How I Prepare Professionals to Interview for Leadership Positions


by Sandra Zimmer


How I prepare professionals to interview for leadership positions is different from preparing young people to interview for entry level jobs. I stumbled on my interview coaching process for leaders when I started coaching people who had many years of experience and who wanted to advance to more senior levels of responsibility.

My clients usually hired me to coach them after failing several interviews despite the fact that they had the right experience for the positions for which they were interviewing. I noticed they had a high degree of expertise and that they could not possibly communicate all their experience, knowledge and wisdom in an interview setting. Leaders have to curate what they share with an interviewer in such a way that they select only the content that the interviewer and company need to hear.

I also noticed that they tended to feel pushed and anxious about how to say everything they knew, every bit of experience and every piece of expertise. People who are highly skilled and experienced can never communicate all they know. That is impossible. No wonder they were anxious!

The real issue for leadership interviews is not lack of experience or ability to lead. It is a combination of curation of content and need for a calm presence. In other words the leader needs to show up as a leader in the interview just as he or she would in day to day leadership activities.

Given my observations about the real issues that professionals experience when they interview for leadership positions, I focus my interview coaching on three things:

  • Preparing nuggets of content that include key point, story and the so what.
  • Developing a grounded presence that radiates calm confidence on a non-verbal level.
  • Selecting content to share based on a consultative approach to interviewing.

Here are the steps more or less in the process I use to help professionals interview for leadership positions:

  1. Teach a grounding exercise.  Begin a process of developing a sense of grounding to establish a calm, solid, leadership presence.  Clients will continue to practice grounding throughout the coaching process.
  2. Identify 8-10 nuggets or topics of content that you want to communicate to an interviewer.
  3. Talk through these nuggets to clarify the key points.
  4. Find stories and examples to back up each nugget.
  5. Clarify the so what of each nugget which means the benefit of your experience for the interviewer and company.
  6. Practice each nugget as a talk that includes key points, stories that back up your points and the so what that connects your experience to the needs of the company.
  7. Encourage clients to write their nuggets to concretize them for now and to save for the future.
  8. Do some mock interview practice sessions using video for feedback on content and delivery.
  9. Prepare questions to interview the interviewer the way a consultant interviews prospective clients to assess if he or she can help that prospect.
  10. Think of an interview as a consulting session rather than as an audition for a job. Begin with a strong overview introduction about who you are and what you do well. As soon as possible ask the interviewer what the company needs the right person to accomplish. Then ask follow-up questions to clarify as much as you can. Then speak to those goals using your prepared nuggets throughout the interview to demonstrate how you can help the company achieve their goals.
  11. Generate a closing for your interview that articulates your willingness to use your expertise to help the company achieve its goals.

This consultative approach to interviewing for leadership positions takes you out of the realm of auditioning and places you squarely in the position of acting like a leader. You feel more like a leader and in control of the situation. It also makes it much easier for the interviewer to perceive you as a natural for the position.

If you’d like more information on how Sandra Zimmer can help you interview skillfully, call Sandra at 281-293-7070 for more information on interview coaching.


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