Executive Interview Case Studies

Katharine Hansen
by Katharine Hansen   Career Advice Expert 

Sometimes, the best way to grasp critical job-search skills is to learn from the experiences of others. The Quintessential Careers Executive Interview Case Studies take you through the interview process as seen through the eyes of case-study executives and covers some of the unexpected contingencies, demands, and developments that can occur during a series of executive interviews.

Real executives told their true case-study stories for this section but requested that their names be changed so as not to identify them.

  • Case Study One: Multiple interviews over a many-month period
  • Case Study Two: Presentation interview
  • Case Study Three: Interviewing for position in new industry
  • Case Studies Four and Five: Two CEO Interviews with Boards of Directors

 


Executive Interview Case Study One: Multiple Interviews Over a Many-Month Period


This case study is part of the The Quintessential Careers Executive Interview Case Studies, which take you through the interview process as seen through the eyes of executives and covers some of the unexpected contingencies, demands, and developments that can occur during a series of executive interviews. Return to the main page of the Quintessential Careers Executive Interview Case Studies.As told to Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.Few interview-process horror stories can top this case study. “Lynne Blake” tells a mind-boggling saga of an interview process that lasted more than nine frustrating months. The epic was so excruciating that Blake gave it a title: “I Could Have Had a Baby … Or Water-Boarding a Candidate.”Description of interview process: The position was with a very large, very well-known defense contractor, Blake recalls. “A former colleague of mine works with them and raved about how good they are with their people. She kept watching the posting boards, sending me various roles until there was finally one that was a great match,” Blake says. “That was June 2008.” Blake noted that the position was a key start-up role with responsibility for the Pan-European countries. “Compensation was north of $200K,” Blake says, “and the internal business plan called for the person to be on board by Q2 or Q3 of 2008.”Blake goes on to tell the story of the interview process in diary form:”July 2008: I have phone screen with internal recruiter. He says he will put my credentials forward and set up phone screens with two or three internal people. He has me log onto the HR Website and fill out extensive application and background-checking information.”August 2008: During the first week of August, I have the phone screen, a very general conversation, with the hiring manager.”September 2008: During the first week of September, I have a phone screen with a person who runs a parallel team for a different division. He has a far different view of what the role needs from the hiring manager’s view, including a difference of opinion on where the new hire will be located and what background they are looking for.”I then attempt three follow-ups with the internal recruiter for the position over four weeks trying to get an update and more details on strategy. I get no reply.”October 2008: I finally track down the internal recruiter. He says they don’t really know what they are looking for. There are four people involved, and all four have a different profile in mind. They will try to reach ‘some kind’ of agreement in the next week or so.”Last week of October: I receive a voice message that says they have shortlisted four candidates, and they would like to have me come for face-to-face interviews.”November 2008: At this point, I have tried to reach the recruiter for three weeks. Finally I have my “inside” friend locate the hiring manager’s phone number for me. When I reach him, he tells me that the internal recruiter resigned, and they were unable to locate any of my information (what happened to all the stuff online in their HR system?). Thank goodness I called, he says, as all the other candidates have been interviewed. They will contact me to arrange a trip to Belgium for a face-to-face ASAP.”A new internal recruiter calls me on Monday of Thanksgiving week but says he really has no information about the role. He will have his personal assistant call to arrange the trip because they want me to go on Thanksgiving weekend, which is three days away. The personal assistant organizes a trip that gets me to Belgium at 7:30 a.m., but with a return flight of 10 a.m. the same day. (She didn’t know that you actually get to Europe the day after you leave the U.S.) Unfortunately the travel agent cannot change anything for a candidate and the personal assistant and recruiter have left for the holiday! Finally I call the office in Europe and ask them to contact the travel agency to resolve the situation.”December 2008: I have a meeting in Belgium the first week of December and obtain a third opinion of what type of person they want. We now have no agreement on the type of background needed for the role, where the person will be based, whom the person will report to, and how the role will be structured (expat or local EU hire). The company closes on Dec. 19 for the rest of the year. I receive no further contact at all after the interview in Belgium.”January 2009, eight months after initial application: On Jan. 9, I catch up with the hiring manager. I am fairly straightforward with him. I explain that the project I’m working is over at the end of January, and I either need to start a job search or look for a new project, but before I do so I’d like to find out where they are on this position. He tells me that they are now down to three candidates, and if I will give him one more week, he will let me know (he does, however, let me know that I am his candidate of choice).”On Jan. 13, the hiring manager calls me to tell me that they have decided to make me an offer, but the internal recruiter who has to handle the offer will be off until Jan 22. On Jan. 23, the recruiter calls me, and his first question is ‘what kind of package am I expecting?’ I shoot straight and tell him that no one has discussed money since the first conversation, so what is the salary? We agree on the broad parameters, including where the position will be based and the structure of the package, but he has no idea of a start date. I explain that this is the critical issue for me since I have to arrange to complete my project and give notice on my long-term-stay flat. He says he’ll call me back. He also tells me that they are having problems verifying my educational credentials; the only number they have for my college is the one that was on their internal Web site documents. I look up the college Web site for this very well known business school in Atlanta and give him the number.”On Jan. 26, the recruiter calls me and says they want to have me ‘on the ground’ in Belgium by March 1. He is just waiting for the final signatures on the package. I tell him that I would also like to at least meet my immediate manager face-to-face before I go. He says he will check on that, and we agree that I will have the offer in hand by the end of the week.”February 2009 (nine months and counting): On Feb. 2, I get four messages from the recruiter. Could it be the offer at long last? No! They have three or four other people who would like to interview me before extending the offer. I’m too mad to even attempt calling the hiring manager to find out what’s going on, so I wait a day. I explain about the position I’m now in, but he says ‘Well, my boss told me to go ahead, but now she wants to interview you plus have two or three other team members talk to me. What else can I do but agree?’ He does tell me that I am the only candidate left, so if they don’t agree on me it means starting over from ground zero.”I claw back my notice on the flat (and pay a $75 fee to cover their costs of already running an ad and taking applications), but since I have already started to transition my client to another project manager, I will just have to suck that up.”I actively start my job search. I’ve been passively searching but was hesitant to start too much just to tell recruiters, friends, and contacts: “Never mind, Big Jerky Company just came through.”February 9 and 10 is where it really starts to get insulting/funny/surreal. I go to Dallas for the interviews. I am scheduled to talk to the UK office via conference call. I am put into a conference room and dialed into the call. Twenty minutes later, no one has picked up on the other end. I go to the receptionist, and she cannot even find the two people who are supposed to be on the call with me. After 45 minutes, she locates one of them who claims to be “too busy” to do it today, and we arrange for her to call me at home the next day at 11 a.m. They never locate the gentleman who was supposed to be on the call.”The hiring manager’s boss then calls me to her office. There is another person there, but other than his name, I am not given any information about who he is or why he’s there. The total time I spend in this interview with both people is 25 minutes. At the end the boss says ‘Well, I really wanted someone with deep EU government contacts’ (which I do not have). Where the heck has she been for the past nine months? So, I took two days off from work, traveled a total of seven hours, and spent the night away for a 25-minute interview.”On Feb. 11, the woman from the UK does not call at the appointed time. On Feb. 12, my mobile phone rings at 6:15 a.m. I learn upon checking my messages that the call was from the woman from the UK, but since I do not answer my phone 24/7, she leaves me a message to call her in the UK!”I try twice and leave two messages. I call the hiring manager for his feedback from the Dallas interview and to get the UK woman’s email address. The hiring manager doesn’t have the address, and despite being in Dallas today, he is unable to get any feedback on the interview as his boss is “too busy.”On Feb. 13, I call the UK office and mash numbers until a human answers. I have to talk to three people, but finally someone gives me the woman’s email address. We have a short email exchange, and we agree that the interview will take place on Monday Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. her time and 2 p.m. my time. I am very specific to document the appointment in just that way to avoid any issues on the time difference. I arrange to leave the office early to be at home for the call.”On Feb. 16, I miss the call from the UK woman while I am in shower. It is 8 a.m., and I get a very snotty message from the woman about not being there at the appointed time. I forward her the email she sent showing 8 p.m. her time, 2 p.m. mine, and ask if I still need to be available at 2 p.m. or not. At 1:40 p.m., she calls and says she has only 5-10 minutes, but can we at least start? Her first question: When is my start date set? I explain that nothing has been agreed upon as all is on hold for these conversations. She says she does not have time to talk in depth, but she will call back later on in the week. No call comes.”On Feb. 19, the assistant for the hiring manager calls to tell me that everyone is so busy right now (except for me apparently), and that he still has no feedback from the Dallas interview. I tell him that I’m busy too and cannot continue to rearrange my schedule and take time off from work only to be blown off time and time again. He apologizes and says he will make sure that his boss calls me on Friday, Feb. 20. No call arrives that day.”As of Feb. 22, I realize that I am in the very same position I was last month with my landlord, but now I’m also out of work. I decide that the time had come to fish or cut bait. I drop the hiring manager an email. He’s in Dubai and calls me immediately. I explain that if I cannot get an answer by the end of this week, I will have to move forward on either accepting another project with my existing firm, which would mean that I will have a longer notice period, or withdraw my candidacy completely. He says he understands and it (finally) sounds as if he’s getting a little mad with his people as well. Says he will push to have a resolution by the end of the week.”The company finally comes back and gives me an offer after I phone up and say ‘sorry, but I’m moving on.’ The offer is incredible and way over and above the other offer I got in the same week.”Outcome: Blake says she spent two weeks debating the offer and talking to about a dozen people inside the company via LinkedIn to gain insight. She finally decided to take the offer. “Every employee I spoke to — without exception — claimed that the company is very good to its employees and that working there is a great thing,” Blake says, “so I have to assume that it can only go up from here.” Blake realizes it may shock some people that she accepted the offer but, she says, “in today’s market a company with this kind of stability and a package like this one do not come along easily.”Blake learned after speaking to numerous people in the hiring chain about the situation that although the company’s process is normally lengthy, “this one was way over the average.” Blake feels she was fortunate in that the discussion started when she was still employed, “leaving me a bit of breathing room while they dawdled.”Lessons learned/What the candidate would do differently if faced with the same situation: “If this situation occurred in the future,” Blake says she would shorten the time between contacts and be very diligent about continuing her search. “It truly was not until I had decided that I was ‘over it’ that and would move on that they realized [they would lose me] and actually moved forward.”Blake’s advice to others in the same situation: “Do not follow the natural tendency to sit back waiting for the offer. After they pulled back the supposed offer in January, I became very focused on my search and found that I was getting a lot more play in other areas.”Alerting the employer that you have other opportunities in the wings can jolt the hiring team into action. You can simply ignore the indecisive company and pursue other opportunities. But you might also consider a polite ultimatum. Express your understanding of the time the employer needs to make a decision but that you also have decisions to make. Suggest a deadline. Two weeks to a month is reasonable. Tell the employer you would love to come on board, and remind the decision-maker of what you’ll contribute to the bottom line. But suggest that if the employer can’t decide by the deadline, you’ll need to withdraw your candidacy.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Executive Interview Case Study Two: Presentation Interview


