The CEO Interview process can be lengthy and daunting for any board. Cowen Partners is a national executive search firm and we have assembled a list of top Chief Executive Officer interview questions for your board to utilize when interviewing CEOs and making the right hire.
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How exactly do you find an amazing CEO for your company? It really comes down to two factors. First, you have to carefully examine not just the CEO qualifications but also the qualities of each promising candidate. Second, you have to make sure you’re asking the right interview questions.
Top four qualities of a great CEO
When most people consider the top qualities of a CEO the first one that almost always comes to mind is confidence. According to the Harvard Business Review, however, while a lot of confidence makes a candidate twice as likely to be hired as CEO, it doesn’t actually have any advantages when it comes to job performance. That’s not to say confidence isn’t important, it’s just that there are other qualities you should place above confidence when making your final candidate selection.
Market changes, pivoting business needs, and evolving business strategies are just a few examples of why a great CEO has to be adaptable. In order for a business to continue succeeding, it has to adapt to current trends, technology, and other driving factors. If a CEO is too slow to acknowledge necessary change, the business will inevitably fall behind. There’s no greater example of this than Blockbuster. The rental service company was huge in the 90s and early 2000s, but a leadership team that was unwilling to adapt to changes in demand drove the business to bankruptcy. Change is a necessary part of any business, so filter for candidates who are flexible and willing to adapt to what the business needs.
The trusting quality of a CEO is twofold. You need a candidate who can gain people’s trust and who can just as easily trust others. A trustworthy CEO is reliable and can be counted on to lead the business. Look for someone who is transparent about their decisions. A quality CEO is willing to be upfront about their business decisions and explain how they considered the various angles of their choice. A noteworthy CEO will also prioritize commitments by keeping a clear schedule of appointments and deliverables. Board members won’t have to wait endlessly for updates or reports. The CEO should be able to give a deadline and deliver the information requested on-time and without fanfare.
On the flip side, a great CEO is also willing to trust others. One leader can’t run a whole company by themselves, which is why an excellent CEO will know how to delegate tasks and trust his team members to accomplish their duties without micromanaging their work. The CEO you want at your business will be willing to trust others and will actively demonstrate how your company can trust in them as a leader.
No CEO can see the future, but a good one will have foresight into what the company needs. You need a CEO who can look at the path the business is following and steer the company along the best route possible. Out-of-the-box thinking, awareness of the latest industry trends, and careful decision making are all signs the candidate you’re considering will have excellent foresight when it comes to handling company business.
A chief operating officer has to interact with a variety of people every single day from employees and board members to clients and media figures. The ability to clearly communicate with people no matter what their station or position is vital for a successful CEO candidate. Building strong relationships with team members, clients, and other groups of people will help the company forge alliances with more organizations and push the business forward.
The right CEO interview questions
The right interview questions will reveal whether a CEO candidate has the qualities above and help you determine which person will be the best leader for the company. Below are some of the most important questions you can ask when looking for a high-quality CEO.
What personality traits do you think make a good leader?
Determine which qualities each candidate considers to be the most important for good leadership and see which ones are on your list of top qualities. The traits a person lists are typically ones they consider having themselves, so it also gives you a glimpse at some potential strengths of the candidate.
Describe a tough company decision you’ve had to make. What was the result of your decision?
Every CEO has to handle tough situations as the leader of the company. This is an important question to ask as it’ll show you how the candidate handles themselves when faced with a difficult decision. It’ll also tell you whether the candidate’s choice had a positive, negative, or neutral impact on the company.
How would you define your communication style?
As already mentioned, communication is a key component of any CEO role. Make sure the communication style of your CEO candidate fits your company culture and meshes well with the team.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing our company?
This question offers an opportunity for the candidate to share some insight about the industry and ideas for improving the business. The answer to this question will also show you how much background the candidate did on the industry, market, and overall business plan of your company.
What would you say are our company’s mission and vision?
You want a candidate who is interested in the company and everything the business has to offer. If the CEO candidate doesn’t have a solid grasp of the company’s mission and values, it’s a good signal the person isn’t as interested in the role as they should be.
An excellent CEO will be able to answer the above interview questions while checking off the boxes for the top qualities of a leader. It may take a little time to find someone who meets all of your expectations but waiting for the right CEO candidate is worth it once you find the perfect fit for your company.