Despite a high demand for highly skilled executives across the board and
a consistent push by many organisations to attract seasoned
professionals, many of these would be executives rule themselves out of
an appointment by making fundamental mistakes. While many candidates may
have the necessary skills to do a job, they forget that the past few
years have been tough on business as such companies are looking more for
individuals that are in it for the greater good of the business and not
Such questions as salary, benefits, flexi time, etc should be left out
of the first round of interviews particularly as they give the
impression of a very mercenary approach by the interviewee. At all times
professionals in interview situations need to show themselves as being
the solution to an organisation’s challenges as this is the major reason
why the organisation is looking to hire.
Heading for the corner office – Use “question time” to your advantage
Thorough preparation, and a strategy for harnessing the opportunity to
ask the right questions at the right time in the interview process, are
the elements that set apart senior executives from their peers when
interviewing for top jobs, says a leading executive headhunter.
“Candidates must understand that when interviewing for executive level
roles, the process is more like a marathon than a sprint. To stand out,
you need to pace yourself appropriately, and navigate the course
carefully,” says Madge Gibson, partner at Jack Hammer Executive
Headhunters, the South African partner of IRC Global Executive Search
Gibson says that would-be top hires continue to make fundamental faux
pas which take them out of the running at the first interview. Certain
topics should not even make a brief appearance early on in the game, she
“Never, ever at the first interview broach the subjects of salary,
benefits, leave, maternity benefits, or the employer’s approach to
working hours and flexi time. While these topics are understandably high
on the agenda for most interviewees, they are details to be ironed out
at a later stage, once mutual interest has been determined.
“Initiating these issues early on in the engagement with a prospective
new employer creates the impression that you are more interested in
money and benefits, as opposed to the company and the opportunity
itself. And, unfortunately, if you ask these questions, you are in
danger of appearing overly focused on ‘what’s in it for me’.”
Another line of inquiry to be avoided concerns future career prospects
beyond the current role.
“Asking about ‘the next career step’ and potential future roles early on
in the interview process can give the impression that the candidate
would be using the current position merely as a stepping stone,” says
“The aforementioned topics should not be raised – not even when the
candidate is given an opportunity to ask questions – during the first
interview. They may be delicately broached during follow-up interviews
but should ideally be left for later negotiations.”
But Gibson says that question time provides a great opportunity to
distinguish oneself from fellow candidates. It allows you to demonstrate
your understanding of the company, its needs, the requirements of the
position, and your unique ability to match and exceed expectations.
“But to know ‘how to be the solution’, you must first understand the
situation the company seeks to address by appointing someone in this
role in the first place,” she says.
“This means that you have to do thorough research not only on the
company interviewing you, but also on its competitors. And once you have
done that research, matching your unique ability to add value and
benefit the company will set you apart.”
Gibson says that question time should not be a signal that the end of
the interview has arrived.
“In fact, this part of the interview should be strategically exploited
to demonstrate your unique qualities. It is an opportunity to further
sell oneself and demonstrate traits and abilities which were not covered
in the interview.
“It also provides an opportunity to engage and debate on an ‘equal’
level with interviewers, which, if used to your full advantage, can
exhibit your ability to fit in with the company culture and chemistry
and the degree to which you will be able to make a difference right from
“But watch out for coming across as a ‘know-it-all’, over-rehearsed or
insincere. Ask about the company’s challenges and opportunities and its
growth strategy; its markets and channels,” she says.
When asked why you are interested in a position, again the focus should
not be on how you would personally gain, for instance by indicating that
an appointment would further your career or provide global exposure.
“Focus rather on how you can add value to the company, its strategies
and growth”, says Gibson.
“It is all about showing a genuine interest in the company and
demonstrating that you have done your homework. To go in cold without
doing the research is inexcusable and will immediately put you at a
disadvantage in relation to other candidates.”
ISSUED BY: Lange 360
ON BEHALF OF: JACK HAMMER EXECUTIVE HEADHUNTERS
For more information contact Madge Gibson at Jack Hammer Executive
Headhunters on: 021 425 6677, Mervyn Dziva at Lange 360 on 021 448 7407
or go to www.jhammer.co.za.
About Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters
Jack Hammer provides a fresh approach to executive headhunting by
cutting through the ordinary. They have achieved this over the last five
years by using strategic research to drill down and expand their market
intelligence beyond the obvious and source the real gems of talent. The
knowledge gained in the process enables them to give clients a
competitive edge by ensuring they find the right executive talent – in a
manner that is both responsible and ethical. Visit www.jhammer.co.za.
Madge Gibson: Partner
BA (Hons), MDP
Madge originally trained as a reporter in the Business Information
sector and spent several years in London working within Financial
Services, Corporate Finance and M&A. She maintains a broad network and
has been responsible for the successful placement of several senior
executives in South Africa. In addition to this, Madge also studied
Business Management at the University of Stellenbosch, and holds
qualifications in Marketing.