Readers recently had a great discussion sharing tips for women interviewing at high level jobs… so we thought we’d round up some of the advice!
We’ve previously shared midlevel job application tips, as well as the best resources for new managers — and of course we’ve discussed how to step up your working wardrobe. But we haven’t directly discussed this!
First, here’s the reader question:
I have hit a ceiling professionally with my current company and have been aggressively applying for Director/VP level positions in my field. I’ve been with my current company a long time, so the idea of a switch is unnerving — but I am looking forward to career advancement. I’m currently interviewing at various stages for new positions. Wish me luck!
Does anyone have advice on interviewing at this level?
(It’s been a few years now, but we do have “advice from the VP/Hiring Manager Level” — although not specifically on interviewing.)
The Best Tips for Women Interviewing at Director-Level Jobs
Prove You Can Do the Job on Day One
The jump from manager/sr. manager to director/VP is one of the “big filters” in most organizations. It’s the second hardest jump to make after the individual contributor to manager one. In my experience, there are very few VPs that want to move someone from manager to director unless they have big wins in their resume or a clear history of over performance at their level.
Likewise, C-suites don’t like to move directors to VP until the directors can point to their achievements but now with big dollar signs attached (how many millions did you make or save the business last year versus your peers?). Point to your achievements and not your potential at this level — you need to demonstrate that you will be a perfect fit and cause your superiors minimal headaches. They won’t train or support you much at this level so you have to prove you can do the job on day one.
One reader noted that you have to show very specific examples of moving from tactical to more strategic functions, as well as how you’ve helped teams achieve department-specific outcomes. She also noted that you should show that you clearly understand the difference in time frames:
As a manager, you are generally more of a 6-12 month timeframe executor. Director level is more of a 12-18 month time horizon and your VP (assuming this is the department head) is present –> 24 months.
Consider The Other Personalities and Teams Involved
Several readers noted that you have to appreciate how your job and department will interact with other teams and departments. One said:
Depending on your role/industry, you may also be expected to show a broad knowledge of your industry as opposed to your daily function. For example, if you are an operational manager, how does what your team does play into the larger issues that the client has? How does your team tie into other depts like sales, marketing, IT, whatever, strategically?
Another noted that relationships can make the job an enjoyable one — or a really bad one. For example:
If you are interviewing for a VP role, make sure you meet your counterparts in other departments and make sure they are not going to be a complete headache to work with (sometimes you can tell after one conversation). If it’s a new role being created, see if you can suss out who may feel that their toes are being stepped on. If it’s a backfill, what has been piling up for this role while the rec sat empty? What expectations are already set for the new hire’s function (did the exiting person create a product roadmap you’ll be stuck executing on?)?
Seek to Understand Why the Role Is Open (And How Much Work You’ll Have)
As one reader noted above, the position may have sat open for a while by the time you’re interviewing for it — you’ll want to know how much work has been piling up for the role while it hasn’t been filled.
One reader noted that she’s asked in interviews, “Why is this role currently open? Will I be working with the person who previously held it or have they moved on?”
Make Sure the Job is a Fit For You
A reader noted that while there usually is no “average” day at this level, you can ask your interviewer what a specific day looked like — last Thursday, for example.
This kind of gets back to our discussion about how to find out if your job is right for you, and the advice from the book The Right — and Wrong — Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade) (affiliate link) to focus on the day-to-day aspects of the job. (The book was written by the former CEO of WalMart.com, who discovered he … didn’t like being a CEO because of the daily tasks involved.)
Understand that the Higher You Go, the More the Bonus Matters
A number of readers noted that compensation can be completely role/industry specific — but that as you progress, the base level compensation may change a lot less than it did when you were lower in the organization, so increased compensation depends much more on your bonus.
One noted: “Making an all-in comp of ~200k is about right for the sort of role that is director/VP (as opposed to VP with a bunch of directors under). $250 is closer for a VP, can be higher.”
Readers, what are your best tips for interviewing for high-level jobs?
Stock photo via Deposit Photo / Syda Productions.
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