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14 Job Interview Tips from Fortune 500 CEOs and Top Hiring Execs

If you want to ace your next job interview, check out these insightful interview tips from top executives in every field.

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“Research the company and people you’ll be meeting”

As far as job interview tips go, nothing is more impressive or conveys your proactivity and passion more than arriving at an interview armed with knowledge about the company (for example, its values, its goals, its history, and any current events that involve the company) and whomever you might be meeting, according to Todd Davis, the CPO (chief people officer) of FranklinCovey. “I recently interviewed a senior level candidate,” Davis, the author of Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work, recalls. “What stood out about her was she was more prepared for the interview than anyone I’ve met in my over 30 years of conducting interviews.” In fact, she knew and understood more about the company that many of the company’s existing employees. Davis was so impressed that he took the candidate straight up to the CEO’s office to introduce her to the executive team. “It wasn’t something I’d ever done before with any other candidate,” Davis explains. Needless to say, the woman got the job. Find out 21 powerful ways to build confidence before your next job interview.

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“Understand who you are and how you want to present yourself”

As far as interview tips go, one might think it doesn’t get more basic than “take your own inventory,” as Carisa Miklusak president and CEO of tilr, a job matching site, puts it. However, Miklusak has noticed that many job seekers don’t seem to bother creating an effective presentation of who they are and what they offer. And by “effective presentation,” she means one that goes beyond reciting your resumé; you’re not adding value by simply running down a list of your previous jobs and generic job responsibilities. “This can actually narrow your chances,” Miklusak says, “because the hiring manager will innately evaluate your last job title against the position they’re hiring for. If it doesn’t align perfectly, they may assume you’re not the right fit.” Instead, she recommends focusing on your actual skills during the interview. Use these tips to learn how to answer the toughest job interview questions.

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“Be present”

Both the interviewer and the interviewee should be fully “in the moment,” in order to elicit the highest quality dialogue, according to Dylan E. Taylor, the president and COO of Colliers International, a real estate services organization. “This means we can both listen to what’s being said, rather than thinking about what to say next.” When waiting to hear back from a manager, remember how long a background check takes. 

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“Physical presence speaks volumes”

Marylou Walker Arnett, CEO of Matrixx Initiatives, automatically assumes that the candidates she meets with possess the basic skill set—or else they wouldn’t have landed the interview. Instead, the first thing she’s assessing is the candidate’s physical presence. “For example, I appreciate when an interviewee looks me in the eye, speaks clearly and thoughtfully rather than rushing to get an answer out, and brings some energy to the interview,” she says. “I want to know if they’ll be a strong contributor to our team. Will they be able to work effectively with the entire organization?” Avoid making these body language mistakes during your job interview.

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“Don’t be afraid to be you”

Although Bret Bonnet, co-owner/founder of Quality Logo Products, has made a career of putting other peoples’ names on your t-shirts (and other products), his interview tip is to urge job candidates to identify strongly only with themselves. “Job interviews are intimidating enough,” he says. “Don’t make it any harder by trying to look or act like someone you’re not. If the interviewer can’t accept or learn to appreciate you for being you, it’s probably not a good long-term fit anyway.” When you’re researching a company, shop for a boss. These are the nicest things CEO have done for employees.

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“Your biggest weakness is not that you’re a perfectionist”

You know there’s a solid chance this question will come up. And if you rely on the old chestnut answer, “I’m too much of a perfectionist,” you’re not going to stand out in a good way, says Dan Sines, the CEO of Traitify. You’re much better off identifying a weakness that really has nothing to do with the job for which you’re interviewing or that would be a match for it, Sines advises. “For example, if you have a short attention span or have trouble sitting still, that wouldn’t be too much of a problem if you’re applying for a position that requires you to work in a fast-paced environment.” Find out 15 more tricky interview questions—and how to nail them.

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“Make your past failure into a winning interview”

Almost as inevitable as the “biggest weakness question” is some variation on “what has been your biggest failure?” The interviewer isn’t trying to weed out those who’ve failed—since everyone has done it at some point, according to Brad M. Shaw, the director of HR for Dallas Web Design. Rather, the interviewer wants to see how you react to failure. “Quickly address the failure, then move on to what you’ve taken from the experience, making sure to emphasize other traits and experiences that will remind the interviewer you’re a great candidate,” Shaw says. “Use the story to call attention to what you’ve learned.”

