Career Advice

How to Survive (and Succeed In) An Interview with a CEO

tim cook china tour 05

CEOs are just regular people. Regular people who run billion dollar companies and accomplish amazing things, that is.

Considering the polish and professionalism of your average CEO, we think it’s perfectly natural that most of us will feel a glimmer of something like nervousness or fear when we find ourselves in a position to interact with someone at this level, whether we’re being introduced for the first time, passing in the elevator, or giving a presentation.

Do you find yourself with a light case of the jitters when you think about interacting with your CEO? In honor of our Top CEOs award, read on for tips on holding your own in a handful of common office scenarios, like…

…Interviewing With a CEO

You don’t need to read through the Glassdoor Interview Questions & Answers to know that a standard interview with a recruiter or hiring manager can be intense. But interviewing with the CEO adds a whole other level of intimidation: you’re speaking with the most experienced, invested, and authoritative person in the company, and her opinion of you can have a strong influence on whether or not you get the job. So, how can you keep your cool?

First and most obvious, respect the CEO’s time by preparing for your interview. Your answers should come from an informed and authentic place, not a memorized and rehearsed one. And remember, you’re there to interview her just as much as she’s there to interview you. Ask as candid and analytical questions as you can and CEOs and founders like Eventbrite’s Julia Hartz will appreciate your moxie.

…Presenting to a CEO

One of the biggest stereotypes attached to CEOs and higher ups is that they’re busy – they’re often the ones showing up late to your meeting or staring at their phone as you talk through an important topic. Which brings us to your first task for holding your own when presenting to a CEO during a meeting: not taking his behavior personally. It doesn’t feel good, but sometimes what’s happening before your meeting is genuinely a higher priority than the meeting itself – and the same goes for the email, text, or call that comes in right when you flash to the most important PowerPoint slide you’ve got.

Speaking of PowerPoint slides, we know they’re unavoidable sometimes. But if you really want to impress your CEO (and follow in the footsteps of Jeff Bezos, who banned PowerPoints in executive meetings), you’ll skip the slides in favor of an in-depth conversation that digs into the story of the topic at hand. Providing your CEO with the narrative context he needs to make a decision is the most effective use of his time.  

…Having a Casual Conversation With a CEO

You’ve heard the standard advice about talking to Important People: Be yourself. Don’t talk politics. Know when to exit the conversation. But if you really want to impress a CEO – or just walk away from the conversation without feeling like your foot is in your mouth – we recommend heading into work with a few go-to conversation starters in your pocket, like the following:

  • Ask about a recent business trip
  • Compliment a recent initiative, keynote, or product release
  • Ask for recommendations for work-appropriate things like where to take a client for lunch or what local attractions you should recommend to a prospective employee visiting the city for the weekend
  • Compliment a piece of clothing or accessory he’s wearing and explain why you like it (but only if you can be genuine!)
  • Inquire about her past or future weekend plans (depending on which end of the week is closer)

As with most interactions, how you say something is just as important as what you say. With just a little preparation, you can be prepared for a warm, casual conversation with your CEO.

…Recovering From an Embarrassing Incident in Front of a CEO

Are you worried you’re so nervous around your CEO that you might accidentally hug him or sputter a mouthful of jibberish when he asks you what you’re working on? These extraordinary but true examples show us that no one is immune to awkwardness around the highest employee on the totem pole. But you can recover from almost any awkward moment if you practice a fool-proof social situation process.

First, prepare to respond with good-natured humor. Try to shift to a perspective that everything that happens in the workplace is well-intentioned until proven otherwise and respond accordingly: a brief smile, a quick apology, and an invitation to laugh it off.

And most importantly, remember that while this moment might define your day, it’s just one of hundreds in the day of a CEO. It’s not at all that you’re not important – it’s that your few seconds of perceived embarrassment will be balanced out with hundreds of other interactions with other people. Barring any extreme circumstances, the rest of the CEO’s day will dilute your embarrassing moment enough that it’s not going to haunt you.

 

CEO19 Inline Blog Banner EN