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The Executive Files
by Sally Stetson '83

Interviewing Star Candidates
September 2014

Given the number of interviews I do on a weekly basis, it's easy for them to blend together. Not that I get candidates mixed up with one another; I take good notes and do my best to be focused in every interaction. But it's hard for a candidate to stand out in a calendar that may contain 15 to 20 interviews, that is, unless he or she is a "star."

In my opinion, what differentiates stars in an interview setting is their ability to engage their interviewer. Typically, they are focused and succinctly describe their strengths. Their accomplishments are linked to results. They have an engaging style and as a result, I rarely look at my watch or even wonder what time it is. The conversation flows naturally.

This notion of brevity is worthwhile for every executive-level candidate to consider. The human attention span is short, even under the best of circumstances. The more concise you can be in an interview while still driving your point home, the more likely you will be to engage the person on the other side of the table. I find that star candidates have the ability to provide specific examples that sound more like short stories than novels. The novelists, on the other hand, often lose track of the questions they're in the middle of answering, as do those asking the questions.

Other distinguishing traits include bringing a focused energy to the conversation and an observable passion for one's work. These qualities shine through in an authentic way. I believe that the person I am interviewing for 60 to 90 minutes will be much the same person who walks into his or her first day of work with my client. They aren't afraid to offer a contrary view when required.

In most of the interviews I conduct, I am reasonably confident of the individual's technical or functional capabilities. By the time they get to me, they have been vetted fairly completely on these issues and I feel that technical/functional excellence is simply a cost of entry skill. What differentiates great candidates from merely good candidates lies in how they achieve results as much as what the results are. If you can effectively and engagingly outline that for me, you're pushing yourself ahead of the pack.

Some people naturally have this capacity to engage; some don't. However, in my experience, it is a skill that can be learned and one that I would encourage any executive who aspires to senior leadership to develop. It is a skill that not only helps in an interview but in leading a team, persuading a client, or running a company. All I know is that when I meet a star candidate, I am energized and excited to introduce them to my client. It makes my day.


About the Author

Sally Stetson '83
Principal and Co-founder, Salveson Stetson Group, Inc.

Sally Stetson is a principal and co-founder of Salveson Stetson Group, Inc., a retained executive search firm located in Radnor, Pa. supporting clients across the country in identifying and placing senior level executives in diverse functions ranging from finance, sales/marketing, human resources and general management. The firm currently has over 16 employees. She has over 25 years of experience providing recruiting and consulting services to a broad range of organizations, including life sciences and pharmaceutical firms, manufacturers, hospitals, professional service firms, service organizations and non-profit institutions.

Stetson has particular expertise in consulting with organizations regarding recruitment processes as well as assisting them in managing change. She has worked with senior management in evaluating and implementing effective communication plans during times of change.

In addition, she has effectively managed multiple searches for large and small organizations, working closely with senior management for the duration of the searches. Stetson is particularly focused on assuring appropriate "fit" for the candidate and company.

Stetsony was formerly vice president of Client Services for Right Management Consultants, a Philadelphia-based international career management and human resource consulting firm. During her years at Right, Stetson was widely regarded as one of the firm's leading consultants, both in generating new business and delivering consulting services to corporate clients. She secured and managed many major consulting and restructuring assignments for some of Philadelphia's leading companies.

Prior to her position with Right Management Consultants, Stetson was vice president of Executive Search Services for W.K. Gray and Associates, a retainer-based executive search firm. Prior to Gray, Stetson held positions with Thomas Jefferson University and Drexel University.

Stetson holds a master of arts from Drexel University and a bachelor of science from the University of Delaware. She currently serves as chair of the Board for the Please Touch Museum. In addition, Stetson serves on both the Advisory Council of the Pennsylvania Conference for Women and the Advisory Board of Drexel University's Harold Steinbright Career Development Center. She is past president of the Board of Directors for the Forum of Executive Women and the National Adoption Center. In addition, Stetson has served on the Board of the Human Resource Planning Society, the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Human Resources Planning Group.

In 2003, Stetson was named one of Pennsylvania's "50 Best Women in Business" by the Governor of Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Business Journal named her as one of its "2006 Women of Distinction" for her outstanding contributions both professionally and in the community. In addition, Stetson has been selected as one of SmartCEO Magazine's 2010 BRAVA! Women Business Achievement award winners.

Issue Archive

March 2014
8 Ways to Advance Your Career to the Next Level