Job Hunt

Five Ways To Ace the Interview

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison on understanding what CEOs really look for in interviews.

4 min read

Where you’re going is far more interesting to your next boss than where you’ve been.

Too many job candidates, though, focus on the rearview mirror, describing every detail of everything they ever did. As a CEO who has interviewed countless people, I can tell you that your next boss (whether in your current employer or a new organization) is most interested in your contribution to the journey ahead.

“Your next boss is more interested in the journey ahead.”

Here are the five things you must do to ace your next job interview.

Accomplishments, Not Activities


No one wants to know your job description. The hiring manager you’re meeting with (who probably scanned your resume for less than a minute) doesn’t want to hear about your day-to-day activities. Accomplishments, though, speak volumes not only about what you’ve done, but most important about what you bring to your new job. what gets people excited about their work—their passion and hunger to make a difference. I can also tell you that most leaders aren’t looking for the smartest people. (A study found that those with the highest IQs aren’t necessarily the best hires, especially for a leadership position.) Rather, they are looking for savviness, culture fit, and authenticity. So ask yourself: what gets you up in the morning? Be able to showcase your motivation by talking about what you’re passionate about.

When I interview someone, I always meet the candidate in the lobby or reception area, then take the person into the office kitchen. It’s not about getting coffee or water. I want to start in a familiar environment to help people relax so they can be themselves. (In an interview, authenticity rules!) We might stay there for ten minutes making conversation, but never about work. We’re getting to know each other, establishing rapport and connectivity. Whether your next interview includes a “kitchen chat” or you spend a minute or two with a “getting to know you question,” you need to be a master of small talk. Be comfortable giving short responses (30 seconds, maximum) about where you’re from or your family (which can mean anything from family of origin to your children). And, don’t be afraid to ask the same questions of the interviewer (although never “go personal” until the interviewer does). This give-and-take shows your comfort and confidence and sets the tone for a successful conversational interview. An interview, after all, is not a pop quiz—it’s a conversation between two people.

Know the Company

One of my favorite questions to ask early in the interview is, “So, tell me what you know about our company and the position you’re seeking?” It’s astounding how many people can’t give a straight answer to this one. You’ve got to prepare—read the company’s website, press announcements, earnings announcements (if the company is publicly traded), and analyst reports on the company or industry. Look up the LinkedIn profile of the person you’re meeting. You might find an interesting connection, e.g. having the same alma mater, a shared passion for sports or a social cause, or other common ground. (But don’t fake it—you can’t “pretend” that you belonged to the same fraternity/sorority and know the “secret handshake.”) Bottom line—do your homework!

Culture fit is key

The more senior the position being filled, the more the interviewer will emphasize culture fit. Technical skills at a senior level are assumed—it’s all about fitting in and being able to lead and motivate others. Culture fit matters at more junior levels as well. Studies show that nearly half (46 percent) of new hires fail within the first 18 months, largely because of cultural incompatibility. Understand what suits you best, from your ideal work environment to the type of boss you want to work for and learn from. The more you know about yourself, the better you can demonstrate fit to your prospective employer.

No, you can’t drive the interview. But with these five must-do tips you’ll be able to help steer the conversation to showcase your savviness, your hunger and drive, how well you fit with the culture, and your authenticity. You’ll navigate forward to what you bring to this new job, instead of staring in the rearview mirror.

A version of this column previously ran on Forbes.com.

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