Interviewing Tips for Executive Search

I have been in the search business for 30 years working for companies in financial services, insurance, manufacturing, healthcare, nonprofit, transportation, construction and governmental entities. I have interviewed thousands of people and I enjoy meeting new people all the time. I work at the “C” level for the most part and there are a handful of questions which I ask all candidates from all types of companies and functional expertise. An interview is just one of the factors to consider before I recommend someone to my client. The most important factor is the individual's previous experience but I also need to know about the person's critical thinking capabilities, numeric reasoning ability, emotional intelligence, personality, and management capabilities. Interviewing with an executive search person is different than with the company or board and requires a great deal of thought and introspection.

Here are a few questions which you may want to think about before your next interview:

  1. Tell me about yourself. I make this statement because I want to know about people and as a recruiter, this means I want to know your life story. I tell candidates that they can tell me whatever they want or not tell me anything with one caveat which is, I will pass on whatever they tell me to my client. What I’m looking for is where they are from, what their parents did for a living, how many siblings they have, what they do and where they are at today. I’m also interested in their immediate family and what their significant other does for a living and what is most important about their children. The more I know about them the easier it is to see if there is a good cultural fit. This information is not even close to the most important information I get from other questions. I have recommended people who do not wish to tell me anything and don’t even like that I have asked and I respect their right to not talk about themselves.
  2. Tell me a story. I do not preface this with a subject matter and I ask people to do it because the most successful people are persuasive and they often are good story tellers. What a candidate chooses to talk about reveals something to me about what is important to them. Some talk about themselves, others talk about someone in their lives that made a big difference to them. Others may just relate an experience or story which they happen to remember. There are no bad answers but there are certainly some really good ones that are very revealing.
  3. Tell me what you enjoy doing most at work. People like to do the things they are best at and tend to put off what they don’t like doing or delegate those responsibilities to others. I want to make sure that “this is what I enjoy doing the most” is meeting most of my client’s needs.
  4. What are your strengths? Everyone asks this question and it is close to question three in that the individual’s strengths must match the needs of the position. This is a more direct way of asking for a self-assessment and it’s critical that a person have a clear idea of what they are good at.
  5. Tell me your most important accomplishments and the role you played in them? I look carefully at resumes and most people list accomplishment but sometimes I’m not sure of the candidate’s role in achieving the result. The company could have accomplished many things while they were employed there but the more important part of the question for candidates from my perspective is, “Specifically, what was your role?”
  6. Tell me what you like and dislike about your current situation and why you might be interested in a new opportunity? I like seeking out people who are not looking for a new position. However, if there is no motivation to improve their situation then the chances of a candidate making a career move is probably not worth anyone’s time.
  7. There are always three important management questions I ask. They are: What are the key elements of managing people? Walk me through the process you utilize when delegating an important assignment. How do you resolve personal conflict and conflict with people that work for you? These are the most important questions I ask to determine if I’m going to take the interview to the next step. Just because a person has been in management role doesn’t mean they know how to manage. Someone may know the proven methods of management that are effective; whether or not a person actually puts these principles into practice is another matter altogether.
  8. The rest of most of my interviews are behaviorally based and include questions that are specific to the needs of my client and the position. They are fact finding and also give me a window into how people think and their approach to challenges, opportunities and threats.

Many people who I have contacted about an opportunity have not interviewed for years. Often they have been in a position to interview others so they have their own interviewing style and know what they look for in candidates.  However, when they are candidates themselves it presents a whole new perspective for them. As a search consultant, I can’t hire you but clearly I can be a gatekeeper for what could be the best career move you ever will make.

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