The Winning Interview

By Peter Tulau, AltoPartners Australia

In 23 years of executive recruitment I have never seen a candidate like this one metaphorically reach across the table, take a role by the scruff of neck and make it theirs on the spot.

I was interviewing a shortlist with the CEO of an engineering services business for a GM Finance role, effectively the CFO in this business. With each interview the CEO would lay out the culture and strategy and share some of his business issues with the candidates. He was effectively inviting them into his business for comment. The first three candidates were good. They each had their own style, they had responded well to questioning and they had aligned their experience with what they perceived to be the clients need. We felt comfortable the way the day was unfolding as the candidates’ domain knowledge was sound and the ultimate choice would be on style and fit. We were anticipating the final interview.

She was positive and naturally assertive without being self-obsessed or bombastic.  She was ready for the exchange of ideas and as it turned out she was an intense listener and her intuition was razor sharp.

When the CEO had finished his intro, she took up the reins, summarised his intro and proceeded to describe how she would enter the role and what she would do. She connected the finance function to the shop floor in a way that we had not felt previously. She convinced us of her collaborative capability, so we knew she would work well with the senior team, but more importantly she was relentlessly outcomes focussed. There were some legacy issues in the business that we were confident would be quickly unwound and put back together on a platform of performance, accountability and efficiency. 

She took control and used language such as “then I understand your need to be…”, “in that situation I would…”, “I would expect the end result to be…”. She was enthusiastic, obviously interested in the role and authentic in style. This gave the CEO the confidence to share more detail about the business which in turn fuelled her insight and comment. The interview became dynamic and from that point on the deal was sealed.

In summary, what did she do? She could read the environment extremely well and took control in a way which showed respect for the CEO and the business. She managed the modulation of the interview perfectly. She was neither too pushy nor too passive. Behaviourally she was positive, consistently up tempo, adaptive, focussed and very outcomes oriented. There was also a degree of courteousness, respect and humility in her style which enhanced the connection. She could switch between strategy and detail and tie them together to anchor strategy to business operations. It was clear she would evolve the finance function and connect it to the business in new and interesting ways. If you are looking for clues on interviewing technique you could do worse than keep some of these things in mind.

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