Succeeding at GM/Executive Interviews

You’re a little nervous. You’re sitting in the Council chamber with the Mayor, Councillors, and me. Take a deep breath and remember you’ve already passed the first test — the shortlisting process. You are down to the last half dozen of thirty or more, well-qualified and very able candidates. Your advancement to this stage demonstrates that the Council is very interested in your application. So, go into the interview knowing you’ve already got them on the hook — be confident, but not boastful.

Let’s just pause for a moment — before we talk about the interview itself, let’s rewind. To make a good first impression it is critical that you will have researched the Council and the community and be reasonably knowledgeable about the organisation you are hoping to work for. Visit their website; check out the Community Strategic Plan, recent council meeting agendas and minutes, and their annual report and financial statements. Use your network to talk to peers who may know the organisation better than you do. Interviewing panels are always impressed by candidates who demonstrate they know current issues and the place they are seeking to work at.

Now, in preparing for the interview, have a go at envisaging the type of questions that are likely to arise. Of course, questions vary depending on the situation and those interviewing, however, usual questions relate to your strengths and development areas, (and how you have handled the latter), where you see yourself to be in (say) five years’ time, and the most difficult work situation you have faced. Another topic likely to arise is a question relating to your commitment to ‘equality.’ You are also likely to be asked about your leadership style — and how this relates to the Mayor, Councillors, employees, partners, and the community.

If you have thoroughly carried out this research and preparation, you should be confident as you sit down before the panel — you are both knowledgeable about the Council and already have mentally prepared for many of the interview questions.

As you sit in the Council chamber, you should view your interview less as a version of an ICAC investigation and more as a wonderful opportunity to showcase your great personality, and how your skills and abilities align with the role. And don’t be afraid to give fulsome and interesting answers — without talking too much! For example, if you’re asked how many people you currently manage, rather than say ‘I am responsible for around 200 employees,’ better to give a response that paints a picture:

‘As Director of the X department I lead 4 teams covering A, B, C and D functions. I lead a motivated and inspired group of just over 100 professionals and support staff. I am also responsible for directing all recruitment, undertaking the annual performance appraisal process, training and development, and undertaking departmental efficiency/improvement initiatives. During my time as Director we have achieved annual financial efficiency savings of over 5% of budget and a rise in customer satisfaction rating by 10% as measured by community survey.’

This type of answer allows the interviewing panel to understand the depth of your role and your focus on performance by quantifying your achievements.

Usually at the end of the interview you will be offered the opportunity to ask any questions you may have. You can lose the job at this point if you ask too many questions (those that should have been asked before interview) or the questions are not so relevant to the occasion. Instead, take the opportunity to make a succinct summary statement, reminding the panel of how your skill-set fits the person specifications. Perhaps something along these lines:

‘Thank you for interviewing me in such a courteous and professional manner. It is clear the key requirement for the new General Manager will be to (say) act as a key agent for change, using the role to transform the way Council operates, improving the Council’s performance and how it relates to the local community. I hope I have demonstrated to you my keen desire to be part of the team and my capacity and capability to meet this requirement. I look forward to your advice as to the outcome.’

Another tip, more as common sense and common courtesy, is to show respect for everyone you meet — from the receptionist, all the way up to the Mayor. Be kind, be considerate, be nice. In particular, the person assigned to look after you when you’ve arrived will later be asked how each of the candidates conducted themselves. Show interest in that person and ask them any questions that might help you to break the ice when you enter the interview.

I think everyone will find that being interviewed for a top job is stressful — it’s supposed to be. It gives the Council the opportunity to see how you respond under pressure and in a challenging situation. It’s your professional reputation on the line, as well as your future career and life; so, panel members will be understanding about your initial presentation. Just be confident about what you know and how you have prepared. Above all, be yourself. Quietly control the process, while painting a picture of how your experience and successful track record makes you the ideal candidate for the job.