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What happens after the interview.

No matter how good your credentials, the intangible qualities will land you the job. Here are some things executive recruiters look for - but talk about only after you've left the interview.

Be prepared. These days, executives change companies every three years, and employers recruit 40 percent of managers from the outside. That means someone may be contacting you in the near future. (Research shows the average executive gets six calls a year from recruiters.) But moving past the interview to a job offer takes more than a first-class resume. Top recruiters also assess your "chemistry" and describe you to clients using a special shorthand. Here are the elements they look for and what they're saying behind your back.

Executive presence, like art, is hard to define, but recruiters "know it when they see it." And they won't recommend you without it. Leaders who have executive presence speak without a significant regional accent and use strategic silences to appear thoughtful.

Grooming is important, too - a dark, expensive suit, a white shirt with French cuffs, a Hermes-type tie, manicured fingernails and good posture. So are your looks. Although there are exceptions, most corporate leaders are tall (six feet plus for men, five feet six inches for women) and lean. For men in any industry except entertainment, retailing and computers, facial hair and jewelry (a watch, a wedding ring and cuff links excepted) are definite no-nos.

A top manager must have stature, or social poise. Executives who have it arrive on time, enter rooms expecting to "take focus" and move crisply, but gracefully. They make the first move to shake hands (strong, two shakes) and lean forward slightly when they sit. They're able to lead 30 to 45 seconds of initial small talk (about the weather, football, their travel schedule) with ease, and they use the recruiter's first name periodically when making points, but not so much that they sound like a salesperson.

What they don't do is appear flustered or out of control. They don't butt in to ask questions. They don't dig around for writing implements, business cards or plane tickets. Nor do they call their offices constantly. If they drop something, they pick it up gracefully, without scrambling. They give the impression that someone else - a secretary or assistant - is handling the details of their life.


An executive's charisma refers mainly to his or her ability to appear interested, caring and concerned. Remembering names, cordiality and empathy are all important. Charismatic executives prefer having people around them and mention others in conversation. They like to walk the halls of their company, and they chat easily with employees at all levels. They say "we" more than "I." They avoid conceptual language and when they talk about people, they use several key phrases: "I understand ...," "I feel ...," "I sense ...."

How you say something is often more important than what you say. For recruiters, articulate executives don't simply speak clearly; they also respond with a framework for an answer rather than answering a question directly. If the recruiter asks, "How would your boss rate your performance?" an articulate executive doesn't say, "Very good." Instead, he or she says, "My boss would rate my performance on three criteria: profits, market share and sales growth. Here's how I accomplished results for each of them ...."

Traditional managers thrive on the organizational pyramid. They've typically spent their careers in a manufacturing company, often rust-belt, where they've progressed up the corporate ladder, gaining more support staff with each move. Although they usually have mobile phones, they often don't have a computer because they "don't know how to type." If they do have one, their secretaries print hard copies of their electronic mail messages to review. Other tipoffs to recruiters: saying "my people" and "I'll have someone take care of that."

Companies frequently ask search firms to find change agents who can set things right by thinking outside the box. This usually means they want the benefits of change without the discomfort of the change process. If executives can show they've turned around things in their current company - without threatening the chairman - they're top candidates for a change agent position. Citing one or two of the latest "pop" business theories from Reengineering Management or The Discipline of Market Leaders helps them appear to be "someone who thinks outside the box."

Recruiters also look for executives who are a good culture fit, sharing values, operational behaviors and attitudes about change with those of their prospective employer. Traditional managers might fit the up-or-out culture of many manufacturing corporations, but they wouldn't flourish in the team-oriented, decentralized climate of a software company. While organizations often try to change their cultures by hiring someone "new and different" from the outside, putting a shark in a goldfish pond is always dangerous. Culture fit with the hiring manager is also key: Executives hire people in their own image and are more likely to offer a job to someone with similar experience, education and lifestyle - not to mention the same fraternity.


Unlike traditional managers, hands-on executives can actually do the job they're managing other people to do. Thriving in a team-oriented environment, they avoid excessive delegation. To be close to the action, they meet with customers regularly, use computers extensively, place their own phone calls and sometimes fly coach. It's difficult to find a hands-on executive who has executive presence, but they do exist.

In some corporate cultures, it also pays to be street smart. Often from nontraditional (for example, working class) backgrounds, street-smart executives battled their way to the top through brains, ambition and chutzpah. What they lack in social grace is often compensated for by their enthusiasm, optimism and relationships with clients and highly placed mentors within the company. Street-smart executives are often practitioners of the "sell and repent" school of management: They repeatedly step over the line just to see whether anyone will reprimand them - and they're unshaken by rough encounters. They're masters at circumventing corporate policies and procedures to get the job done.

There you have it. That's the lineup that walks through executive recruiting offices every week - if the recruiters are lucky. So what did your interviewers say about you when you left?


* When you're interviewing with a recruiter, leave the jewelry at home.

* Also, bone up on the latest basketball scores as food for small talk.

* During the interview, refer to the recruiter by name - but not too often.

Ms. Voros is vice president of corporate communications at Ray & Berndtson, an executive recruiting firm based in Fort Worth Texas. You can reach her at (817) 334-0500. She says when she initiates the small talk, it's always about travel or food and never about football.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Financial Executives International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:financial executives in interviews
Author:Voros, Sharon
Publication:Financial Executive
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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