Common interview mistakes CEO aspirants make and how to avoid them

Common interview mistakes CEO aspirants make and how to avoid them

Common interview mistakes CEO aspirants make and how to avoid them

It is a matter of pride and excitement whenever the candidate recommended by the Head Hunter for the CEO position reaches the final round. The reasons for such a feeling are simple and easy to understand. First, the assignment is near the stage of completion. Second, the head hunter can look forward to a handsome fee towards for the search assignment and last it is one more feather in his hat.

Great Profile is not a sure ticket to Success in Interview

But the experienced placement consultant or the head hunter knows that one should not count his chickens before they are hatched.

As a head hunter for 15 years, it is my experience that sometimes even the best candidates fail miserably in the final interview. Isn’t this shocking? Sure it is, especially when the candidate’s particulars as mentioned in his resume perfectly match with the requirements given by the employer organization. Moreover, the candidate has successfully cleared two rounds (sometimes there can be more) of selection.

Common interview mistakes CEO aspirants make and how to avoid them

Common interview mistakes CEO aspirants make and how to avoid them

Reasons for failure of CEO aspirants in the Interview

From basic manner to insensitive attitude to unprofessional body language or just callous nature to blunders in answering the key questions, the ‘almost there’ candidate can be kicked out because of the mistakes made by him. It can baffle the interviewers that how can such a senior and seasoned professional slip down so much at the final performance!

Alas these are so easy to avoid mistakes.

Common Interview Mistakes CEO aspirants make and how to avoid them

For the benefit of the readers and especially those who are aspiring for Top Level Positions like CEO, CXO, CIO, COO, we group these most common mistakes made by people into a few categories given below:

1. Lacking Finesse, Skill in Handling of People and Situations

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The dictionary meanings of this word are intricate and refined delicacy, orchestral playing, skill in handling a difficult or highly sensitive situation; adroit, “masterly finesse”, and artful management.

A suitable candidate for the CEO or similar top level position needs to be an expert in managing people, stay calm and centered even during extremely happy or unpleasant situations.

While answering difficult or awkward questions during the interview, if the candidate gets irritated or flares up or gets too personal or lacks polish, it is a clear indication that he will not be able to handle difficult or stressful situations for the organization. Since CEO is also the face of the company, he could antagonize the customers, shareholders, board of directors.

Suggestion: These are skills to be practiced and imbibed in the personality. Of course, it would not happen overnight but with thorough practice and proper guidance of an Executive Coach good improvement can be aimed for.

Video #1: Mistakes 1 to 5

2. Taking all the credit for the success

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During the interview discussions, it is quite natural for the candidate to be given many opportunities to talk about his important assignments, achievements and details of the key responsibilities. Many a candidates take this as an opportunity to give a speech in flamboyant loaded with expressions like “I did this”, “ it was done under my command”, “ I got this done”, “ under my leadership”.

Even a person with average intelligence can make out that CEO aspirant is bragging and wants to hog all the credit for the work done by the entire organization’s team.

Suggestion: Of course, it is a commercial world where the performance counts but be modest, share the credit with the team members (at partially, if not fully)

3. Not accepting responsibility for the failure

In sharp contrast to the previous point, the CEO aspirant will have many reasons or rather excuses to give if interview board wants to know why certain project could not take off or why the company failed to earn profits in a particular year.

There are no two opinions about the fact that successful running of the business is the responsibility of the CEO. Harry Truman suggested, “The buck stops here.”

The interviewers are not going to be convinced of your high jargon or figures filled explanation if you are blaming the business environment or workers or the poor technology for the poor performance or the failure.

Suggestion: Be brave, own up the responsibility. Share briefly with the interview board the lessons learnt and how you became successful the next time.

Remember, if your business fails, the finger will naturally be pointed at you because you are the leader of the team. There’s nobody else that can (or should) take the blame.

4. Being too selfish

Such kind of personality is the one which makes both the mistakes at the same time i.e. want to brazenly steal all the limelight for the good performance and the extraordinary performance of the organization. Secondly they would shamelessly wash their hands off any instance of failure or dismal performance by the organization they are working for or have worked for earlier.

Suggestion: Avoid such extreme behavior. The interviewers are wise and experienced people and even if you can convince one person, the collective wisdom of the members of the interview can’t ignore this negative attitude of the aspirant for such important position.

5. Complain about previous employer

Atleast 30 percent of the candidates want to attract the attention or win the favor of the interviewer by talking negative about their current or previous employer. Typically this bad mouthing is done when the candidate is giving reason about leaving the organization.

Suggestion: This is a horrible habit and loathing an organization at the senior level is not a done thing. After all as a part of the senior management team, these candidates too share the responsibility in making or breaking the culture, administration, policies of the organization.

Therefore, be gracious enough towards all your employers – current as well as past.

Video #2: Mistakes 6 to 8

6. Being Ambiguous

Many people are lucky to reach senior or the senior most position in the organization for the reasons other than talent and skills. Once they are there, they want to enjoy the party and don’t want to disturb the processes lest it becomes too difficult to handle. In other words, they are afraid or are worried that if some sections of people get displeased they may lose their cushy job.

