or not recommended someone for hire because of an age barrier? And she said, Absolutely not. And I have to say that I feel the same way.

The only time age would come into the the play here. And it's not even an age thing. It's more of an experience thing. If, for example, you have a retired CFO who decides that you know what she wants to take a job as a bank teller, so she may apply and because she is I guess, on the outset, you know, obviously qualified to do that job. She gets an interview, they have the interview, and then the job offer is not extended. She may go away thinking oh, I'm too old. So she's a retired CFO and she's she wants to retire and just work and I say just because she might want to work in a job where she doesn't have maybe management responsibilities. She wants to work in a an entry level type job. She may walk away from that interview experience thinking that I'm too old. That's why they didn't hire me why she was that she's too old. Right, right. Do you want to know what my interpretation of that is? My interpretation of that, because this has happened before is that she's too experienced. Okay. So if the person, the applicant is too experienced for the position, then they're not qualified.

Here's another example of this type of scenario. I worked with a client in the eastern United States. And he had been very senior in a very large bank in the United States very senior level. And because of a reorganization, he had to leave the organization, he got a package. And he took a job as a similar level and another type of financial institution. And after two years, he was miserable. He was miserable, because he was being micromanaged in that organization. He wasn't able to make decisions in this new organizations that he had made decades before he was being micromanage. He just didn't have the, so he decided to leave. So he left and he decided, okay, now I'm going to apply for a job and another type of financial institution. So time and time again, he went for interviews, and he was not awarded the job offer. And that's when he came to us. Because he was having difficulty with securing job offers, he was getting interviews, but no offers. So what he was doing is when by the time he came to, to us, he had downgraded he would have been working at the SVP level and started applying for director level positions. So he had had several interviews, but no offers. And so his assumption was that I'm too old for this. So we did a bit of an analysis on his process and his strategy and things like that. And really, my interpretation of that is that he was applying for jobs that he was overqualified for. So when you apply for a job that you're overqualified for, there are a whole bunch of things at play, employers will not want to hire somebody who's overqualified. I mean, I can think of a number of reasons...what reason might you think of?

Maddison Shears

Well, I think for one thing, it could be, it could have to do with what you just mentioned, him leaving the previous job is, you know, they don't want to go through the motions of bringing somebody on the team and training them just for them to realize, wait a second, I don't have the same level of authority that I did in my previous role.

Maureen Farmer

Absolutely. And they don't want to hire somebody who's going to be potentially bored after a short period of time, either. And, you know, when somebody is brought into an organization, and they have less authority than they had in the past, they can come to resent the organization, they can learn, they don't come to resent the CEO, they can learn to resent their team members and their own direct reports. So it's really important that we look at apples to apples when we are looking at job opportunities and ensuring that there's a right fit at the level and, and the title, and things like that those are absolutely critical. So do you want me to tell you what happened with this guy?

Maddison Shears

I do!

Maureen Farmer

And had it had a very happy ending. So what happened was, is once he realized that he was applying for jobs, who was overqualified for he he changed that and began looking at opportunities that he was either qualified for, or maybe was punching a little bit above his weight. So maybe seeking opportunities that were a little bit more senior than where he had come from. And I think that that was a very good strategy for him. He he ended up speaking with a financial institution in another part of the country, the president of the bank, we had to leave for an indeterminate period of time, at least a two year period. And so they were looking for somebody to work as the president for that period of time. And he actually flew into the city had the the job interview, there were a few more conversations, and then he was extended the job offer.

Maddison Shears

Oh, great. That was a happy ending.

Maureen Farmer

And I haven't heard from him in a while. I must remember to follow up with him. But I know that having that experience of applying for jobs time and time again, was very frustrating for him when he didn't receive an offer. And I think that that can really play on a person's confidence. Absolutely right, especially after they've had decades and decades of, you know, really top performing results for their organization. And then they're left with you know, scratching their heads trying to figure out you know, what happened there. We had a great interview. The report was great, the energy was great. And then I wasn't extended the job offer. One of the frustrations that candidates often have when they go through this process is not knowing the reason for not being extended the offer.

