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How to interview prospective new members of your leadership team

by Sellick Partnership | 14 May 2021

The interview is one of the most important parts of any recruitment process, and this is especially true when looking for candidates to join your company’s leadership team. An impressive CV and strong track record of success count for a lot, but often it is hard to tell whether a candidate will be the right fit for your organisation until you can meet them face-to-face.

For the business in question, this means it is crucial to make the most of the time spent speaking to prospective business leaders, asking the right questions to ensure you and your fellow decision-makers learn all you need to know about the candidates. By properly planning your interview strategy and focusing on a number of key questions, you will be able to get the information you need to make the right choice.

Here, we discuss some of the most important points to consider – and questions you should be asking – when interviewing for a new CEO or manager, in order to help you find the candidate who is truly ready to lead your organisation to success.

Getting the most out of the interview process

When hiring an executive leader for your team, the stakes are naturally much higher than they would be for an entry-level employee. As such, your interview process should reflect this by going into much greater depth and detail.

While the interview itself will be the most significant opportunity to get to know the personality and capabilities of prospective leadership recruits, it is far from the only tool at your disposal. Many businesses choose to ask candidates to create a presentation in addition to the interview, giving them an opportunity to outline their vision for your company in detail and showcase their business acumen and communication skills in their fullest. At the same time, this gives the recruiters a chance to evaluate each candidate’s individual vision, and get a better sense of which of them would offer the best cultural fit.

Other companies will choose to go deeper still, utilising dedicated assessment centres to put their leadership candidates through a series of rigorous tests, role-plays and scenario-based evaluations, in order to see how they will react to typical situations with problem-solving and reactive decision-making. Psychometric testing can also be part of this, using questionnaires to gain insight into an individual’s personality type, organisational approach, leadership style and ability to think laterally.

How you choose to organise this process will depend on what you are looking for in a candidate, and the requirements of the role. To some extent, a degree of flexibility is a bonus when planning interviews and assessments – especially in an era when remote interviews via video are becoming more commonplace – but at the same time, it is important not to underestimate the value that face-to-face interactions with your current board members can bring to the process.

As such, the key factor to remember is that the interview process must be designed to deliver the insights you will need to make an informed hiring decision, and should be reviewed regularly to make sure this objective is being met.

Interview questions you may not have considered

Getting the right insights about prospective leadership candidates during an interview will depend heavily on whether or not you ask the right questions.

In many cases, the best questions to ask a potential new recruit are the same at every level of seniority. It will always be necessary to ask candidates about their past work history, their personal career ambitions and the reasons why they want to join your organisation; however, if you are looking to select someone to play a key role in shaping your business’s future, then it is necessary to go deeper.

Here are a few examples of questions you can ask to provide better insights when interviewing leadership candidates:

Think back and share a story about a life experience that defines who you are as a professional. What was the lesson you learned, and how do you apply this?

By answering this question, candidates will have a chance to reveal their core beliefs via a candid exploration of their own personal history. Their response will tell you a great deal about what kind of professional journey this individual has been on, how has it shaped them as a person, and what kind of instincts and viewpoints they will bring to your business.

This is a personal question that will catch a lot of leadership candidates off guard, and for which they will not necessarily have an answer readily prepared. As such, it can provide you with valuable insights into their thought processes, personal priorities and ability to communicate their own professional values in an unrehearsed setting.

Getting a prospective recruit to open up and relate to you on a more personal level always makes for a more informative interview, and allows you to make a more educated choice about whether they will be the right cultural fit for your organisation .

 Describe some of the different environments that you have worked in. When have you been at your very best, and at your worst?

 This is another question designed to prompt the candidate to provide a candid and honest account of their past professional experiences, giving them an opportunity to provide real-world examples of their strengths and weaknesses in action.

This can be a constructive process for both the candidate and the interviewer, as it opens up a discussion for what kind of workplace and business culture a prospective recruit might be looking to create within your organisation. This will allow you to find out whether their ideal working culture is compatible with your existing brand values and vision for the company.

Additionally, this question will also give you an insight into whether the candidate has the flexibility and resilience to deal with difficulties and setbacks constructively, and to come through them successfully. This will give you confidence that this is a leader who can steer your business through unexpected challenges and help it emerge intact on the other side.

What are your views on environmental, social and corporate governance, and ethical business leadership? How do you put these into practice?

Every forward-looking business needs to recognise the business-critical importance of ethical practices. Due to a combination of regulatory scrutiny and consumer demand, it is more crucial than ever for organisations to demonstrate a clear commitment to social responsibility, and your leaders need to reflect this.

During the interview, you should ask candidates not only about their principles on environmental action, community outreach and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), but also how they have embodied these values in practice. What initiatives have they personally led in the past? What innovations have they spearheaded to drive these causes forwards? Are they the trustee of a charity at present? What voluntary work have they been involved in?

The answers to these questions will allow you to find out whether a prospective leader has a wider viewpoint on your organisation’s mission beyond simple profit – and whether they have the integrity and drive to be an agent for positive change within your team.

By considering these questions and other factors, you will be able to get a clear picture of the strengths, personal priorities and cultural outlook of your chosen leadership candidates, helping you to make an educated decision when choosing the right leader for your organisation.

If you would like to know more about how Sellick Partnership can support your senior management and executive search efforts, get in touch with our team of specialist recruitment Consultants today.