Thus they just tend to pretend that they are supervising all the functions – Finance, Accounts, Marketing, Production, Human Resource etc. whereas the fact is that they never bother to go deep in it. Sometimes, the candidate is blissfully unaware of the some crucial details.

Therefore, such a candidate is likely to avoid probing questions and give ambiguous answers to specific questions.

Suggestion: A CEO has to be a dynamic leader, efficient manager and much more. Be sincerely involved in the management of the current organization. This will add to your value as a CEO aspirant in the eyes of the interviewer.

Common interview mistakes CEO aspirants make and how to avoid them

Common interview mistakes CEO aspirants make and how to avoid them

7. Being Casual

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Most of the CEO aspirant candidates falling in this category dress inappropriately. Did you know that non verbal communication comprises of more than 50% of the communication in a job interview. The dress sense, body language and etiquettes are a part of non verbal communication. Just think if the CEO aspirant has not paid attention to his on attire and presentation, aren’t there chances that if this behavior is extended then the potential employer runs the risk of hiring a Mr. Casual.

The other signs are being late, not listening to the questions properly, laid back body posture etc.

Therefore, it would not be surprising if this candidate is eliminated from the race for CEO position even though he might of cleared 2 or more rounds before it.

Suggestion: You are still an aspirant for the job who has to go through the selection process and clear it. Therefore, pay thorough attention to your clothes, be dressed in formals. Be attentive throughout the interview, build rapport with the interviewers, give importance to the company and the role you are being interviewed for.

8. Fudged bio data or incorrect claims

Almost 70% of people resort to misrepresentation or lying about their education, experience or achievements to make themselves appear more suitable and qualified for the CEO position. Even if it is putting wrong dates of employment or hiding something, it accounts to lying and sooner or later it shall be found out. The final impression is  negative and it will hurt long-term job search and career.

Suggestion: Please see How to tell if Candidates are lying on their CV

Video #3: Mistakes 9 & 10

9. Ego or Over Confidence

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Currently, individuals start aspiring for the CEO position from the age of 35 onwards and it is common to find candidates applying for CEO / COO / CXO positions from 38 years of age and above. This means that with just about 2 to 4 years of senior management level experience out of just 15 years of total experience, some of the CEO candidates start feeling they know everything. The matter does not end here. Such CEO aspirants feel that now they need not learn anything.

I have often witnessed a situation where a candidate from one particular industry say, Financial Services is being interviewed for a position in a company from another Industry. When asked how much time he will take to learn the ropes or would he be comfortable in leading the team members who have 15 to 20 years of experience in the Insurance sector, answered “there is nothing new” or “why not” or “I don’t have to do anything extra”.

Is it not ego or over confidence, which will lead to his or her immediate disqualification!

Suggestion: You may feel you have `been there, done that’. However, learning never stops and should not stop. Therefore, be modest and give a suitable answer acknowledging the time and efforts required by you to pick up the threads of the industry as well as the company.

10. Poor Listening Skills

Interviews are a process of interaction through exchange of communication. Thus it is as important to speak well as it is to have good listening skills. It gives you a chance to understand what the interviewer wants to know about you.

Many a candidates repeatedly make the mistake of not letting the interviewers complete their questions and they start responding. It has many risks such as giving an answer or information which does not relate with the question asked. Also the wrong answer can over-expose you during the early stages of the interview process.

The interview board might conclude that you lack focus and are not concentrating. This could lead to your rejection also.

Suggestion: Whether the situation is the all important interview or leading the organization as the CEO, the listening skill is definitely the most desirable part of the personality of the individual. Developing good listening skills takes a lot of time, conscious efforts, patience and practice.

Thus from the entry level to the CEO level, it is incredibly important for every job aspirant to listen to verbal as well as non verbal communication directed at him during the interview.

It is just not a tool for success in the job interview. Every good and effective leader has to master the art of listening and it requires discipline to do it properly.

The benefits of listening to those around you can be huge while the downside of not listening can devastate your relationships, career and business!


For a CEO position aspirant, even the best resume or a great performance so far can only help you to reach the interview stage but it can’t guarantee the job to you, especially if your interview skills are subpar.

There are many areas where you can slip and some of the important ones have been mentioned above. Take note of these valuable tips, practice before the job interview and try to improve your performance.

You can also take the professional help of Interview Coach to help you overcome weaknesses and fears, at the same time equip you with the techniques for listening and answering questions with skill and finesse.

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About the Author

Sundeep Kataria CV MakerSundeep Kataria is the CEO of ACS Consultants – a Management Consulting Firm. He holds multiple qualifications: MBA, PGDIT (IIFT), MS in Counselling & Psychotherapy and Diploma in Company Law. He has also formally learnt Digital Marketing and Website Making.

In 1995 he pioneered the concept of professional Career Counselling, Executive Coaching and Mentoring. Over the years he has mentored many professionals, like CAs, Engineers, Sales & Marketing Professionals, IT Experts etc.

The unique style of Sundeep Kataria is that he connects with each and every individual personally, holds in depth discussion before undertaking the assignment.

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