Executive Level Interview Questions

Interviewing for an executive level opening is different for candidates. Whether this is the first time they are considered for a leadership role or they are looking to make a move to a new company, executive level interview questions are more nuanced to determine both culture and business acumen for the role.

Interviewing is stressful for everyone involved. At the executive level, the pressure is more acute as the stakes are much higher. The impact on an organization for making the right executive hire is tremendous. Your new hire will affect revenue and morale and a bad hire can set you back for a year or more. For the candidate, executive level roles are an opportunity to demonstrate their leadership capabilities. And these roles don’t come along very often, so showing their best self during the interview process is critical.

Interviewing executive level candidates requires questions that go beyond skill set questions. If a candidate has made the shortlist, their technical skills are most likely solid or they wouldn’t have made it this far. This is where executive level interview questions can make a difference.

As too many CEO’s know, the executive ranks are filled with people who are very competent technically, but are inept from a leadership standpoint. Technology has fundamentally changed most if not all industries to focus on knowledge workers. This has also changed requirements for the C-suite. Questions for today’s executives need to dig deeper into their management philosophy, leadership style, problem solving approach and how they handle conflict resolution.

Executive level interview questions can also be multipart in nature. The answer to the initial question will lead to follow up questions that probe the why and how behind the answer. It’s not just about what they did, it’s also important to understand why they did it and how they went about it. The element you want to determine is how self aware is the candidate.

Executive hires tend to boil down to a couple of basic requirements. The first is, can this person do the job we need them to do at the level we expect? And the second is, can we work with this person on a daily basis? The questions you’ll ask should reflect their ability to meet these two requirements.

Below are sample executive level interview questions to consider:

  • What is it about our company that interests you enough to consider leaving your current company?
    • What impact do you want to make at our company?
    • How would you go about making this happen?
  • Describe your career in twenty words or less.
    • If you had to make one change, what would you do differently?
    • Where do you go from here?
  • Describe a time that you failed.
    • What caused the failure?
    • What happened as a result?
    • How would you approach it differently?
  • What has been the biggest personal challenge you overcame?
    • Why did you select this challenge?
    • What has it taught you?
  • What do you consider when hiring people?
    • Have you had a can’t miss hire not work out?
    • How do you onboard new hires?
  • Describe an example of when you changed an established way of doing things.
    • Why did you think a change was necessary?
    • How did you build consensus for the change?
    • How did you handle pushback?
    • What resulted from the change?
  • Describe an example of when you introduced a new methodology or process that required cross departmental collaboration.
    • How did you present the idea?
    • What roadblocks did you run into?
    • How did you gain alignment with other departments?
    • Did the initiative meet its deadlines?
    • What was the result?

These are just a sampling of questions that may be relevant for your new hire, but there are plenty more designed for the specific role and the functional expertise necessary for someone to be successful in the role.

For more insight on executive level interview questions, send us a note. Our executive recruiters in Chicago, Denver, Seattle and St. Louis work nationwide and are experts in understanding and determining culture fit. At Sheer Velocity, our proprietary corporate Cultural Alignment Survey is designed to create a dialog between you and the candidate that uncovers their abilities beyond technical skills, ensuring your ability to hire the best candidate for your company.