This case study is part of the The Quintessential Careers Executive Interview Case Studies, which take you through the interview process as seen through the eyes of executives and covers some of the unexpected contingencies, demands, and developments that can occur during a series of executive interviews. Return to the main page of the Quintessential Careers Executive Interview Case Studies.As told to Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.Description of interview process: Although employers sometimes ask the candidate to deliver a presentation as part of an interview, “Michael D. Simone” gave a presentation on his own initiative at his interview for a CFO position with a $50-million AV systems integration group in the Mid-Atlantic region. This interview marked the first time Simone had used a presentation in an interview.Simone was sought for the position by a recruiter, from whom he requested company background information to prepare. “She was not able to provide much help other than directing me to the company Website,” Simone recalls. When he mentioned that he planned to use an interview presentation, Simone learned that the recruiter had never heard of an interview presentation. “At first I could tell that I was not the recruiter’s top choice,” Simone says. He believes both the quality of his questions and his persistence in responding to them persuaded the recruiter to begin to consider Simone the top candidate.To create his interview presentation, Simone used a service called InterviewBest and followed the service’s step-by-step guide that enables users to include or exclude any of the suggested pages. “I chose to use some of the examples as is, modified others to suit my needs, as well as using some of my own ideas,” Simone says. He found the actual process of creating the presentation extremely helpful as interview preparation. “After completing the presentation, I was ready for any question they had for me,” he said. “I had a success story ready to go for each question and/or situation that arose.”Simone’s completed 12-page presentation included:

  • Cover page
  • Position Requirements (directly from job description)
  • My Match with the Position Requirements (content from resume and success stories) and Additional Areas of Expertise (content from resume)
  • Outstanding Accomplishments (Success stories, including content from resume and InterviewBest’s libraries)
  • Personal Success Factors (examples and modified examples from InterviewBest’s library, along with Simone’s own content)
  • Strategic Action Plan (examples and modified examples from InterviewBest’s library, along with Simone’s own content)
  • Why Hire Me? (content from resume and success stories)
  • Closing Questions (content from InterviewBest’s library)
  • Contact Information

