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3 Leadership Characteristics to Emphasize in an Interview

​One of Apex's founding members and long time recruiter, Curtis Jordan, discusses 3 things executives should keep in mind when interviewing for a leadership position. See his thoughts on important leadership characteristics below.


I have had the privilege to work with executives on both sides of the table; as clients and as candidates.  Through this experience, I have helped numerous professionals become Presidents, General Managers, Country Managers, and Business Unit Heads in Japan.  In such, I would like to share some tips on certain key areas to prepare for while interviewing for executive-level positions. 

As we know, those in executive-level positions lead and provide direction for the company so one of the most important qualifications is Leadership, so we will start here. While there is an exhaustive amount of content on leadership available, the below 3 ideas are meant to help those who are preparing for interviews.  I would recommend personalizing these ideas to your style, character, and experience and consider how you can incorporate them into the interview discussion naturally.


Whether this is industry or product-related experience or extensive leadership experience, it is important for your team and other stakeholders to recognize that you are leading in the right direction based on qualified experience.  

Track your track-record 

One of the most important pieces of advice I give to professionals when both creating their resume and preparing for an interview is to have examples of their achievements and experience. The traditional approach to this would be case studies, however, the STAR methodis a more streamlined approach I would recommend to use when preparing your thoughts on how to most effectively communicate your experience.

So what about what you have done.  What can you do?

While communicating your past experiences and achievements is critical, this step only qualifies that you might be suitable for the position you are interviewing for.   Executives need to be able to shift quickly into explaining the immediate impact they can have in the new position once they start. I recommend first drawing parallels to your past achievements and then considering how they might have similar outcomes in the new environment. Not all past achievements will be relevant but this way of thinking should help you identify which ones best qualify you for the new position. This can also be a good time to mention what you have learned and how you have become a better leader through a specific past failure.  Be careful on this point to keep it brief and poignant. Learning is a part of leadership so acknowledging times of imperfection shows maturity, humility, and flexibility. Be strategic with which example you give; using it as a segue to share a success that came about due to learning from and correcting past mistakes.

Respect and use the experience of others

Successful leaders first listen and learn, and only then take action. This is especially important when stepping into a new executive-level assignment. By first examining the organization to learn about the shared pool of experience, executives can maximize resources, efficiency, and promote healthy delegation towards new initiatives and strategies.


  • Prepare examples of your experience that directly applies to the position you are interviewing for.

  • Create a resume with specific achievements including facts and figures. Adding this content will help guide the attention of the interviewers to discuss your achievements and will provide a baseline of how your experience qualifies you for the position. Additionally, it greatly improves the chances that the interviewer recognizes your experience, as it may not come up during the interview.


  • Talk too much about your experience if the interviewer is not asking you direct questions about it. You want to prepare case studies or STAR scenarios but you do not want to hijack the interview to share stories of your experience that the interviewer is not asking about.


Successful leadership and engagement are directly related.  Appropriately engaging in the work and lives of your team allows you to approach challenging situations as if you were steering an aircraft carrier like a speedboat (or parallel park a semi-truck if you prefer that visual analogy). When making decisions they have the trust of employees to act decisively and efficiently and the employees know that their leader has considered various interests.  Companies following LEAN methodologies require company-wide engagement and this only works fully when being led by the executives.

Engaged leaders recognize the power of `starting with Why` as Simon Sinek says in his famous talk ‘how great leaders inspire action’.  By doing this, teams will know the purpose of tasks and can remain optimistic through change. An engaged leader shows humility as a strength and fosters commitment towards goals while disengaged leaders tend to be prideful, dismissing of facts which are not fitting their agenda, and ultimately are divisive within the organization.


  • Communicate how you keep people motivated and aligned with company goals by personal engagement and how you break down hierarchical walls between management and the rest of the company. People trust you and also feel your trust.

  • Relate engagement to the top-line and bottom-line revenue; whether short term or long term, engagement has an ROI so be prepared to discuss.


  • Discount the critical need for others to lead engagement projects. Be sure to clarify the importance of allocating and empowering others to take on tasks or projects to foster company-wide engagement rather than only coming from management or executive offices. These projects get your full endorsement and commitment but you can step away and let others lead.


Empathy is key to effective leadership; it has been found to be correlated to skills such as coaching, effective decision making, and overall performance. How have you strived to understand others, what matters to them, how they work best, what they are going through, and what their pain points are?  Are you the type who can mentally join them in the trenches and can step-in to offer applicable guidance or direction?  Empathy should not only extend to your employees but also to customers, vendors, and to your professional network. 


  • Convey your knowledge of your surroundings and how you have your ‘finger on the pulse' of the atmosphere around you. This will assure the interviewer that you can take care of the business they need to entrust to you.

  • Listen intently to the interviewer without interrupting; consider their circumstances and how you could add value to their business initiatives


  • Communicate as if you place friendship or popularity over leadership. There is a line and you have to recognize it comfortably. 

  • Exaggerate how much you empathize with what people are going through. Just because you may have worked hands-on in this area 10 or 20 years ago does not mean you truly understand fully what the person is going through. Times and situations have changed so be authentic and cognizant of this when relating your experiences.

Final point

Naturally, leadership involves making tough decisions that not everyone will be in favor of. The most successful leaders are able to head-in to these decisions, have uncomfortable dialogues if needed, and make necessary changes confidently. Leaders who show a history of Empathy, Experience, and Engagement are more likely to keep others on board their mission even during the difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions.  Consider incorporating these ideas when preparing for an interview.  While written in consideration for executives, anybody can benefits from the tips mentioned above.

As a leader, how are you incorporating empathy, experience, and engagement into your day to day? I would love to hear your thoughts so leave a comment below or contact me directly to discuss preparing for executive level interviews.

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