Basic (but really successful) Interview Strategies

Basic (but really successful) Interview Strategies

I’m a former CPA who has been an Executive Recruiter for nearly 20 years. At Conexus, we recruit and place a high volume of Finance and HR leaders. Once the leaders are in place, we’re often asked to build out part or all of their org charts, so we interact with executives and also professionals in early chapters of their career. It’s a fantastic way to make a living, as we get to interact with thousands of intelligent professionals every year, while also strengthening companies and enhancing professionals’ careers. However, one thing has stood out to me over the years: MOST (definitely more than 50%) CANDIDATES DON’T KNOW HOW TO INTERVIEW EFFECTIVELY. And I’m referring to all levels of professionals.

A number of years ago, I compiled a list of Basic Interview Tips and clipped it to my LinkedIn profile. I received a number of positive comments and also some negative remarks such as, “conversations about executive level compensation is very complex – your article dumbs it down too much.” I’m republishing much of my original post, but I’ll begin with a disclaimer: The following information is intended to help MOST people MOST of the time at the BEGINNING of the interview process. You’ll never deal with compensation negotiations if you can’t get past the first round of interviews. The following is a solid starting point for those who are unsure about what to do, say, or ask at an interview. And it will hopefully help people who have solid experience, but they keep getting passed over because their basic interview strategies are flawed. It’s also the same, basic interview advice I’ll give to my three sons when they reach the age that will have them going to their first interviews.



One of the biggest mistakes that most people make when interviewing is tied to their mindset: most people go in as a “buyer” (what’s in it for me?) when they should be going in as a “seller” (what can I do that will benefit this company?). The buyer’s approach almost always guarantees that the job offer will go to someone else. It is human nature to go to an interview and wonder, “would I want to work here?” However, that’s a moot point until the company is prepared to make you an offer. You have to push that question out of your head before you walk in the door for the interview, and make sure your focus is “I need to SELL MYSELF today and make sure this company understands what strengths and experience I can offer them.” You need to EARN THE OFFER first, and then you can perform your final due diligence to determine if you want to work for the company.


We live in a world of free information. Companies have a wealth of information on their websites. Wikipedia has great summaries of many companies. LinkedIn will likely have information on the background of the interviewers. Review this information prior to the interview. This may seem overly obvious, but our clients consistently tell us that interviewees who applied to their jobs online often know very little or nothing about their organizations.


Be positive, be energetic, and show some enthusiasm about the company and the position. Whether it’s their industry, their size, their reputation, the nature of the work, all of the above, or something else, find something positive to discuss that explains why you are interested. If you don’t show any enthusiasm towards a company during the interview process, they will assume you will bring no enthusiasm to the job, so they’ll never make you an offer.

And if you’re physically capable of doing so, please stand up to shake people’s hands when they enter the room. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into an interview room and a candidate just reaches up from his/her chair to offer a weak handshake. It’s always an immediate turn-off.


Yes, your image matters. Shave, remove nose and tongue piercings (yes, people really come into our offices with these), cover your tattoos, avoid perfumes and colognes, and wear a suit unless instructed otherwise. Avoid off-the-wall colors when selecting shirts, ties, blouses, etc. Again, this may seem overly obvious, but we hear stories regularly about people violating one or more of the tips listed above. These candidates are usually ruled out before the conversation has begun.


1)      Why are you looking to leave your current employer?

Always be positive! Do not badmouth any employer.

Example: “First of all, I’d like to point out that working for XXX has been a great experience and I’ve learned a lot about A, B, and C (you could discuss systems, the industry, technical matters, anything relevant here). That said, I feel like my learning curve has plateaued (or we’re being sold, we’re downsizing/moving, mention a plausible reason for change) and I’m ready to move to the next step in my career and take on new challenges.”

2)      The “Strengths” Question. What are your Strengths?

Don’t just rattle off a list of strengths and hope your audience believes you. Mention your legitimate strengths and elaborate with some real-world examples that will provide evidence that you truly possess those strengths.

Typical strengths to discuss:

  • Technical skills and industry knowledge
  • Team player
  • Multi-tasking capabilities
  • Global and Local thinker (able to see the big picture and the details)
  • Optimistic/Can-Do Attitude (not above any task)
  • Oral and Written Communication Skills
  • Interpersonal Skills


3)      The “Weakness” Question. What are your weaknesses?

Be careful here, because the interviewer is really asking you “give me a reason to NOT hire you.” 

One of the best ways to answer this question is to mention a weakness that is related to one of your strengths. Then discuss what you have done to improve upon your weakness. Here’s an example:

“Well, I think that one of my biggest weaknesses is tied to one of my strengths. As I mentioned earlier, I believe I’m a true team player and I do like to help other people succeed. One weakness that’s tied to that is that I can be overly eager to say ‘yes’ to people when they ask me for help or to take on more work. In the past (make sure to use the words IN THE PAST to help emphasize that you have been improving), I would sometimes find myself with too much on my plate, so I would be scrambling to finish everything that I had committed to.” 

