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Career Mastery Series for Executive Leaders (Episode 3) - 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 episode 3 of the Career Mastery Series (episode 40 of our podcast), we reviewed more than 280 client questions over the last 24 months to provide a sampling of questions and themes that arise with our clients. In the podcast we discuss the Westgate job interview model, whether it’s for media, a job opportunity, or a board role. This easy-to-follow model works in almost any scenario and our clients love it. We hope you enjoy our discussion.


Welcome back to the show for our third episode in the series, Maddie.

Maddison Shears

I'm happy to be here and I look forward to this conversation.

Maureen Farmer

Me too. Let's go.


Robert Collier, the famous writer said constant repetition builds conviction. Having a clearly articulated value proposition takes the guesswork and the stress out of the interview answer.


Would you agree, Maddie? Absolutely.

 

Maddison Shears

Absolutely.

Maureen Farmer

I was recently a guest on the Forged by Trust podcast, hosted by Robin Dreeke, as you remember, and he's a former FBI agent spy recruiter.

We spoke about trust in how trust is really the cornerstone for optimizing performance through executive coaching. You can't deny that trust is an imperative part of the coaching process. Yes. One of his questions related to helping individuals, including job and board seekers feel comfortable enough to share their fears with me.

I would say that the fear of being interviewed for a job, the media or a board opportunity ranks pretty high. Would you agree Maddie?

Maddison Shears

Oh, yeah, definitely. Everybody has experienced that fear at some point.

Maureen Farmer

In fact, the example I gave in the podcast related to the CEO and chairman of the board of a global company who had been with his company for more than 24 years because of COVID he was leaving the country to accommodate his family's health challenges. And of course it was a very difficult decision for him to make. And of course his key priority, was the safety of his family. His second priority was his livelihood. And so after 24 years with this company, he needed to prepare for conversations with recruiters and hiring decision makers.

So where to start? What to say? How do I answer the question—Tell me about yourself, which is more of a statement than a question, but nevertheless, it's one that's often brought up in, in interviews. So in 24 years, he had not ever been interviewed, although he had interviewed others for decades. So he here was his question.

Maureen, how have interviews changed in the last 25 years? How do I prepare and how do I answer questions that I feel uncomfortable answering what we're going to do. I'm going to go through the model and then I'm going to give an example. And then Maddie is going to interview me and ask me the questions that our clients fear the most.

So, here we go. So if you can imagine a baseball diamond and you can imagine the home plate, the. The three bases on the diamond and imagine in the pitcher's mound is where the recruiter or hiring decision maker is going to pitch a question at you. And we will use the example of tell me about a time when.

So, what we're going to do with the model and imagine going around to the different stops on the model. And we start by creating context for the interview question, by telling a story based on your own experience, a story that is outlined in your resume, for example. And so step one or base one is a situation.

What was the challenge that you faced? Why were you hired into this role? What problem were you hired to, to solve? That's the situ. Action. That's the second base action is what action or actions did you take to overcome the challenge? The third base is the result. What was the outcome of your actions and many people, uh, if you're familiar with management theory and, and leadership development will be very, very, somewhat familiar with this model.

I'm sure we don't stop at the result. The home run in this model is what is the impact of the result? On the organization. And we've talked a little bit about this before in a previous episode, you're going to conclude your answer by connecting your answer to their business imperatives. So now I'm going to give you a real example.

Do you have any questions so far Maddie?

Maddison Shears

Nope, this is great. I really like it so far.

Maureen Farmer

So, you can imagine the ball diamond and going around the ball diamond and actually getting the home run?

Maddison Shears

Yes, it's nice to visualize it!

Maureen Farmer

All right. This particular example is based on a client that we worked with probably about seven or eight years ago.

And of course, some of this information has been fictionalized to protect his identity, but this is the actual scenario that, uh, that he faced. So he was being interviewed with a large national healthcare organization. And of course, the question the board asked him is tell me about yourself and why we should hire you for this board of director role.

So, step one is he started with, "I am the CEO for a nonprofit organization with more than 15 years of experience." Step two, "When my last company hired me, we were $200,000 in debt and had high employee turnover. I ordered a complete financial audit and discovered major inefficiencies and then corrected them.

I spearheaded a new fundraising strategy. And I initiated an employee loyalty program." So that's the second base, step two, which is the action. Step three—third base. The result. "After 18 months, we were 1.5 million profitable, employee turnover has reduced by 35%. We have exceeded our funding goals for the current year, and donors have increased an average of 24% year over year."

