The Best Interview Question to Ask a Potential Senior Executive

Shay Dalton / February 17, 2015

As an executive search consultancy, we regularly impart advise and insight to our clients looking to hire senior professionals. Often, we partner with them in the process and conduct interviews in order to ensure that the right candidate is chosen.

Regularly we find ourselves being asked the question “What is the the best interview question you would ask a potential CFO or senior executive?”

At Lincoln Recruitment we would emphasise the importance of trying to understand the candidates purpose during the very first phase of the interview. The majority of the questions we ask can be traced back to the simple question, “Why do you work every day?” The reason why they work must align closely with a company’s purpose especially if they’re potentially going to be leading your company in the future.

Throughout our experience we can break this down into one question, which is one of our favourites, only takes about 5 minutes but will tell a remarkable amount about a candidate in this time:

“I want you to explain something to me. Pick any topic you want: a hobby, a book, a project you worked on–anything. You’ll have just 5 minutes to explain it to me.
 At the beginning of the 5 minutes you shouldn’t assume anything about what I know, and at the end I should understand whatever is most important about this topic.
During the 5 minutes, I might ask you some questions, and you can ask me questions. Take as much time as you want to think it through, and let me know when you want to start.”

Our reasoning for choosing this question is as follows:

  1. Identify Weakness: weaker candidates think that presentation and communication are one in the same, and lost sight of their audience.
  2. Goal directed and organised: Many candidates will make the fatal error of diving straight into the answer without any thought or premeditation. What we find most interesting is how accurately it predicts disorganised and non-goal directed behaviour on the job.
  3. Leadership: Leaders will have the courage and experience to say No. For senior positions, we would often ask a question early on in the 5 minutes that is aimed to be a complete tangent and has little to do with their end goal. A superstar candidate will refuse this diversion insisting that we stay on topic.

What are you favourite questions to ask potential employees? Please share your questions in the comments below.

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