“Over the last few years, I’ve become much stronger in taking a moment to consider what someone is asking me to do before saying ‘yes.’ I will let someone know that I definitely want to help if possible, but now I’ll ask questions to understand how long it will take to do something and understand how urgent the request is, and I’ll only say ‘yes’ once I know I can truly help them. If I can’t do it, I’ll share some ideas to find an alternative way to solve their problem.”

4)      The “Similarity” Question. Do you have experience with “X”?

Never just say “NO” – Focus on SELLING yourself and your existing skills, and keep the interview positive.

Example answer: “While I haven’t worked with X, I have worked with Y, and I believe that they’re quite similar. Plus, I’m a quick learner, so I am confident that I can learn X quickly.”

5)      What type of job are you seeking? OR What are your short-term goals?

Answer this by doing a couple of things:

  1. At a minimum, generically describe the job that you’re interviewing for. Ideally, if you are interviewing for a job that you are truly excited about, tell that to your audience. In either scenario, also make sure you share why you believe you can succeed in the role.
  2. Take a look around at the culture of the department and describe it.

Example: “I’m looking for a position where I can take my current experience with doing X and make a positive contribution while learning to do more activities like Y.  Also, I want to work in a fast-paced environment with a lot of dynamic and bright people in a growth-oriented company.”

6)      What are your long-term goals?

Don’t be too specific and only mention one path here, and don’t be glib and say “I want your job.”

Example: “In the long term, I would like to utilize my experience and interpersonal skills to one day move to the position of Director or VP, and ideally be leading and managing others. That said, I’ve learned throughout my life that things can change and you need to remain flexible and adaptable. I’m confident that if I work for a good company and I focus on doing the best possible work in the short term, then good things will happen over the long-term.”

7)      How much money do you need?

Your first response should not include any type of number or range of numbers (if you come in too high, you put yourself out of the running for the position, and if you mention a number too low, you miss out on money that could be waiting for you).

Example answer: “It’s hard to give you an exact dollar amount. While compensation is an important factor and I’d like to be paid competitively, I’m really more focused on the overall opportunity.”

8)      Do you have any questions?

First, do not say, “I don’t have any questions.” Everyone has questions. Also, DO NOT ask about overtime, benefits, compensation, tuition reimbursement, equity, bonuses, parking, working weekends, retirement plans, etc.  If you ask these questions now, you’ll sound like you assume the company wants to hire you already, and you’ll turn them off. You can ask about these topics AFTER they make you an offer and potentially use the answers as leverage when negotiating your final compensation.

Instead, this is where you continue to show your enthusiasm for the position and open the door for you to sell any points that you haven’t had an opportunity to discuss during the course of the interview. After the interviewer answers each of your questions, take time to respond positively or give examples of how you fit the answers to your questions.

Examples of the questions you can ask:

  1. “What qualities do you think it takes to be successful in this position?” 

After the answer is given, give examples of how you possess those qualities.   

  1. “What do you think the biggest challenges will be in this position?”

After the answer is given, give examples of how you’ve dealt with similar challenges, or tell them why you are comfortable that you can deal with those challenges successfully.   

  1. “How would you like to see a person develop in this position in the future?”

(Use this language instead of, “what is the growth opportunity for this position?” – you’ll get the same answer, but your phrasing is much more constructive and exhibits that you value the interviews insight)

After they describe how someone can grow and develop, take this opportunity to show your enthusiasm and communicate that you are confident you have the ability to develop in the way described.

  1. “Can you tell me more about the culture of your company?”

People love to talk about themselves and their companies, so they’ll describe some positive things about their organization, which will allow you to say, “Great, this is the type of environment I would love to work in.”

  1. “You’ve given me a lot of great information, and I’m very interested in this opportunity, so I don’t have any more questions right now. Before we end, is there anything else you’d still like to know about me?” 

This is a polite way to wind things down in a non-awkward manner, ending things on a positive note. It also gives you the opportunity to address any last second questions that the interviewer might want to ask, leaving nothing unaddressed.


“Thank you again for your time. I’ve enjoyed our meeting, and I hope I’ve earned the chance to continue discussions. I hope to hear from you soon.”

If you are thinking about changing jobs soon or in the middle of a job search, contact me, Sean Gill, Managing Partner of Conexus, at to schedule a free phone consultation. I am a former CPA (I originally worked for Deloitte and Disney) with nearly 20 years of recruiting experience, assisting clients in hiring more than 1,000 financial professionals for positions ranging from Senior Accountant to CFO.

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