So, we're looking at annual recurring revenues there of increasing 24%. So, what was the home run? What was the impact on the business? "The board was very pleased with these results. We improved employee engagement, which is reduced churn. We are now receiving excellent media coverage and our clients are benefiting from the success.

In fact, we are now able to serve 26% more clients (or patients in that case) every year."

And that is the home run. So what we're doing is creating context by tailoring this story to a certain degree to the targeted market. So obviously this was a healthcare environment. It was a national organization that fundraising was very important to. And so you can see that the CEO's answer is in perfect alignment with what the organization is seeking in a CEO. So does that make sense?

Maddison Shears

Yeah, definitely. What I like about it is that I think when we're preparing for an interview and the interview questions, I think we think about a situation to present, the action we took, and the result. But what I like about this model is that the fourth portion of the diamond is the impact on the business, the home run. And I think that that's probably one of the most important parts for the interviewees to receive, because they're able to take that impact and directly relate it to their business and their organization and the role that you're going to be possibly playing.

So, I really like that. And also, I just wanted to note that we will put a diagram of this baseball diamond in the show notes, just in case you do wanna follow it through visually. I think that might be helpful.

Maureen Farmer

Yes and the other advantage of using this type of model is that everything comes from the CV. We're not making it up. The numbers are real. Situation is real. The stories are real. We call these signature stories. And so just for a moment, let me go through. And break it down a little bit because the listener will be able to use this model. Not only to practice, tell me about yourself, but also to address other issues that will come up during the interview.

So, they may say, well, you know, tell me more about your employee loyalty program. How did you go about doing that? So then you can dig a little bit deeper and use the same model to tell that story. Situation action result and impact. I spearheaded a new fundraising strategy. Great. How did you do that? Same situation. Give the challenge, the action, the result, and then the impact. The impact does not necessarily need to be. On the entire organization for that particular example, it could be that the, um, the example that you give the result was really an improvement in efficiency on the team. We're not going to be necessarily measuring a team efficiency at the corporate level, but it has nevertheless had an impact on a constituent, whether it is the department, whether it's the team, whether it's, maybe it's a customer. Whatever it might be. So it's really thinking about the entire ecosystem, from, you know, the very beginning to service delivery and for the CEO, that person as a candidate will be looking at the entire external ecosystem as well.

So, you know, constituents such as shareholders, could be industry regulators, suppliers, it could be investors. So, thinking about giving that answer. Uh, within the context context of the needs of everyone within the external ecosystem, as well as the internal ecosystem too, because reducing employee turnover is going to have a tremendous influence on the efficiency optimization of the organization. So with a model like this, I think that you can agree, at least the feedback we're getting on this model is that it has a tremendous positive influence on confidence. And why might that be? Why might it improve confidence?

Maddison Shears

Because I think you have a plan, you know, so I think everybody prepares for an interview...for sure. Of course, but to be able to write out the process from challenge to impact on business, I think it just solidifies what you did and you're able to just go in a little bit more prepared and confidence is important because at the leadership level, at the C-suite level, you know, confidence is key.

And so you don't want that to be distorted because you feel unprepared or you're nervous, or these questions kind of put you on the spot because to Maureen's point, all of this stuff is true. The resume that you submitted, any preliminary conversations you had prior to the interview are all legitimate.

So, there's no reason to be afraid. It's all what you've done. And it's all true. So it's just about lining it up and preparing yourself and writing it all out and what you might not have been able to include on your resume because of course, a resume has a limit you can add here and you can write out the details.

They've probably already seen, like, "The CEO worked for a nonprofit organization with 15 years experience". And maybe you have some of the action in the second stop. You know, "when the last company hired me, we were 200,000 in debt that might be on your resume", but there might be little details that you didn't add in and this is your time to sort of tuck those in and prepare yourself. So I think that will add to your confidence as well.

Maureen Farmer

I think also many people think that they need to make up a new answer for every question. And again, going back to Robert Collier's claim that constant repetition builds conviction. And I think the more you're able to articulate the value proposition. For example, after 18 months we were, we were profitable. We were profitable by this amount. Repeat, repeat, repeat that way. It'll be memorable because remember that in that interview process, you may be one of, let's say. Three to five candidates being memorable is going to be part of the challenge.

