Written by: Torsten Miland, Managing Partner AIMS International Denmark in collaboration with the AIMS International Marketing Team 

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Whether you are a high-level recruiter working internally in an organisation or an executive search consultant, it is a constant goal to be as efficient and precise when you interview candidates. In this article we will focus on executive-level candidates and which questions you should consider asking during the interview.

You can learn a lot from a candidate’s resume and of course many high-level candidates have a very sleek and professional resume – for this reason you should not concentrate on questions directly related to the content of the resume – this would not be efficient use of your time.

Which questions should you ask to learn the most about a senior level candidate?

As you probably know you should ask situational questions – meaning questions which would display the candidate’s behaviour in specific situations. Such situations might be similar to those the candidate will encounter in the role you are interviewing for.

The second type of questions you should ask are motivational questions– meaning questions that will reveal why a candidate would behave in a certain way given a particular situation. Other questions within this range are questions revealing how the candidate is motivated – in other words: what drives them? What makes them want to excel in the role?

Here are our 20 favourite executive candidate interview questions and what each one reveals:

Question (S=situational – M=motivational)
Purpose of the question / what will you learn from the answer

(S) and (M) Describe the biggest change you’ve ever dealt with. How did you adapt? 

What you’ll learn: Whether they have the experience to take on a stressful role.

(S) Think back to the best partner or supervisor you’ve ever worked with: what did you like about the person’s management style? 

What you’ll learn: The leadership skills your candidate strives for.

(S) Describe the toughest decision you have ever had to make at work. 

What you’ll learn: If they have the experience necessary to face the challenges this role offers.

(S) and (M) What recurring problem did you have in a previous (or your current) role that you wanted to resolve but didn’t? Why not? 

What you’ll learn: Goals, potential weaknesses and possible motivation for role change.

(M) Have you thought about leaving your present position before? If yes, what held you back? 

What you’ll learn: Values and how motivated your candidate is to find a new opportunity.

(S) Describe a time when your supervisor criticised your work. How did you react and what did you do?

What you’ll learn: Reactions to perceived missteps and/or failures.

(M) What types of decisions are the most difficult for you to make? Why? 

What you’ll learn: Weaknesses that may affect the role.

(M) What makes you effective? 

What you’ll learn: Work style and whether it complements your company’s culture.

(M) What support do you feel would be necessary for both you and the company to be successful? 

What you’ll learn: Whether expectations and requirements match resources available to the company.

(M) Which three things about your last role gave you the most satisfaction? 

What you’ll learn: Values which the candidate will bring along to this role.

(M) In which areas would you like to further develop yourself? 

What you’ll learn: Potential for growth within your organisation.

What have you done to improve your verbal communication skills? 

What you’ll learn: Verbal communication skills; insight into own blind spots.

What are you doing to improve your listening skills? 

What you’ll learn: Whether they actively work to respond to other people meaningfully; insight into own blind spots.

(S) How did you sell a new idea to your management team (describe in detail) and what was the result? 

What you’ll learn: Leadership abilities and interaction skills.

(S) How do you keep your team focused? 

What you’ll learn: Motivational and leadership personality.

(S) How do you influence and sell to co-workers? 

What you’ll learn: Ability to manage and/or influence laterally.

How would you describe what WE do? 

What you’ll learn: Depth of understanding of your company’s mission.

(M) What’s the most interesting thing about you that isn’t on your resume? 

What you’ll learn: Personal values and other interests.

(M) If you had a choice of any job and any company, where would you go?

What you’ll learn: Personality, other interests and creativity.

Which questions that you think are important have I not asked you?

What you’ll learn: Ability to reflect in the situation and willingness to disclose things that might have been missed in the interview.

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The article was also translated into German and French

Written by: Torsten Miland, Managing Partner AIMS International Denmark in collaboration with the AIMS International Marketing Team

This is an article from 2017 that has been updated to provide relevant information in the developing executive search environment.