Simone also uploaded his photo and the company logo to personalize the presentation.(Although Simone did not want his presentation published for confidentiality reasons, InterviewBest founder Eric Kramer provided a similar sample presentation, which is reprinted with permission.The presentation enabled Simone to deliver key points describing the employer’s challenges and how he could meet them. He told the interview panel that he would:

  • Improve communications among departments.
  • Ensure the accuracy and clarity of financial reports.
  • Take the team from the current status quo of “customer-service focused” to “entrepreneurial-big picture focused.”
  • Conduct an actionable competitive analysis.

Candidates might wonder how to arrange for the appropriate technology for an interview presentation that the employer is not expecting. Simone simply had his presentation professionally printed and bound rather than projecting his slides.Simone reports that the interview panel members were impressed by the presentation’s content and “well-organized approach that systematically answered their most important questions.”Outcome: Simone got and accepted the job offer.Lessons learned/What the candidate would do differently if faced with the same situation: If he were interviewing in the future, Simone says he would definitely use an interview presentation again. However, he would “conduct a more thorough investigation of the prospective company.”Simone’s advice to others who want to employ an interview presentation: “Don’t get caught up in following the presentation item by item and page by page. I used it as a conversation piece and a reference tool. It is also an excellent leave-behind to remind the interviewer about the important discussion points of your interview.”
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Executive Interview Case Study Three: Interviewing in New Industry


This case study is part of the The Quintessential Careers Executive Interview Case Studies, which take you through the interview process as seen through the eyes of executives and covers some of the unexpected contingencies, demands, and developments that can occur during a series of executive interviews. Return to the main page of the Quintessential Careers Executive Interview Case Studies.As told to Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.“Wayne Braverman” had spent six years in management consulting, managing projects of all sizes and with companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, when an opportunity came up with the customer business solutions unit of a large, multi-national beverage manufacturer, where he would have the opportunity to “help build an organization, utilize my background and skills, and work with an environment that was constantly growing and changing.”Braverman’s entire career had been in management consulting, so this opportunity represented the first time he had considered changing industries. “I was passionate about consulting, and at the same time, I felt that I needed to get some ‘industry’ experience and not just follow the standard process to [become a] partner within the consulting world,” Braverman says. “This was an opportunity to help build a new organization, work with an amazing team, and expand my skill set.”Description of interview process: To prepare, Braverman researched the company, identified the key players who might know something about the role and team, and spoke to them prior to the interview so he could go into the interview sessions with as many facts as possible. The prospective interviewers also provided considerable material about the organization, team, culture, and more, Braverman says. “At the same time, I outlined my own personal brand on paper and with my resume created a ‘Wayne Braverman package.'”The series of interviews Braverman underwent comprised a mix of case questions and situational questions. A number of questions, he recalls, delved into his change of industries, revolving around adapting to a highly political environment that was different from consulting. “I expected these questions and had given a great deal of thought to the career transition – pros and cons,” Braverman says.Braverman made sure he was knowledgeable about the new industry, but he also used his outsider status to his advantage. “In large industry-centric organizations, hiring external ‘non-system’ individuals can at times be a challenge,” Braverman acknowledges. “Knowledge of the consumer-packaged goods industry and the organization were critical to the position, and at the same time, this was an opportunity for the organization to bring on fresh thinking and new ideas in a role that did not require 100 percent knowledge of the organization on Day 1.”To sell the employer on the idea that his qualifications would transfer to the new sector, Braverman outlined his experience in leading projects related to the skill set required in the position for which he was interviewing. “I outlined my personal brand, career goals, and aspirations, reasons that I felt the role was a solid fit, value that I felt I would bring to the organization, and I did a lot of listening,” he says.Braverman also asked about the culture, the team, career-growth options, and potential for professional and personal development. “I asked about opportunities for ‘entrepreneurial’ thinking vs. ‘system’ thinking,” he recalls.Outcome: Fortunately Braverman felt he truly clicked with his interviewers and experienced a connection. He received and accepted the offer.Lessons learned/What the candidate would do differently if faced with the same situation: “If I were leaving one industry for another today,” Braverman says, “I would certainly do as much industry research as possible to understand the macroeconomic trends affecting the industry as well as the organization-specific strategies, objectives, and measures. Title is important, but not nearly as important as the culture, people, role, and responsibilities.”
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Executive Interview Case Studies Four and Five: Two CEO Interviews with Boards of Directors