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“Expect the unexpected”

David Lortscher, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Curology, is looking for innovation. To suss it out, he asks questions that might surprise his interviewees. For example:

  • You have two teleportation devices—where do you place them and why? “This is a fun question that helps us understand how a candidate thinks logically and imaginatively,” Dr. Lortscher says. “For example, I’ve seen a candidate mention they’d place one on Mars and one on the moon. When asked how they would realistically get from the Earth to Mars or the moon? They immediately rethought their answer.”
  • If you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring? “This question is designed to test a candidate’s resourcefulness and ingenuity,” he says.
  • How many windows are there in NYC? “This question is meant to test your problem-solving ability. What immediate questions come to mind. Did the candidate ask for clarification on car windows versus building windows? I want to see how they approach the problem to discern a solution.”
  • Can you answer this CEO’s favorite interview question?

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“Answer only the question that was asked”

A lot of candidates think it’s better to over-answer than under-answer. For many interviewers, however, this type of response is concerning because it hints at the fact that the candidate doesn’t know how to follow directions, says Elena Tinios, the recruitment manager at Anderson Frank. “I’d always advise answering a question with a clear and concise response and then ask the interviewer if they’d like you to elaborate. That way, if you’re interviewing with someone who prefers more detailed answers, you will have given them the chance to tell you so.”

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“Don’t answer the salary question”

Getting them to talk first is essential, says Suz O’Donnell, executive coach and president of Thrivatize, a workplace solutions company. “Instead of answering, ask them ‘what is the range for the job?'” she says. Why? If the range for the job is $70,000 to $80,000, and you answer $65,000, then they’re going to give you $65,000. On the other hand, if you are expecting more than what their range is, you can deal with that in the negotiations phase, after you’ve received an offer. Don’t miss this proven tip for owning your salary negotiation.

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“Don’t be caught without questions of your own”

You know you’re going to be asked if you have any questions, says Elaine Thompson, the New Hire Advisor at Amigo Energy, an electric utility seller in Texas. So come prepared with questions and don’t be shy about asking them—your failure to do so could cost you the job. “If a candidate doesn’t have questions for me by the end of the interview, then I think it’s safe to assume they either aren’t actually interested in the job, or everything I just said to them went in one ear and out the other.” When it comes to formulating those questions, Thompson’s interview tip is that they should be thoughtful, purposeful, and helpful. “If they ask random generic questions just to fill the question hole, then I assume they weren’t really listening during the interview. And that’s a deal breaker.” These are the questions you should always ask on a job interview.

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Everything is potentially part of the interview”

From the moment you arrive at your interview until the moment you leave, you’re “on,” says John Paul Engel, who partners with Fortune 500 companies to hire executives. “In college, I had an interview with a car company,” he recounts. “When I arrived, I went into the bathroom. As I stood before the urinal a man in a suit started to carry on a conversation with me. I was so taken back that I couldn’t go. I could barely even speak. So I just stood there awkwardly until he left. When I walked into the interview room, guess who was my interviewer?”

Why, that guy, of course. Engel crushed the interview, he’s certain, but in the end, he didn’t get the job. “I’ve always wondered if I was because of what happened in the bathroom. Like, the interviewer was thinking, ‘I need our guys to handle any situation, and this guy couldn’t even urinate.”

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“Don’t panic!”

“A common misconception is that if you can’t answer a question, it’s all downhill,” says Ian McClarty, president and CEO of PhoenixNAP Global IT Services. “But we don’t expect candidates to know the answer to all of the questions we ask. We’re more interested in finding out what the candidate does know, as well as how he or she approaches responding to questions outside their knowledge.” That includes listening to their reasoning out a response aloud and hearing what the candidate learned in school. “All of those combined give a hiring manager a strong indication of the person’s aptitude to learn as well as their genuine interest in working in our field,” he says. Here are words and phrases you should always say at a job interview.

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“There’s an art to the follow-up”

From what Bryan Clayton, CEO of Greenpal, described as Uber for lawn care, can tell, the most important, and perhaps most overlooked skill in today’s job market is the art of the follow-up. According to Clayton, everybody follows up with a thank-you note. “If you want to get the job, you have to stand out,” he says. “The best example that I’ve seen is one applicant who sent a thank you note and also attached an article from the trade publication that tied into what we discussed during the interview. It showed me she was engaged, she knew our industry, and she was thinking about ways to contribute to the team.” Not to mention, she was clearly willing to go “above and beyond” the same old “motions” of trying to land a job. Next, find out the 10 words to never say in a job interview.