“Be Prepared” for the shortlist interview

April 11, 2019
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By Nicholas Buck, Senior Consultant at Sheffield / AltoPartners New Zealand


Most executive search processes are lengthy - unavoidably so. In any given instance the list of to-dos includes: client briefing, mapping and engagement with prospective candidates (a deceptively long exercise to do well), formalisation of candidate interest, longlist interview, shortlist interview, probity checking and, for the lucky finalist, the negotiation of terms. With all this to get through, I’m sympathetic to candidates who tell me job-like patience is required just to participate in a process, let alone excel in one.

All the above steps are crucial to ensure the highest quality of appointment. However, from the candidates’ perspective, the most important step is the shortlist interview. This is the apex in which your credibility has been established and your candidacy preferred over others: what remains is the direct endorsement of the hirer in question.

Good candidate conduct and preparation for shortlist is therefore critical. However, as process fatigue sets in, preparation for this step can sometimes be overlooked. Below is a list of tips that will ensure you put your best foot forward in that first meeting with a board, chief executive or hiring organisation.

  • Research (reasonably). No one would expect an external candidate to have detailed knowledge of a hirer’s structure, culture, strategy or financial performance. However, showing that you’ve done some research is a good look. Glean what you can from online sources and networks connected into that organisation, and be ready to reference it at interview. Importantly, a desire to research a prospective employer speaks positively to your motivational fit for the role. If you’re still in doubt, be sure to engage with your search consultant. In most instances they should possess a strong relationship with the hiring firm and may be able to offer you some insights into the way they work and what sort of person they’re looking for.

  • Speak to both competence and motivation. Further to the point above, be sure to have a ready command of both your relevant experience and your reasons for interest. Candidates I’ve met typically find it easier to articulate one or the other, but it’s important to ensure interviewers understand both your capability and your willingness to perform (these are different but sometimes conflated aspects).

  • Ask Questions. Or, to put it in reverse, not asking questions can raise eyebrows. As a candidate, to enquire is to give the interview a more discursive – rather than inquisitorial – feeling, and lets the hirer know you’re actively curious about the finer details of the appointment brief.

  • Be candid – and expect candour. As with most professional interactions, a good shortlist interview should balance diplomacy and frankness. With that in mind, it’s important that you lean in, and leave the interview with a comprehensive sense of the role and its requirements. What are the hard problems in this position? Any issues with the incumbent that can be disclosed? How is team engagement? Et cetera. This is a great opportunity for both parties to engage in some straight talk, so be sure to capitalise.