So, by preparing well, by being confident, knowing the numbers and repeating, repeating the stories that are documented in your resume. Consistently at every level. So understanding your audience at every level of the process. So a junior recruiter will have a different need in the interview than a hiring decision maker will...say with the chair of the nominating and governance committee, for example, because they're very two very different constituents. So the junior recruiter who may very well be vetting your application. And by the way, this has happened many, many times where we've had very senior level candidates being vetted by junior level employees. It's critical that you know your story and that you are consistently telling the same story because that junior recruiter will be socializing your resume and related documents through the entire interview process.

So, making sure that you tell that story in an most articulate way—noting, however that a junior recruiter is going to be curious more so about your credentials and vetting you, pre-qualifying you for the next level, than the chair of the nominating and governance committee will have a completely set of concerns that he or she will want to address in the interview. 

So really knowing your audience is really key here. However, you don't have to create new stories or new new scenarios for each level. You just tailor them to that particular audience. If that makes sense.

Maddison Shears

Definitely, it does.

Maureen Farmer

So, what I'd like to do now is transition into a list of questions. And these are a small sampling of, I think we had more than 280 files that we reviewed.

I think there are more than 500 questions, because each person had more than one question, but these are the top ones. I'm going to move on to those right now. Maddie's going to ask me the questions and I'm going to give an answer and I'm going to follow the framework to the degree that I can.

Maddison Shears

Perfect. Okay. So we'll start off with question number one. Why were you fired?

Maureen Farmer

So, this is a question that comes up a lot in certain certain circles and the, it can be very, uh, disconcerting to have a question like this lobbed at you at the very beginning, "why" questions are always ones that create defense. So, make sure that if you hear this question, a "why" question that you approach the answer in an emotionally neutral way.

So, to answer this type of question, you might start by indicating that there was a merger of the company that you were with, and this was the situation that we faced.

We knew that we were being acquired. So the action that I took to overcome the challenge related to making sure that there was a proper exit strategy and a proper succession plan for the CEO, whether I was going to be there or not, we needed to make sure that there was going to be a leader in place that was able to take over the integration of this new organization. So making sure succession plan was in place, an exit strategy was in place and at the tail end of the due diligence process.

During that 90 day period, we were able to pull together all of the business plans and all of the succession planning and all of the performance reviews of the team and take an inventory of all the systems that would need to be integrated and hand those off to the project team, to the integration team, as a result of the analysis that the board and our senior management team did on the needs of the organization. I decided along with the board's agreement, that I was not going to be the best person to lead the integration of the two companies and I was okay with that.

So, given that I had prepared very, very well, I prepared the organization very, very well for my exit, we decided that that would be my role, that I would be exiting the company and that I would be potentially held on as an advisor and an advisory role on the board.

I think number one, is understanding that terminations happen. Every day terminations happen usually for the best interest of the organization, in the best interest of the customers and other constituents in the organization. It can feel very personal if you've been terminated from a role, but remember that a recruiter is going to be watching how you answer this question. And so if you become defensive, if you become uneasy about the story, that will raise the suspicion potentially of the recruiter that maybe there was something else that you're not sharing with them, even if that's not the case.

So, when you're approaching a question like this, remember that the organization is looking for a solution to a specific problem.They're not necessarily looking for a specific person to hire into that role. So, taking a very neutral position on that answer is going to serve you very, very well.

Maddison Shears

Absolutely! The next one—why was your tenure so short at your last job?

Maureen Farmer

Well, that's a great question. And this is, again, you want to answer the question that speaks to the needs of their organization.

So, answering this question needs to be framed very similarly to the, "why were you fired" question. So, how do you do that? Well, I've had multiple people that I've worked with, who have undergone what I call the bait and switch phenomenon. And what do I mean by that? The executive was hired for a particular challenge in mind and then shortly after joining the organization, the situation completely changed. They had lost a major customer, one of their major investors pulled out, there was a major market correction, there was some trigger event. And so what often happens is that they joined the company and they end up having to deal with challenges they were not aware of or not prepared for, and at the end of the day, we're exited out of the organization, not through any fault of their own.

So when I talk about the bait and switch, I simply mean this—there's a job posting, there's an offer. And then you are onboarded into the organization and things completely change, and that's not what you signed up for. And of course, you're not going to answer that question in that way in a job interview, you're going to be very respectful. You're going to be very deferential to your former employer.

