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How Do You Interview an Executive?

How Do You Interview an Executive?

by David Landau

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An effective candidate interview is what stands between a great hire and a poor one, and the stakes are especially high when interviewing for C-suite roles. Hiring the wrong person can lead to serious consequences for the business which can be excruciating to unravel. The executive job interview is a critical opportunity to go beyond simple qualifications and experience, and get a more accurate idea of how a candidate will perform in your organisation. Using our executive recruitment expertise, we've successfully placed many candidates over the years, and have identified some of the most effective interview questions that can help determine whether the person will help the company achieve its long term goals.

Interviewing an Executive Candidate

A successful C-suite hire should be able to lead by example – living and breathing the company's goals, values and mission. It’s important for the interviewer to keep these in mind and consider what attributes the successful candidate will need to realise these goals. We've also identified several key qualities to look out for when interviewing executive candidates. People who are results-focused, with a strategic vision and leadership skills to match are some of the best ones to keep on your radar. A great way to identify these qualities in the job interview is through behavioural questions.

When asking executive behavioural interview questions, the aim should be to gain insight into these character traits and develop a further understanding of what the candidate truly brings to the table. To do this, keep questions specific and open-ended, leading to a discussion that reveals more about the person and exactly what they can add to the company culture. We encourage our clients to use behavioural interview questions as it is widely accepted that past behaviour is a good indicator of future behaviour. A good leader needs to be able to handle curveballs, which is why it’s important not to shy away from asking some tough job interview questions throughout the process. Use these to get to grips with exactly how your potential hire will rise to the challenge of leadership.

Sample Executive Interview Questions

Asking the right questions is essential when interviewing for an executive position, as this will determine whether you are able to make a truly informed decision about the hire that best fits the business’ needs. Here are a few insightful questions to ask executives:

General Interview Questions

  • Describe your management style and tell us how you would adjust your style to deal with unforeseen challenges such as an unusually high staff turnover rate.
  • How do you handle unexpected issues and ensure that your team members respond appropriately?
  • In your opinion, how often do you think meetings between your team leaders and the executive management team should be held, and how do you get ready for them?
  • When shaping your team, what are the most important attributes you wish to pass onto others and why?

Example Behavioural Interview Questions

  • Give us an example of a significant error you made at work, and explain what you took away from the experience and what you did to resolve the mistake.
  • Describe a time that you improved company processes and how you put the idea into action.
  • Tell us about a time you received negative feedback and how you reacted to the experience.
  • You indicated many successful projects in your application – tell us about one that stood out with the biggest challenges and how you managed them.
  • Tell us about a time you have confronted an employee about their job performance or given constructive feedback to an underperforming employee?

Assessing the Answers

When analysing candidate interview responses for management positions, keep in mind how the candidate aligns with the business' broader objectives. That is not to say the ideal candidate should be a carbon copy of the rest of the leadership team. Instead, look for a diverse background and experience that will complement the company culture.

Another factor to consider when hiring executive candidates is how the potential hire will integrate with the existing team. Will the different personalities supplement each other? What will the candidate add to the team? In addition, it is especially important at this level of recruitment to look out for red flags such as dishonesty, arrogance or poor preparation. Even if they are not necessarily cause to disregard the candidate right away, they are sure signs to be cautious and look deeper before moving forward.

Summary

When it comes to executive level interviews and finding someone that is a good fit, the importance of asking the right questions cannot be overstated. At the C-suite level, the best approach is to ask questions in a way that will promote natural discussion and provide insight into the individual’s values, personality and leadership style. 

If you’re struggling with how to interview executive candidates or would like help with finding your next top executive, get in touch today.