In 2018, I helped five credit unions place new top executives. In the process of reviewing resumes and screening and interviewing hundreds of candidates, I came across many exceptional people. I also came across a few that appeared less than fully-prepared to pursue the jobs they were seeking.
If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to land a CEO role, consider the following tips to help with your first time working with a recruiter or search committee:
1. Know what job you’re applying for. Seems obvious, right? In a world of automated applications, it can be tempting to cast a wide net, but not all organizations are looking for the same cookie cutter CEO. Customize your application to the specific position for which you are applying in order to stand out as a serious candidate. One of my most astounding recruitment experiences occurred when, during a phone interview, I had to correct the candidate (more than once) that he was not interviewing for my job as League President, but the job of CEO at one of my member credit unions. Maybe it threw him to get a call from me instead of an HR person at a credit union. Maybe he had applied for so many jobs he lost track. In any case, it was difficult to take his passion for the organization seriously when he kept forgetting what it was called.
It got worse at the end when he asked me if I could “just type up what we talked about and shoot that over,” which brings me to my next tip…
2. The recruiter is not your assistant. Of course you should not ask the recruiter to take minutes during your interview (that was extreme). You should also avoid using the interview as a research opportunity. With so much information available, there is no excuse for lacking basic familiarity with the financials, leadership, and strategic direction of any organization you plan to lead. Before the first screening call, research the call report, review the web site, and do a basic Google search for news about the organization and its leadership. Then, come to the interview with specific ideas that highlight why you are a great fit. For example, if you want to feature your experience building a successful loan portfolio, do not ask about the credit union’s current loan:share ratio in the interview. Instead, know it ahead of time and say where you see room for improvement and the strategies you would use to achieve success.
3. Your search committee is human. They like to laugh. They don’t like to be bored. They want to hire a human who will be pleasant to work with. By the time you enter the interview room, it is possible the search committee has run through the same list of questions two or three times that day. They could feel burnt out. Let your energy fill the room, giving them something to look forward to if they choose to work with you regularly. Do you believe in laughter at work? Add some lighthearted moments to your interview. Do you mentor others? Tell the story of how someone you work with made strides in her career because of how much you cared. Your interview with the search committee is a chance for you and the Board to get to know a little about how you will work together. Give them a chance to get to know the best version of yourself, and leave them feeling energized from your time together.
4. Keep both your shoes on. A funny, engaging candidate regaled the search committee with stories about past success, jokes about common interests, and informed questions about the credit union, all the while slipping in and out of a pair of shoes. It was an obviously unintentional, nerve-induced action that was very distracting. It took away some of the professional presence this candidate otherwise offered. Another candidate became nervous about the room set-up and began every response with the statement, “This would be easier if we were seated at a round table.” It’s hard to see yourself unknowingly engaging in such overt actions, but the reality is that nerves can take over and distractors can happen. If you find yourself feeling exceptionally nervous in the interview, take a moment to compose yourself. Smile, take a breath, and sit up a little straighter. This small action is likely to go undetected while unchecked nerves may result in nervous gestures that distract from the best you have to offer.
5. Be strategic in your approach. At the end of your panel interview, you will likely be given the opportunity to ask questions. Show them what type of CEO you will be: Thoughtful? Strategic? Curious about the needs of others? Give Board members a sense of how you will care for their organization by asking questions that emphasize your focus on serving, rather than seeing what they can do for you. If they like what you have to offer, you will learn more about what they have to offer (in terms of benefits and salary) directly from the recruiter when they are ready to move to the next stage.
With continued high turnover in the CEO spot at credit unions across the country, 2019 is a great year to make your big move. Good luck with your search!