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10 Interview Questions to Ask When Hiring for Your C-Suite

July 17, 2019 by Amy Ancira

The hiring process can be stressful for all of those involved, especially when your organization is hiring for executive level roles. You aren’t just looking for the next employee−you are looking for the strategic leader(s) who will take your company to the next level.

Turnover in the C-suite is disruptive and you want to make sure you are hiring the right candidate for the position. Questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness,” will only tell you so much. Here are the 10 interview questions you should be asking:
 

  1. What do you consider one of your biggest accomplishments?
  2. This is a great icebreaker. It may seem like a simple question, but this question could be related to business or a personal accomplishment. The candidate might mention their family or completing a marathon. Their answer will provide some insight into the candidate’s values and can help you determine if they’re a good fit for your company.
     

  3. Describe the biggest change you’ve encountered. How did you adapt?
  4. Change is inevitable in any business, and a C-suite leader must be able to adjust the sails and keep moving forward. With this question, you want to see the challenges they have encountered in their careers and how they were able to adapt. You will also gain some insight into how the candidate thinks and understand what they felt like they learned in the process.
     

  5. How do you motivate others?
  6. Because you are looking for a leader and not just another employee, you’re going to want to dive more deeply into their leadership qualities. A leader must be able to motivate others to do great work. If they can’t motivate others then, by definition, they aren’t a leader. If your candidate doesn’t have concrete examples of how they’ve motivated others to tactically execute on the strategic initiatives, you will need to determine whether they’re the right fit for your company.
     

  7. Describe a time you were highly criticized by a boss or board member. How did you handle it?
  8. Criticism is a part of any job. However, some leaders struggle to accept criticism, especially if they don’t believe it is justified. While it’s important for your C-suite executives to be confident in themselves, they also need to remain open to feedback in order to grow in their positions and be moldable for your organization. And if they insist that they have never been highly criticized, then they are probably either naive or not being truthful.
     

  9. What is the toughest decision you’ve ever had to make?
  10. There will be many tough decisions that an executive needs to make. How prepared are they to make those tough decisions? Have they had experience in this space before? How do they perform under pressure? You want to know if they are prepared to make the tough decisions for your organization without flip-flopping or blaming others.
     

  11. How have you improved your listening skills?
  12. A good leader listens. They listen to their employees, peers, and supervisors. This question inherently suggests that you are looking for someone who is a lifelong learner and continues to work on themselves to be a better leader.
     

  13. How have you improved your communication skills?
  14. Communication goes both ways – a leader needs to listen without bias and also speak clearly and effectively. It is part of your executive’s duties to set the standard for how to communicate effectively, no matter the issue, so others can follow suit. You want to make sure that your candidate is continually working on themselves in this aspect as well.
     

  15. Where do you see room for improvement in our company?
  16. Here you are opening up the conversation to see what gaps exist in your organization and to see how well your candidate knows your business. Getting an outside perspective not only tells you how your candidate can support your organization as a member of your team, but it also shines a light on some areas that could use improvement. And you’ll get a good look at how your candidate thinks about things.
     

  17. How do you manage conflict?
  18. Conflict will happen; it’s inevitable. How has your candidate managed this in the past? What is their experience in conflict management? While some people are natural born referees with the intuition to resolve problems quickly and effectively, others prefer a hands-off approach and allow problems to resolve themselves. What approach is best for your culture and your organization?
     

  19. What do you do to relax outside of work?
  20. Employee burnout and turnover is a real problem for many organizations, and your organization, like most, cannot afford high turnover in the C-suite. Perhaps your candidate works 24/7 and they love it that way, but asking this question opens the conversation so your candidate knows you value them as a whole person, and not just as the employee sitting in an office Monday through Friday.
     

    At the end of the interviewing process, you are looking for the next elite player to be a part of your executive team. They should bring tremendous value to your organization for the long-term, and therefore a difficult person to replace. Candidates do not reach the C-suite by being passive, risk-averse employees. They have taken chances – with varying levels of success – and they have learned to grow and adapt to their changing environments. Be sure that the candidate you are interviewing not only looks good on paper, but they are someone who you are excited to educate and be educated by while sitting side by side in the boardroom.

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