Consider this scenario: You’ve applied for a C-suite position at your dream company. The first interview with the HR department goes well, so you’re not surprised when they call you back to meet with your prospective supervisor and some of the people who would comprise your team. That group interview also goes well. When they call you again, they say, “We’d like to move forward. Would you be available next Thursday at noon to meet with our CEO? She has the final say.”
Beyond Impressions, Toward Impact
If you reach this point in the interview process, you’ve obviously made a good impression. Now, to seal the proverbial deal, it’s time to make an impact. Often, the words “impact” and “impression” are used synonymously, but they have subtle connotation differences you should consider. To make an impression is to cause someone to form an idea, feeling, or opinion about you, which you’ve done in this scenario. To make an impact, however, is to make a difference. After all, says retirement coach Dawn Marcotte, “What people think about us isn’t going to change the way they think or act.” If we can inspire people to make changes and/or take action, on the other hand, that is impact (LinkedIn). Your goal, then, is to not only favorably impress the CEO, but to get her thinking about possible positive changes you could make to the organization. Let’s talk about how.
From Impression to Connection
You may be personable and articulate. You may have an impressive resume and perfect answers to all of the questions you think the CEO will ask. However, you need her to be able to connect the dots between who you are on paper and even sitting in front of her to who you’ll be as an employee and how you’ll fit into the organization.
Start by making a personal connection; after all, CEOs are people too. Don’t feel like she has to ask all the questions. If she asks you about your children or your personal background, reciprocate by asking about hers. Show genuine interest and find common ground.
Next, showcase how much you know about the organization. Business author and international keynote speaker David Burkus recommends you do as deep a dive as possible before your meeting:
- Know the company’s founding story.
- Know how they have evolved.
- Familiarize yourself with the company culture.
- Learn about the CEO.
- Know what problems the company currently faces (see next section).
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be prepared to ask the right questions, make actionable suggestions, and demonstrate how invested in the company you already are.
A Focus on Problem-Solving
Every company faces some challenges. To make an impact in your meeting with the CEO, learn ahead of time what those challenges are. However, you definitely don’t want to present them as leadership flaws or weaknesses; rather, approach them in conversation as areas where you’re prepared to step in and make a difference. Life coach and HR consultant Carolynn Bruce says, “Communicate your desire to help the company succeed throughout the interview. Recognize [its] recent successes and emphasize that you’d like to aid in its continuous growth and development” (Indeed).
Be specific. If you know the organization struggles with high turnover, for instance, don’t merely say, “Decreasing turnover would be one of my top priorities.” Rather, have an actual plan and say something like, “By instituting an employee recognition program, exploring flexible workspace and workday options, and creating a continuous advancement program, I believe we can cut turnover by 30 percent.”
The CEO’s Perspective
Don’t just take my word for what CEOs are looking for when they interview candidates—let’s take a look at what they have to say on the subject. As the host of the radio program “The CEO Show” for the last 15 years, Robert Reiss has interviewed over a thousand of the world’s leading CEOs, and he’s put together a list of the top-five traits these employers most value (CNBC):
- You keep your promises: Find a way to highlight your dependability. (Hint: start by being prompt for the interview!)
- You are a lifelong learner: Mention the courses and seminars you’ve attended, the relevant books you’ve read, etc.
- You do your research: We talked about this in the “connection” section, but it bears repeating—know before you go!
- You go outside your comfort zone: Talk about challenging assignments for which you volunteered and at which you succeeded.
- You are constantly curious: Demonstrate this quality by being prepared with meaningful, thought-provoking questions about the organization and your potential position within it.
In short, you can make a good impression on the CEO without necessarily making an impact. She may think you’re a pleasant, capable, intelligent person, but if she doesn’t see you as indispensable, and if she doesn’t want to take action or make changes after your interview, you’ve left some meat on the bone.
By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano
President & CEO of Barbachano International (BIP)
Barbachano International is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Canada, and Latin America) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets. Outplacement and Exe
Barbachano International is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Canada, and Latin America) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets. Outplacement, Exe