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The #1 reason executives don’t make it past the first round interview

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

Here it is.

You talk too much.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you. And if you’ve worked with me before you know that I’m honest and call it how I see it. I’m not one to shy away from giving feedback, as hard as it is to give. I tell nearly all of my candidates during prep calls, regardless of their level of seniority, if in the middle of your answer you think to yourself “wow, I’m probably talking too much” then you absolutely are. So stop. This is especially true in phone interviews. I’m sure you’ve interviewed someone before and ten minutes into the conversation start multitasking, getting distracted by email, likely because the person on the other side of the phone is going on tangents.

Interviewing well and being excellent at your job don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

This is especially true for candidates who are headhunted; they tend to have less interview experience. As executives move up the corporate ladder, they tend to talk. Between meetings, Board presentations, influencing, gaining buy-in, mentoring, training, hiring — there’s a lot of conversation.

The issue arises mainly in the vague questions. The hardest one to answer succinctly?

“So, tell me about yourself.”

In hindsight that’s not really a question, but you get the point.


  • Ensure you know how long the interview will last, upfront.

  • Let the interviewer lead. Give high level 2-minute answers and ask the interviewer if they’d like you to go into more detail. Check for understanding.

  • Have well thought out answers to FAQs. Especially as it relates to impact, transformation, overcoming roadblocks/pushback, and talent development/recruitment.

  • Have stories ready to go that relate to the role. And by stories, make them mental bullets.

  • Avoid soapboxing. Examples showcasing your experience are better than “what you need to do is…”

  • Don’t forget to talk about results. Not just the strategy side. Running out of time tends to lead to this issue.

  • No matter how tempted you are to do this, don’t start your answer at the beginning of your career. Absolutely feel free to talk about your foundation and why your mind/style works as it does, but typically when people go back to the beginning of their resume through all their positions, the reasons for the moves between every company, it leads to a 30 minute life story resulting in running out of time.

Now, you may be reading this and think “I’m not looking for a new role. I’m interviewing the company vs them interviewing me. After all, you approached me. I’m in a great position, love my house, our school district, and my compensation is pretty good. No complaints here.” I understand. However, every company has a different level of sophistication as it relates to their interview process. The tables will absolutely turn as to who is interviewing whom, or it may be a balance from day one. This will just depend, and it will be hard to judge upfront unless the recruiter who you are working with has a deep relationship with the client and can coach you on your approach. Bottom line is that you want to have the opportunity to learn about the role. The goal of the first round is to be invited on-site or to meet more people. It’s a step at a time, and you’ll have plenty of time to ask questions before presented with an offer.


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