How to Nail Your Interview With the CEO

All stages of the interviewing process are nerve-wracking, but there’s something even scarier about speaking one-on-one with the CEO. They’re the boss of all the other bosses, after all — if you impress them, then you’re in pretty good stead.

Of course, that is easier said than done. Take the following five steps to prepare and present yourself in your best light so the person in charge knows just how great you are — and how great you’ll be for their company.

1. Prepare

Chances are, you already know how to prepare for an interview. You choose the right outfit, brush up on the company’s mission and stats, and ensure your resume is entirely up to date.

Sitting down with the CEO is a completely different beast, though. Keep in mind that you’re meeting with the company’s head, and their time is precious. Therefore, you should be ready to answer the questions that’ll come up. Preparing beforehand means you’ll be able to give succinct but informed answers to questions, which will undoubtedly impress the person on the other side of the table.

Of course, you don’t want to rehearse your answers to the point where you come off as robotic. Be your authentic self, but the best version of it — the one that’s prepared.

2. Interact With Grace

Your interview doesn’t start when you walk into the office or conference room where it’s scheduled to take place. Instead, you’re likely being observed as soon as you enter the building where your conversation will happen.

Kat Cole, president of the fast-food chain Cinnabon, told The Muse that she watches the candidate — and even orchestrates some tests of character. She watches to see if they’re thankful when offered a drink, as well as how they interact with those in reception who necessarily the ones aren’t asking the interview questions. She even wads up a piece of paper on the floor to see if the candidate will pick it up as a small test of character.

Cole also said she waits to see if her interviewees express gratitude through a thank you note after their interviews.

3. Ask Questions of Your Own

Another thing CEOs hope to hear are questions from you. You already know the floor will be opened for you to inquire about anything you’d like to know, so take advantage of this time to pose any lingering questions to the person in charge.

Of course, you should be careful with the questions you choose to ask in front of the CEO. If you’re asking for information clearly available on the company’s website, for example, you’ll either come off as unprepared or overly nervous. Come up with a smart set of interview questions to ask.

4. Think About the Position’s Challenges

This to-do falls under the umbrella of interview prep, but it’s a more specific to-do than simply getting dressed and polishing your resume. Most CEOs will ask behavioral-based interview questions to present you with a real-world problem that you have faced or that will come up in your new position. Of course, you won’t know exactly what they’ll ask, but think through the potential ways your new job could challenge you — and how you’d tackle it. And be ready to share examples of qualities they may want to test you on.

CEOs use this tool as a way to gauge your interest and capability in the job ahead. If you can’t answer creatively or, at the very least, passionately, then they might not get a great impression of you as a potential candidate. On the other hand, a thoughtful answer with action and an explanation of why you’d take that course is just what they want to hear.

5. Come up With Small Talk Go-Tos

Sitting down face-to-face with the CEO is a daunting task, and you might have the misconception that you’re a step beneath the person on the other side of the table. At the end of the day, you’re both people, and you can make a point to interact with the CEO as normally as possible to show you’re confident, social and, ultimately, a good fit for the company.

The best way to prep for this portion of your interview is to come up with some go-to small talk starters. Perhaps you can brush up on the company’s latest accomplishments and congratulate the CEO to strike up a conversation. You could also ask about their most recent business trip — where did they go? Did they like the city?

Even if you end up not needing to spark small talk yourself, you’ll feel a lot calmer about the potential of having to do so before entering the interview room. That will make all the difference in the way you present yourself to the CEO with whom you’re interviewing.

Nail the Interview

Most of all, it’s important for you to remember that the interview with a CEO, while seemingly daunting, is just like any other one-on-one. You can prepare more specifically, as above, but remembering that you’ve done this before and you’ve succeeded in the interviewing process already should be more than enough to help you nail it.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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