You can let them know that in the situation that you were hired to fix, say for example, it was for a growth opportunity. Let's say it was a SaaS company. Software as a service company. And it was intended to be for travel, the world of travel in 2020. So I think it's pretty obvious what happened in 2020, but as an example, I was hired to grow the footprint of a travel organization globally. And I was hired for that particular challenge. And shortly after I joined the company, the global pandemic ensued and things completely changed. And so I had to go from a build out mode to recovery and to crisis mode. So the action I took, had to do with making sure that the safety of all of our employees was in place, that we had exit strategies prepared and termination strategies for those people we could no longer support while continuing to support the customers that we did have left in the organization.

So it was a complete change. The result of my actions, you know, I was able to retain 12% of our annual recurring revenue through some cargo related travel logistics, customers that we had. We were able to furlough a number of employees. In fact, we were able to furlough 28% of our employees for when we were coming back for the recovery period. And the impact on the organization at the end of the day was instilled confidence in the board of directors. And in fact, while I didn't stay with the organization because of the obvious issues that were going on, I was kept on as a board advisor and I received tremendous support in terms of referrals and letters of recommendation from the board of directors.

As a result of the work I did with the cargo line of business, we were able to ensure that we could keep a certain cash level to manage our most important systems and insurance policies. So what was intended to be a full career with this travel organization really resulted in a crisis management initiative of about nine months.

And it's very, very difficult to write these things in the resume. You only have so much space and you don't want to spend that valuable real estate by trying to over-explain on the resume. Remember that the resume is really like a boarding pass and with a good resume that tells a good story, we'll get you into the business class of the aircraft, whereas a substandard resume will only get you onto the coach class.

If you'll accept the metaphor!

Maddison Shears

Yes! Also, I feel our audience should take comfort in the fact that Maureen...she's not reading from anything. That's her literally coming up with...

Maureen Farmer

Yeah, I wasn't reading anything here. So, that was completely off the top of my head. I didn't know what my answer was going to be, but this is how I use the framework and how you can use the framework too. So, thank you for that Maddie.

Maddison Shears

Yeah! If she can do it off the top of her head, then you can certainly do it because it would be your experience. You would be able to speak to it.

So, the final question that we're going to ask for this conversation that might be presented to you in an interview is why are there so many roles on your resume?

Maureen Farmer

Why are there so many roles on your resume?

Yeah, this question just came up, not that long ago. In this particular person I can speak to this specific example had been a turnaround CEO for private equity, uh, portfolio companies. So what often happens is that a private equity fund will go in and purchase or acquire, invest in a portfolio company that requires a turnaround, meaning that there is, um, potential issues in the organization that need to be fixed. Flipping a house accept as a business. Different process, but a similar concept. And so this particular person, he actually was, I spoke to him in California, uh, last week. Uh, he worked himself out of a job every three to five years. And that's why there were so many jobs listed on his resume. He was quite concerned about that as well.

We were able to create context for the number of positions on his resume. By talking about the situation of being a turnaround CEO. So I am often, uh, called upon as a CEO by private equity funds to reposition a company from, you know, um, from a deficit financing to profitability. And I do that by doing a complete revamp of an inventory and audit of all the systems, the same with the people, making sure that all of the people are in the right seats, uh, for that particular role. And this is an abbreviated example. And then, you know, the result of that is after three to five years, we're able to improve profitability to the satisfaction of the board and investors.

And of course the home run for that is that we end up with an organization, a company that we're able to sell for a profit, and there is no more compelling answer when you can indicate that you have had turnaround success, time and time again. And we position that actually in the resume, not to deep dive into the resume world, but we're able to position that reality in the positioning statement at the top of the resume, that creates context for that.

So knowing that this particular client is a turnaround CEO for private equity funds is very clear to the recruiter. He knows, or she knows exactly what that candidate is able to do time and time again, because it's all listed on the resume. I hope that makes sense.

Maddison Shears

Yes, no, it does. It does. It's kind of similar to having a consulting business because you're basically able to be hired temporarily to solve a problem. 

Maureen Farmer

It's similar—I guess I hadn't thought of it that way before Maddie, it's similar to a fractional CEO or fractional CFO. A fractional CEO will be able to work as a CEO for more than one company at a time. Although I don't know how that's possible given the nature of the job, but I'm sure it happens.

Fractional CMO, fractional CXO of any kind. We actually have a member of our board who is a fractional CFO and he works with a number of different companies at one time.

Maddison Shears

Yep. Definitely. And I think, you know, the confidence piece, like if that was to be your answer, if that is the reality of why you have so many opportunities and roles listed on your resume, you know, you should feel good about that.

