As an executive search firm, we lead the recruitment process for our clients’ key hires. When it comes time to turn the candidates over to the client, we have found most struggle with what interview questions they should ask. As part of our service, we often prepare a structured interview guide for our clients to use when they are face-to-face with the top candidates.
Before creating the interview questions, we ask ourselves and our client the following questions:
- Is the job description clearly defined? A well-defined job description will provide a framework for skill-based interview questions.
- Is the company clear about their purpose and mission? Since candidates are able to find your values on your company website, they will expect your interview questions to be in alignment with these mission statements. Asking such interview questions will not only help build your employer brand strength, but it will also help you identify individuals with whom will be a cultural fit in your organization.
- What are the main goals for the key executive you are seeking to hire? By asking performance-based situational questions you can gather information on how your candidates perform, what metrics they value, and what you should expect from them in terms of productivity.
The recruitment process becomes even more important when you are hiring for a critical role within your organization, such as an executive level position. During the hiring process, it is key that you have prepared a well-rounded set of structured interview questions. We recommend creating a structured interview guide with a rating scale to ensure each candidate is held to the same standard. To remain consistent and prevent bias in hiring, draft your interview questions prior to candidate selection. As a best practice, you should include both situational, as well as behavioral-based interview questions to gain a better understanding of your candidates’ skills, abilities, emotional intelligence, etc.
10 Executive-Level Interview Questions
- Based on your past experiences, explain how you could make an impact on our business model and approach?
- What role does “culture” play in the success of an organization?
- What is your experience building high-performance teams?
- Describe a time when you had to make significant changes to an organization to improve the business? What obstacles did you face? How did you overcome them?
- What methods do you use to make decisions? When do you find it most difficult to make a decision?
- If I were to ask your direct reports about your leadership style, what would they say is your greatest attribute as a [insert job title]?
- What would your direct reports define as your areas needed for improvement?
- Have you ever been over budget? Why? How did you handle this?
- What are your three greatest professional accomplishments?
- What is the toughest feedback someone has ever given you? What did you learn from it?
1. Based on your past experiences, explain how you could make an impact on our business model and approach?
We love this question for two reasons. First, it is a great replacement to the typical “tell me about yourself” icebreaker question. Secondly, you should expect and hope that top-talent will do their research before sitting down to interview with your organization. Properly conducted research will allow candidates to answer this question with ease.
2. What role does “culture” play in the success of an organization?
You want to hire someone that is a cultural fit, not someone that has studied your values and cites them verbatim. Look for individuality here, as well as alignment. Can you tell that the candidate is passionate about culture?
3. What is your experience building high-performance teams?
The leadership style of your executive team is critical to the success of your organization. Make sure you probe deeper during this conversation by asking follow-up questions such as, “tell me more about that…”
4. Describe a time when you had to make significant changes to an organization to improve the business? What obstacles did you face? How did you overcome them?
Business leaders are used to facing change and some of the best executives will be agents for change. You should find that highly-proactive candidates will have a lot to report on when asked this question. The key is to listen to how they overcame the obstacle here - ask yourself, would your team be receptive to this method?
5. What methods do you use to make decisions? When do you find it most difficult to make a decision?
More than likely, you are not looking to add an executive to your leadership team who finds it difficult to make decisions. However, you also want to protect your company by hiring someone that is going to make valid, well-researched decisions.
6. If I were to ask your direct reports about your leadership style, what would they say is your greatest attribute as a [insert job title]?
It is important that the executive understand their impact as a leader and gets a sense of how their team views them. When the candidate describes these attributes make sure to take note and ask yourself, “do these qualities line up with our expectations?”
7. What would your direct reports define as your areas needed for improvement?
Conversely, you will want to ask about their shortcomings as well. A humble leader will admit to faults and work to correct them for the betterment of the organization.
8. Have you ever been over budget? Why? How did you handle this?
It is not just the finance team’s job to oversee expenditures. Each executive will be responsible for their own departmental budgets and should own this reporting. You will want to hire someone who is consistently in-line with the budget, not always under and not always over.
9. What are your three greatest professional accomplishments?
Do you see what we did here? This question allows you to ask the dreaded “can you tell me about your greatest strengths?” question in another form.
10. What is the toughest feedback someone has ever given you? What did you learn from it?
Similar to the above question, this is another way to ask candidates what their greatest weaknesses are.
Make sure you get the most out of your executive-level interviews. Below, we have detailed a few key things to consider keep in mind during the interview process.
7 Tips for Conducting Successful Interviews:
- Use a structured interview guide inclusive of job-related questions, as well as to ensure unlawful or discriminatory questions are avoided
- Develop a system for evaluating applicants
- Take notes and ask follow-up questions
- Have multiple facilitators leading the interview if possible
- Rate each answer based on a predetermined formula. Ensure all candidates are held to the same standard to prevent bias in the interview process.
- Leave enough time at the close of the interview for the candidate to ask questions of you, the role, and the organization
- Close by providing the candidate with information on when they should plan to hear back from you and what the next step(s) would be