As per the title, this post may seem a little obvious but I have observed that there are two key points that seem to be frequently forgotten in the desire to impress when interviewing for a new role.

Our firm has recently been through an exceptionally busy period with numerous experienced Directors interviewing as part of shortlists for roles ranging from Board positions to specialist Director appointments. Through this process, it has been interesting to observe how some candidates, often with impeccable CVs and very closely aligned skills as relevant to the role, have sometimes failed to convince the hiring Manager, usually a senior person in industry, that they are the right person for the position.

Quite often, candidates can overlook answering two fundamental questions which I believe every interviewer is ultimately asking, directly or indirectly, or at the very least, will need some assurance on. These seemingly basic questions need to be always addressed in an effective way as a real danger is to over-elaborate on more technical details or look to impress through your knowledge in other areas whilst failing to deliver on these points.

The two questions that interviewers invariably want candidates, even the most experienced leaders, to address are:

Why this role?

Why this organisation?

Many candidates are well-coached and adept enough to answer the Why You? part of any interview where they will have thought through their skills and career experience as relevant to the role, bringing out salient factors. Yet, organisations, especially when hiring leaders through a search process, fully expect the shortlisted applicants to have the skills and expertise to do the job. One of the things they really want to know is why they wish to do the job. What are the key drivers in play here? Is it money, prestige, a new challenge? What is it about the organisation that appeals? For leadership hiring, the interviewer is naturally a senior figure within the organisation who is already bought into the company’s strategy, culture and values. They want to meet people who quickly demonstrate that they can also identify with the company’s ethos and business operations and fully understand the opportunity the role presents. Those are the people who get hired.

So, when we look at the first question: Why this role?, it is important to really think through this question and answer it even if not directly asked. The answer is not about about matching the job to your experience but rather what does the role present by means of growth and challenge for you as an individual and for your career? What is it about the role responsibilities that would motivate you and where you feel you can get excited enough to really add value? What facets of the job aid your own personal development as a natural, seamless extension of your career? Does the job play a key role in moulding the company’s future and how would that complement your own personal objectives? The idea is to truly understand what this role offers by way of personal opportunity and fit. You should even look at the parts of the role that are not written on the job description. Does this role provide a great first step into an organisation where you can leverage your current core skills whilst learning the business in order to progress further internally and thereby build a successful career? Perhaps this role gives you the right level of exposure to key executives within the business so you will be best able to demonstrate your abilities? The key if to approach this question at the many levels that it can be approached and challenge yourself personally to answer the subsequent questions that arise before the actual interview.

The second question presents a similar theme of a notionally simplistic question which also raises broader points. Why this organisation? is a question one should try and answer as fully as possible prior to an interview. Do you really understand their business strategy, the market they operate in, the challenges and opportunities they may face? What about the culture of the firm, have you managed to get a sense of it before meeting them? Have you explored their external reputation? What makes this firm unique? Are they an innvoator? Do they have a strong brand presence? Perhaps the organisation is at an interesting phase of its life-cycle, perhaps a transformation is underway? Are you able to capture the “mood” of the business and understand how the future is shaping for this business? The second question also raises a point about culture and whilst it is dangerous to assume to know any organisation’s culture, there are many who have great reputations for how they manage their people or the integrity of their business philosophy. Some are more hard-nosed and direct, maybe reflecting their markets. Does either relate well to your approach to business? Again, we can see how a fairly simple question on the surface can be expanded to a more detailed and exploratory discussion.

I would encourage any person at any level entering into a process to really consider these two questions and how best they can answer them – not just to the interviewer but first and foremost, to themselves so they are able to make the best choices in their own careers. It may sound simple but as the market tightens and the demand for ever higher calibre candidates intensifies, those who truly engage in a process in this way, by systematically considering all possible factors for a move, will ensure they are in the best position to deliver to the heightened external expectations.