You know, be excited when you're talking about it because you're basically saying that you have been brought on essentially with high demand to help with a specific issue. And if you're going to be targeting a role for longevity, maybe for your sunset career, then all of the different things, all the different fires that you put out, you're going to be able to put out, should they arise in ihe opportunity you're pursuing now. So that's appealing to people, I think. 

Maureen Farmer

It goes back to the principle that "previous performance predicts future success". And I think it gives people confidence to know that you've had this experience before and you've achieved these results before...you will be able to achieve them again.

So, Maddie, I think with this model, we really are able to move the cadence along very naturally. It's a framework that's repeatable. And as Robert Collier said, "constant repetition builds conviction". I'll repeat that—"constant repetition builds conviction". So don't be afraid to repeat a signature story more than once in an interview conversation.

Maddison Shears

Yeah, I don't think a lot of people know that...to your point earlier, they feel like they have to bring something else to the table. 

Maureen Farmer

There should never be a time when you have to make up a story or create something new. In an interview because everything that is on your resume should be well presented for an interview.

There are a couple of other questions that come up that people feel really uncomfortable with. And I think I'd like to, as a bonus...this question wasn't planned, but it's top of mind at the moment that people really struggle with it. And here's an example. Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with your boss?

And of course it happens all the time. If you've not had a conflict with a boss, then you shouldn't be in this role. I'll give one from my past and that way I'm protecting all of our clients confidentiality. And this is my particular example. So I'll tell you what happened with me way back in the day when I was in corporate, we had a multi-day event happening. It was really, really important. We had a constituent list of about 2000 stakeholders who we were planning an event for. And I knew based on the logistics and based on the manpower that we had in the organization, I was going to need some help. So I suggested to my boss that we hire an event planner and she pushed back.

It wasn't in the budget, but I knew hiring a competent event planner would make our project much easier. It would make, make it more profitable, even considering the cost and would also make the executive team look good in front of the board. Including her. So I explained to her, I wanted to do it as a beta test and we got agreement from the senior management team that we would try it as a beta and I collected a lot of information in that period of time to present to the board or to the senior team rather as evidence that this would work and we had a few hiccups along the way. My boss was still not convinced that this was the right way to go, but we pulled off a three day event with 2000 people with precision and no friction. And in fact, the event planner who we hired, her name was Jill. She was so popular that the constituents that we were dealing with asked if they could have her name to help their organizations with their own events. Now this took place over a period of about four months, beginning to end.

And so at the end of that process, we were able to substantiate the investment. In the cost and we were able to demonstrate the value that this person, this resource brought to the organization and what that, to the impact on the organization overall was that we were able to deliver more programs at a higher satisfaction rate than before. And that was the impact on the organization. So we had her on a fractional basis for probably about five years for five different major events. So that's that particular situation with my boss. Rectified itself. Although I did have a few battle scarves along the way, she was not completely confident it was going to work, but I knew based on the data that I had, that I felt pretty confident it was going to, uh, work really well for the organization in the long run.

The number of clients that we've worked with over the past 12 years, I can assure you as you're listening to this conversation today, that there is not a scenario we've not encountered. The example I just gave was a pretty benign one. I mean, it was not a termination type of disagreement I had with my boss, but it was a credibility issue that I had as well.

I needed to make sure that I made her look good. And that was her biggest...I don't think she would ever say that or have said that...but it was her reputation that was on the line and I needed to make sure that I honored that.

Maddison Shears

Of course! I think that's a great one. And that was a good one to add, because again, that's another question that I think puts people on the spot and you want to answer it in a way that is...

Maureen Farmer

Appropriate?

Maddison Shears

Yes, exactly. 

Maureen Farmer

So again, "constant repetition builds conviction".

If you or anyone on your team are looking for support to help you land that next board seat. Or if you're a CEO candidate looking to build your confidence in the interview process, reach out to us at maureen@westgatecareercoaching.com.

Maddison Shears

So for this conversation, that concludes our Q and A section, but we will be publishing an article in the future where Maureen is going to answer some more questions.

They'll both be questions that are asked in the interview, but also questions that people have around the interview. As she said, we have hundreds of them from real life situations, from real people, clients of ours. And we're excited to continue sharing them with you!

Maureen Farmer

And the next episode in our series, the career mastery series, is going to be discussing perceived conflict on the team or the board and what to do about it. 

Maddison Shears

Amazing. I'm very excited about that one. Thank you so much for joining me and having me back on the show, Maureen, it was wonderful speaking with you. 

Maureen Farmer

Thank you, Maddie. It's been such a pleasure having this conversation today.