5 Questions to Ask C-Suite Executives When Hiring

A professional C-Suite executive in a suit shaking hands over a table in a business meeting at a cafe with large windows.

When filling top executive roles within an organization, the C-level interview process is critical. The executives at this level—including the CEO, CFO, CMO, CIO and CTO—have significant impact on the company’s strategy, culture and success. As such, it’s crucial to ensure that the interview process for these roles is comprehensive, thoughtful and well-executed.

To achieve this goal, interview committees need to prepare with targeted questions that fully assess the candidate—their skills, personality, and personal and professional experiences. Interviewers should also provide candidates with a clear understanding of the company’s culture, values, and long-term strategy. This information will help candidates assess their fit within the organization and determine whether they’re the right person to lead the company.

There’s no room for error when hiring at the highest levels. By approaching the process thoughtfully and strategically, interviewers will identify the right candidate to drive the organization’s success in the years to come. Here are five questions that can help make the hiring decision clearer.

1. What is your leadership style, and how have you motivated and inspired teams?

This question will give insight into the candidate’s management style, and ability to lead and motivate others. Look for candidates who can speak to their leadership style in a way that aligns with your company’s culture:

  • Gain a clear picture of their leadership style, including how they communicate with their team, delegate responsibilities, provide feedback, and make decisions.
  • The candidate must demonstrate an ability to adapt their leadership style to different situations and team members. This quality is important because a “one-size-fits-all” leadership style may not be effective in all cases.
  • Get specific examples of how they have successfully motivated and inspired teams, including achieving or exceeding goals, improving team performance, and creating a positive work environment.

2. How do you approach innovation and change, and can you provide examples of how you successfully implemented a change in a previous role?

This question will give insight into the candidate’s ability to innovate and drive change within your organization. Look for candidates who have a track record of successfully implementing new initiatives and who can speak to their approach to innovation in a way that aligns with your company’s values and goals:

  • You want to understand the candidate’s approach to innovation and how they drive and support change. Assess their ability to think creatively and strategically and whether they have a growth mindset that prioritizes progress and improvement.
  • The best C-level leaders navigate ambiguity and adapt to changing circumstances. Ask the candidate how they handle unexpected challenges or changes to ensure their team stays focused and motivated during times of change.
  • Look for candidates who can provide concrete examples of how they’ve driven innovation and positive change within their organization.

3. How do you balance short-term goals with a long-term strategy, and can you provide examples of how you’ve navigated this balance in the past?

This question will offer insight into the candidate’s ability to balance competing priorities and manage the overall direction of your organization. Look for candidates who can speak to their experience in managing both short-term and long-term goals and who can provide examples of how they have successfully navigated this balance in the past:

  • Does the candidate understand the importance of balancing short-term goals with long-term strategy?
  • Is the candidate adept at keeping everyone on the same page? Determining urgency is a priority when you are responsible for assessing priority and relaying the next steps to subordinates.
  • Observe how the candidate discusses goals vs. strategy—specifically, how they link short-term stepping stones to a long-term outcome. It’s never a bad idea to ask them about opinions on a specific type of strategy.

4. What values are most important to you, and how do they align with the values of our organization?

This question illuminates the candidate’s values and their alignment with your organization’s principles. Look for candidates who share your company’s values and can speak to how their own align with the organization’s. When asking this question, be mindful of the following:

  • Emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers and that you are genuinely interested in understanding what drives the candidate and how they align with the company’s values.
  • Some values may be more critical than others, depending on the nature of the position and the organization’s needs. Ask follow-up questions to understand their values and how they apply them in their work.
  • Is the candidate familiar with your company’s values unprompted? What are their perceptions of your organization’s priorities, and can they explain those objectives within the context of a value-driven approach?

5. How have your life experiences shaped your approach to leadership and management?

This question is all about fostering open communication about the candidate’s life experiences and how they’ve shaped their leadership and management approaches. Create an open dialogue that both allows the candidate to answer questions unprompted, and to share details and experiences that are meaningful to them. This question is often best-reserved for the end of a conversation, as a way to gain extra context for all questions previously answered.

Take time to get it right

The C-level interview process is critical to the success of any organization. As an interviewer, you must ask targeted questions that provide insight into the candidate’s skills, experience, personality, and life experience. This information will help you assess whether the candidate is a good fit for the company and culture, and can innovate and motivate the company into the future.

Sound daunting? It is, which is why the majority of successful companies leave the C-level interview process to an expert. If you’re seeking to fill a position with some who’s both qualified and a good culture fit, reach out to the experts at M&A Executive Search today and let us ask the hard questions on your behalf.

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