Organizations are very reluctant to share that information with an unsuccessful job candidate. There's are a number of reasons for that. Number one is litigation. So if you find out that you didn't get the position, because you're not the right fit, well, people can interpret that any way they want. And that can be misunderstood or misconstrued as maybe discrimination or something like that, or unfair, or whatever it might be. Another reason is that organizations want to protect their brand and want to protect their own confidentiality. So they, they may not be willing to disclose information that might expose them, or make them vulnerable. I'm sure there's as many reasons as there are people why a job offer may not be extended, it can do with energy on the team...fit is absolutely important. And so oftentimes, we might have a team that we're working with...and I recall one time many years ago, we were interviewing for a team member. And I was on the interview panel, and one of our team members was extremely difficult to work with extremely difficult to work with, she was in fact aligned very closely with the CEO. So we knew that this person would be protected by the CEO and had the CEOs backing. So what we needed to do, we needed to find a candidate that could get along well with that type of a personality. And so we hired for fit ahead of competence. And it may sound counterintuitive, but we knew that if the new team member coming in, didn't get along well with this person that they wouldn't last. So we made the hire. And we asked the candidates a number of different questions. There were seven people, it was a very lengthy process, and every person pretty much got the same questions. And one of them was, you know, how do you deal with conflict, everything around that particular interview focused on conflict, focused on teamwork, focused on, you know, working with, we didn't call it difficult team members. But we alluded to that, and the person who was awarded the successful candidate later on disclosed to me that she picked up on the fact that there was a theme in the in the interview questions. And we chose her because she was mature, and she had a lot of experience. And we knew that she would somehow find a way to get along with our other colleague. And so, you know, you just never know. So the other candidates, the six other people who interviewed for the position, were all highly qualified, because we wouldn't have wasted our time speaking to somebody that we didn't consider qualified, they were all very, very established, had great credentials and great competencies. But unfortunately, we could not go back to those individuals and disclose to them, the reason they didn't get chosen for the position was that we had a difficult team member that we needed to, we needed to find the right fit for, we just could not do that.

So that's just one of many, many reasons where you know, fit is so important. And you may be, you know, the absolutely best qualified on paper and an otherwise. But when fit comes into play, we need to be able to move this organization the right direction, and make sure that, you know, the the culture of the team is honored within that context.

Maddison Shears

Thank you for sharing that story. Because I don't think people necessarily think about all the moving parts. And I like you said, I think that it can be, it can be a huge blow to somebody's confidence. And they might not think first and foremost, like this has nothing to do with me, this is a bigger issue. And it has nothing to do with my qualifications and or my age or anything. So that was very insightful. Thank you for sharing. So for our last question, the interview had gone great. You feel really good about it, and it's coming up towards the end. You can you can feel it coming to the end. What is a good CTA for job interviews, so call to action?

Maureen Farmer

Sure. So this is another marketing principle that many executives overlook and showing your enthusiasm for the role provided you feel that way is appropriate to express during the very end of the interview, oftentimes, the interviewer will ask you if you have any questions, and we're going to talk about other types of questions later on in this series, but in terms of a call to action, is asking whether you can follow up with them showing enthusiasm and then don't stop following up. Many times interviews get forwarded, they get they get postponed. I have worked with one one gentleman and a very, very large, large organization and we've alluded to him earlier. had our conversation. And his interview process spanned a period of about 36 months. And there were a number of reasons for that. But that relationship continued for that 36 months. Wow. And it's a very, very unusual situation. Most, most openings, and you know, even at the CEO level, don't take 36 months unless, of course, there is a robust and comprehensive succession plan in place. And following up is is truly where the magic is. So ask if you can follow up. If they say, yes, then you have permission to follow up, I recommend following up, you know, once a week, once every two weeks until you get an answer. Oftentimes, organizations are dealing with crises, and they won't always have the time or opportunity to follow up with a candidate, if they're smart. And if they're organized, they will find a mechanism to do so. But sometimes it's just not possible. So don't stop following up until you get an answer. And I have had more success with clients who have continued with the dialogue, even if it feels only one way for a period of time. And the ability to follow up. What does that show you?

