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How to Ace an Interview with the CEO

You’re nearly through the interview process, having met with the recruiter, the hiring manager and others. Now you’re scheduled to interview with the CEO.

How is interviewing with the CEO different from successful interviewing in general?

Like any interviewer, the CEO is looking for the factors some career coaches call the “three C’s”: your Competence or ability to do the job, your Compatibility with the company culture, and a comfortable interpersonal Chemistry with your manager and other employees. Although the CEO’s concerns may be similar, the emphasis may be different. Since the previous interviewers may have thoroughly vetted you on the competence piece, the CEO may be more interested in how you’ll fit in, your motivations and passions, your personality. For this reason it is crucial to be authentic, open and warm. Easier said than done?

If you feel very nervous or intimidated by the CEO’s high position, try spending some time thinking about the CEO as a person not so different from you. What do you have in common? Can you find any clues online? If not, just use your imagination. Picture him in some likable situation like playing with his grandchildren or pets, or doing volunteer work. Really feel the reality that he has loves, disappointments and vulnerabilities like anyone else, and wish him well. What you’re doing is getting ready to relate to him in a truly friendly and comfortable way. This mental preparation can make a noticeable shift in your confidence and authenticity.

CEOs have their eye on the bottom line. Even more than the hiring manager, they want to know how you will help the company make money. If you have cut costs or contributed to increased revenues at past organizations, be prepared to succinctly tell your story. If your roles have been far from the bottom line, have stories that show you being productive and efficient. After all, time is money.

They’re focused on the big picture, and they want you to be aware of it too. Show that you understand how the role you’re interviewing for fits into the company and supports its overall goals. If you’ve asked the others about this but still have questions, ask.

The CEO generally takes a more personal pride in the company than anyone else. She may even be a founder or owner. At any rate, she wants to see that your interest in and appreciation for the company is profound. Show that you have not only researched the company but that you have remembered and thought about what you learned from your interviews with others there.

What else should you keep in mind when preparing to ace a CEO interview?

Show your deep interest by having some good questions to ask the CEO, referring to what you have already found out and delving deeper. “I had a really interesting conversation with Amanda about the new online platform. What I’ve been wondering since then is how the team will . . . ”

Be ready for the CEO to talk more than he listens. It could be a valuable opportunity to learn about him, the company, its culture, and the job you’re being considered for. Ask if you may take notes. On the other hand, he may even expect you to do most of the talking. Acing the CEO interview requires you to flow with this leader’s individual style and agenda.

Expect the unexpected. Questions may be less standard, more soul-searching ones like “What’s your biggest dream in life?” or “What would you do if you won the lottery?” You might even be asked to tell a joke. It probably wouldn’t be so important whether you remember a funny joke to tell. What is crucial is to respond in a good-natured way that shows you’re not easily flustered and you can think on your feet. “I can’t remember a good joke, but I have a funny picture on my refrigerator at home . . . ”

The good news about interviewing with the CEO:

If you’ve gotten this far you’re probably near the top of the list of candidates, or the only one left. They’re hoping you’re the one!

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