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Interview Challenges for Executives in Transition: a guest blog by Robert J. Friedland

Welcome to our first First Thursday of the year! On the first Thursday of each month, Corporate Speech Solutions features an expert who has a skill or expertise that will enhance your professional skill set. Today, we’re joined by Robert J. Friedland, a founding partner of Essential Human Capital, a New York City based executive search and coaching firm. As a Certified Professional Coach specializing in leadership and communication with more than 30 years of experience as a senior-level recruiter, Robert is an expert in coaching executives in transition. Today, he shares his expertise on how to avoid some of the common interview pitfalls executives encounter when transitioning their careers.

When coaching executives who are looking to take their career in a different direction, I’m often asked, “How do I deal with an interviewer who is laser focused on my experience, not my skills?” The people I call “resume recruiters” present a distinct challenge for interviewees who are trying to break out from the assumptions and stereotypes created by only considering the titles, products, markets, industries etc. listed on their resumes. Some of the most common challenges encountered by interviewees include:

Big company syndrome” – The belief that if the candidate has only worked for large companies, s/he is incapable of adapting to a smaller, more entrepreneurial environment.

One industry and one industry only” – The perception that if one has spent his/her career in a particular industry, a move to another industry is not likely to be successful.

Older candidates are rigid prospective employees” – The idea that more senior candidates can’t learn, adapt and successfully transition to a new company, culture or industry.

While you can’t control an interviewer’s preconceptions, you can respond to interview questions in a way that shifts the focus to your competencies, or transferable skills. Before interviewing for a position that would entail a career change, I recommend that candidates take the time to consider their three most recent positions and answer the following questions:

  • What were you hired to do? What was in place when you started? This is about more than title—what did you help build, grow, or turnaround?
  • What did you actually do on a day-to-day basis? Really think about the details of what it took to accomplish your work.
  • What obstacles did you have to overcome to reach your goals? This is a great opportunity to address how you solve problems.
  • Describe a significant project that you led that either didn’t succeed or didn’t turn out the way that was expected, and your key takeaways from that experience. Analytical thinking, flexibility, and willingness to accept responsibility are all contained in this question.

By answering these questions, you will be better prepared to describe your transferable skills and help your interviewer better understand your skills and experience. For example, even if you have spent the majority of your career in a large company, you may have been involved in activities that demonstrate your ability to be successful in a smaller, faster moving, less developed company (e.g., starting a new department, launching a new product, etc.). By familiarizing yourself with your transferable skills and doing some role playing with a career coach, you can more quickly identify openings to provide answers to questions that can make a difference in your interview results, and the direction of your career.

Robert J. Friedland is a Founding Partner of Essential Human Capital, a New York City based integrated executive search and coaching firm. His executive search clients are comprised of financial institutions including hedge funds, private equity portfolio companies, financial technology firms and B2Bs. Robert earned a B.A. in Political Science from the State University at Albany, and became a Certified Professional Coach and ELI-Master Practitioner (ELI is an attitudinal assessment tool) through IPEC, the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching.

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