The chief operating officer of a company is a senior executive level position typically second in command to the chief executive officer. A COO is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of your business and works to execute the company’s overall business plan. In most cases, the COO qualifications and responsibilities include handling the internal affairs of the business so the CEO can focus on external communications.
The role of COO is meant to complement the skillset and responsibilities of the CEO. The person who fills this role should be highly experienced, with at least 15 years of experience within the field. This time spent climbing the corporate ladder has taught them everything they need to know about managing the administrative and operational functions of your business.
Since the COO works so closely with the CEO, determining which candidate fills the role is vitally important to your company. You need someone who can not only excel as the company’s chief operating officer but who you can easily work with on a day-to-day basis.
To help you make the right choice, we’ve compiled 15 important questions you should ask when interviewing a COO. These questions are highly effective for screen candidates for several types of COO positions, including Private Equity COOs, CPG COOs, and beyond.
We have broken these up into general COO interview questions, COO culture-fit interview questions, and COO experience-related interview questions.
A good COO candidate will have taken the time to research your company and fully understand what you do. If you receive a vague or general answer to this question, that’s a sign the candidate isn’t fully prepared for the interview.
You want to make sure the communication and decision-making style of the COO aligns with how your company works.
The COO is going to managing your internal teams so you want to make sure this person knows how to motivate employees to get the work done and hit all of your milestones.
A COO is going to be giving a lot of feedback to your employees, and you will have to give feedback to the COO. Listen carefully to the candidate’s feedback strategy to make sure it jives well with your company culture.
This question is meant to test the COO candidate to see how they think on their feet. It also will give you a sense of their creativity as well as their personality.
Ask the following questions to assess candidates in terms of how they may or may not make a good fit for your company’s culture.
You want to make sure the COO you choose will fit your company. Listen to what their ideal idea of company culture is to determine if your ideas align.
Gauge how the COO thinks they will mesh with your company culture and why. It’ll give you insight into their impression of your office as well as how they see themselves fitting into the workflow.
If the COO’s personal goals don’t align with the company, they probably won’t be planning to stick around too long. Make sure the goals align so you can have confidence in the COO’s commitment to the business.
The COO and CEO work very closely together. The two need to be on the same page about how the relationship will work. This question will give you an idea of what the COO expects from the company’s CEO.
Disagreements are inevitable in any business setting, so you need to understand how the COO handles office disputes. Pay attention to what caused the disagreement in the story as well as how the two resolved the matter.
These COO interview questions delve more into the details of candidates’ career history, as well as how their background may have shaped their skills, perspective, and industry knowledge.
A COO could have a perfectly reasonable explanation for jumping companies. Listen to the explanation and use that to determine whether you think this candidate will stick with your company long-term.
You want to make sure your COO can handle any challenge that comes their way. If the COO you’re interviewing hasn’t faced any big challenges, it’s best to keep looking. You want someone with the experience and fortitude to handle any big issues that may arise.
This is a really interesting question that tells you two things. One, it gives you insight into how much the COO candidate really knows about your company, and two, it gives you an example of what kind of ideas you can expect from this COO.
A COO should have certain standards and measurements in place that they use to track progress within departments and the overall company. Listen to the types of metrics used and determine if they’re the best ones for your business.
You want to know what programs and metrics the COO relies on when preparing forecasting reports. Consider how the COO’s method will impact and work for your company.
What Makes a Great Chief Operating Officer
Everyone knows the major role a CEO plays in a company, but fewer people understand the significance of a COO. A chief operating officer is typically in charge of the daily operations of a company, and the duties required of this role can vary widely between businesses.
The COO role is often seen as the right hand of the CEO, and the position usually exists to alleviate everyday management tasks from the CEO’s shoulders. With the general operation details designated to a COO, the CEO has more time to dedicate to big-picture aspects of the business, like long-term strategy and efficiency solutions.
The COO can be a vital role to any company but what exactly makes a great COO? The various roles played by a COO are so numerous and ever-changing that companies need to find a true chameleon to fill the position. If you’re hiring a COO, you’ll likely be looking for a candidate with a unique set of skills that set this leader apart from the rest of the group.
The skills of a great COO include being:
The role of a COO is often changing and evolving as the business ebbs and flows, which is why a top COO needs to know how to adapt to various situations and strategies. The COO can also play a variety of roles within a company, including (but not limited to):
Whatever role the COO is initially brought in to play in your company, the ability to adapt to new responsibilities and situations will be a major benefit.
A COO needs to:
Attention to detail is one characteristic that will help a COO keep everyone on-task and inline with company deadlines. Less detail-oriented individuals may understand the big picture of your company but will have a harder time keeping all of the plates spinning, as the finer details of running a business are lost.
A great COO is a true team player who understands running a business is a team effort. In most cases, the COO will:
A COO who can acknowledge the hard work others put into the company will be able to build employee loyalty and increase employee satisfaction.
Every company needs at least one person in the c-suite to be a data-driven leader. It’s too easy for people to get carried away by “instinct” or a “gut feeling.” For a business to be really successful, decisions need to be based on data-driven information proving which choice is the best option. A COO with a data-driven mindset can:
A COO role isn’t for the faint of heart. This position is second in command of the company and will require a strong leader to successfully manage the job. Business deals, strategies, partnerships, and various other aspects of business do not always go smoothly. When the company hits a bump in the road, you need a leader who can navigate the situation with professionalism and start looking for solutions to the problem. A top COO will be able to face difficult situations and quickly recover from any setbacks or failures the company experiences.
Demand for capable COOs is growing as the role of the CEO becomes more and more complex. Companies need someone who can:
The value of the position should not be underestimated, and if you’re looking to add a position to the c-suite of your company, a COO role is an excellent option.
At Cowen Partners, our elite team of hands-on COO recruiters have deep experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients, who are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000’s or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion, span all industries, including technology, healthcare, manufacturing, retail, real estate, financial service, private equity, and more.
Successful placements include chief operating officers across the nation, as well as positions throughout the C-Suite, including (but not limited to) CEOs, CHRO, CFO, CMO, CLOs and general counsel, vice presidents, and other director-level leadership roles.
Cowen Partners is a proud leader among the nation’s best COO executive search firms, enabling companies to harness the power of human capital to fuel their success. In fact, we give our clients access to the top 1% of human capital to create opportunities that accelerate their growth and market share. With Cowen Partners, clients can grow at scale, create value, and drive results with world-class talent.
Check out our industry-leading resources, created by our top COO recruiters, to see why Cowen Partners is one of the best retained executive search firms in Anchorage, New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Dallas, Los Angeles, and beyond:
Cowen Partners Executive Search provides recruitment services to all major and minor industries including:
Accounting, Advertising, Aerospace & Defense, Biotechnology, Banking, Credit Unions, Board and CEO Services, Computer Hardware, Construction, Consulting, Consumer Products, Computer Software and Hardware, Education, Energy & Utilities, Entertainment & Sports, Finance, Financial Services, Food Products, Government, Human Resources, Health Care, Hospitality & Tourism, Insurance, Industrial, Internet & New Media, Legal, Tax, Crypto, Bitcoin, Private Equity, Journalism & Publishing, Marketing, Manufacturing, Medical Device, Non-Profit, Pharmaceutical, Private Equity, Real Estate, Retail & Apparel, Sales, Technology, Telecommunications and Transportation.