Maddison Shears

If you're consistently following up, it means you know, that company and that organization is on the forefront of your mind. And I think that that's the message that they receive on their end, even if they're not getting back to you because of course, they're very busy. But like you said, you don't take it personally, don't feel like you're harassing...that's exactly why you asked for permission as the CTA, you know, they told you to and I don't think anybody's going to say no, please don't follow up.

Maureen Farmer

No, not at that level, although there are situations where, you know, there is an established process in place, and if the recruiter or the Board of Directors asked that you not follow up, obviously, you're going to acquiesce and comply with that response. I think it's really, really important to demonstrate tenacity at the CEO level, you're going to be expected to follow up. I mean, that's what CEOs do. CEOs lead the company, they lead operations, they have to be tenacious, and they have to be confident in their communication practices. And following up politely, and following up regularly demonstrates a very strong leadership ability, in my opinion.

Maddison Shears

I entirely agree...for sure you're right. That is what would be expected.

Maureen Farmer

If you take the time to follow up and you would follow up repeatedly. And suppose there are two candidates who are equally qualified to CEO candidates, for example, who are equally qualified. But one one of the candidates takes more time and effort to follow up, you know, with diligence and enthusiasm. I think that's the one I would want to work with. Yes, the person all things being equal. And I don't think it hurts to demonstrate your enthusiasm. And one, one thing that you can say to the chairman of the board, the CEO or the recruiter is, you know, I'm very, like what I've heard today, very enthusiastic about moving forward and would like to know what the next steps are. And that will demonstrate, you know, your enthusiasm for moving forward. Obviously, if you don't feel that way, then you will say those words, but that will that will tell the recruiter or the chairman of the board that you are interested in, in the role and you you can't under under you can't understate enthusiasm. I don't think I do have a bonus tip for the really enthusiastic CEO, a job seeker today.

Maddison Shears

Oh, I am excited!

Maureen Farmer

Well, Maddison, you inspired this because Madison is involved in improv. And over the past year, I've spoken to probably three or four people who are polishing their brand and improving their communication skills through improv. If you are a CEO candidate who is shy, quiet, introverted, and even if you're not...the improv experience, from what I've learned, does what Maddie? It helps...

Maddison Shears

You get outside of your comfort zone in the best way possible. Be very quick and think on your feet. That's exactly what improv is. I think if anybody's familiar with Whose Line is it Anyways? Super popular. And even TV shows today. I know like Seinfeld...those popular shows that have been around  and sometimes you just can't believe how well delivered a scene was and you're like, it doesn't even feel scripted. It probably wasn't and they were just thinking on their feet in the moment being quick, being creative. And it's just amazing. I'm a huge improv enthusiast. I'm taking it as we speak. And it's a lot of fun but it also is strategic in the way that it helps you get outside of your comfort zone. It helps you think outside the box. And I think it just gives you confidence. Absolutely gives you confidence. It's amazing. I could talk forever about improv.

Maureen Farmer

Well, I think that that's a great way to end this episode in this season. And if you are a CEO candidate or a board candidate, if you're looking for specific strategies to move your performance in interviews to the next level, reach out to us.

Maddison Shears

Yes, yes, I do agree. And I think it again, it has multiple aspects of it. It depends on how deep the interview was, what all was asked, that is always there. But it is also hard. I mean, sometimes the interviewers also get smitten by a candidate that they are like, they are so impressed by what's on the paper and they want that interview to go well, they want to hire them because of their own excitement. They sometimes in an interview, unknowingly ignore some red flags.

Maureen Farmer

Thank you very much, Madison. I really enjoyed our call today.

Maddison Shears

Thank you, me as well Maureen, have a great day.