These case studies are part of the The Quintessential Careers Executive Interview Case Studies, which take you through the interview process as seen through the eyes of executives and covers some of the unexpected contingencies, demands, and developments that can occur during a series of executive interviews. Return to the main page of the Quintessential Careers Executive Interview Case Studies.As told to Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.Although boards of directors often interview prospective CEOs, boards also sometimes interview other high-level executives, such as CFOs, says Jacquelyn Saad, president of Inter-Change Consulting Inc., Toronto. “Other executives will be interviewed by the head of the board committee that governs their piece of the organization,” Saad says. She explains that when she interviewed for the role of senior vice president, human resources, for a broadcasting company, her eight interviews included the chairman of the board and the chair of the HR subcommittee.The role of boards of directors in large public companies is to determine the type of CEO they would like to hire, notes Keith Daniels, owner and president of Capital Selective Advisors in Chicago, “and then give that description to an executive recruiter firm. That firm will then obtain candidates and then thoroughly evaluate them to see if they fit what the board of directors was looking for,” Daniels says.Daniels explains that at certain points, recruiters will advise the board about possible candidates “who have emerged from the scrubbing, and then the board is likely to have a sub-group handle further interviews until such time as a smaller group of candidates remains.” Candidates will then likely each have an opportunity to meet and be interviewed by the board in its entirety, Daniels notes. “Depending on what are the metrics being used by a board, members may look only at current CEOs with other companies, or they might look for persons with Chief Financial Officer experience, or in some cases, they might want someone with experience managing large operations,” Daniels says.”Richard G.” has been a CEO in a Fortune 500 company and on multiple boards of small and larger companies as well as interviewed for several CEO positions. All told he has undergone about a dozen interviews for CEO and board positions, ranging from highly structured interviews to short conversations with people he already knew quite well. “The processes were often very dissimilar,” he reports. “I find that for board positions, the processes are all very variable, but for CEO positions, more structured,” he says. He described both a successful and unsuccessful interview with boards of directors.Description of interview process: To prepare, Richard learned as much about the companies and people as possible, both through published material and by talking to ex-employees. The successful interview, for a high-tech company with sales in the tens of millions, “involved a recruiter who already knew me quite well, but then introduced me to the chairman,” Richard recalls. “He and I had probably eight conversations, including over dinner, and another half a dozen detailed email exchanges.” Richard says the chairman sought considerable help and advice before he would make a commitment. “I was somewhat concerned that he was simply picking my brain, but the recruiter kept reassuring me that he was not, and she was correct,” Richard says. “He did make a commitment after several months.”Another CEO position Richard interviewed for was at a $1-billion family-owned food company, where the patriarch had died, and the board had told the heir apparent that, at 37, he was too young to take over. “I interviewed with a panel of all the outside directors and the heir,” Richard remembers. The heir was “hostile,” Richard says, “and the board members were clearly trying to demonstrate to him that I would do a better job than he would.” After hearing nothing for a month after the interview, Richard learned that the heir was taking the job after all.The questions that Richard has been asked in board interviews include:

  • How much time can you invest?
  • How knowledgeable are you about reporting responsibilities and legal liabilities?
  • What kind of connections do you have?
  • Can you advise on implementation as well as strategy?

Richard asked the boards about specific objectives of the businesses, such as sales or mergers and growth or maintenance, as well as about cultural fit.Throughout his board interview experiences, Richard has picked up on various shades of organizational politics. “I find few boards are as much in sync as they pretend to be,” he observes. “Different factions are looking for allies, and in the case of family-owned or dominated business — as one third of Fortune 500 companies are — there are family politics to worry about. These are difficult to understand since you will not meet all the key people during the interview process,” he says.Outcome: Richard received an offer from the high-tech company, but as we saw, he was passed over in favor of a family member at the family-owned food company.Lessons learned/What the candidate would do differently if faced with the same situation: Richard said he would “do more due diligence behind the scenes, discover the hidden agendas, and understand who dominates the group. He advises other executives preparing for an interview with a board of directors to learn “what makes each of them tick, and in a group setting who is really the leader.”
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

About the Author

Career Advice Expert

Katharine Hansen Career Advice Expert

Katharine Hansen was the creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers; she also wrote content for Quintessential Careers. She earned her Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press). She is also the author of Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press), and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha).

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