Nicole Meyer is the founder of The Meyer Partnership, a search firm that works closely with leading global banks. After a 20-year career in transaction banking, primarily at Citibank, Nicole transitioned to becoming an executive search recruiter in London. She now runs her own global search firm from New York.
According to client feedback, what are the most frequent mistakes executives make during interviews?
The most frequent mistake is not being sufficiently prepared. That preparation can take on many forms including getting to know who’s interviewing you and doing research on who you are meeting and the company you’re interviewing with. Understand something about the role and how you can add value too. Preparedness comes through — and the lack of it really shines through. Being prepared isn’t about reading a job description, looking at your resume and pulling out key phrases/words. It’s about understanding the company’s challenge and opportunities, the structure of the business and who you are interviewing with. Not being prepared looks like you don’t care.
In my experience, executives need to do at least 2 hours of prep work for every new interview (i.e., new company you are interviewing with). That includes doing multiple searches on the company, current news, earnings reports, plus research on who you are meeting and the role itself. Look on LinkedIn for people who have/had the role and their backgrounds. Also important, look on other websites to see what employees think about the firm. When you show up, make it obvious that you did your homework.
When first speaking with potential candidates about a job, what are some of the best questions they’ve asked you?
Insightful questions about the business (meaning, they show real understanding about the business) are the best questions I get. Candidates who have given some thought to the opportunities and challenges that the company may have, and that this role may provide, ask the best questions. Here are a few questions that I particularly like:
- Tell me what kinds of people succeed at this firm, what are the skills that are most valued at the firm?
- What is the biggest hurdle/challenge they have today and how will this role solve it?
- Based on what you know about me, am I a good fit; if not, why not?
Is there anything that candidates do that will immediately take them out of consideration for a role?
Candidates who badmouth their current boss or company, or who complain about their institution and why they can’t be successful, are typically in the first round of elimination. I don’t want to know why you don’t like your firm or company or why you can’t be successful. There will always be limitations and restrictions on resources and the firm’s capacity to give you what you need to be successful — that’s why it’s called “work!” Instead, candidates should focus on working with what they have, making the best of it and finding success in spite of that. Candidates who show up late for calls or meetings, without warning, are also contenders for elimination. Another pet peeve is candidates who over-sell themselves. Everyone has strengths…. know yours and capitalize on them.
What are your favorite questions to ask candidates & why?
Here are the three best questions that I’ve asked recently:
- What’s your biggest failure and what did you learn from it? Being honest about failure is essential. We all fail and will continue to fail but learning from failure provides some of life’s best lessons.
- If you had to attribute success to intellect or hard work, which is it, and have you been successful because of intellect or hard work? I am curious to understand how candidates view their success.
- Tell me about your leadership skills – what are you most proud of? I love when candidates share examples that are non-work related – this tells me they excel outside of work too.
I also like to ask candidates:
- Share three positive things your last boss or current boss would say about you and one negative thing. Typically, I’ve done some research on candidates whom I interview; I like to think I might know what some of these answers are. I’m looking for honesty and the capacity to be humble.
- How do you think I rate as an interviewer? Here, I’m looking for somebody who can react well to an unexpected question — someone who can think on their feet. I am looking to see if candidates get flustered and how they might behave in an interview with a challenging question.
My favorite question is about superheroes and superhero powers. I ask candidates which power they want and why. I just love the variety of answers I hear, plus it tells me if candidates can be creative.