Finding the Right Executive to Match Your Business Needs Part 7 – What to Look for and Ask During the Executive’s Interview

the executiveNow is the opportunity to dive deep into the details of someone’s background. Take as much time as you need to determine if the executive’s experiences closely apply to your company, your situation, and your needs.

Ask detailed, probing questions about past experiences that are relevant and analogous to your current situation. Probe with follow-up questions. This is the time to verify if somebody not only can do it, but has done it. Having been an executive for ten years does not mean someone can step into any role and figure it out. Though most executives are quite versatile, make sure you are bringing in someone who can bring applicable experience to your situation. You are bringing this high-level executive to help you avoid costly mistakes rather than figuring it out as they go.

The Executive’s use of Pronouns: “I” versus “We”

At the executive level, you are speaking to highly accomplished individuals. They have had successful careers and have achieved quite a bit during that time. It is not unexpected to hear someone reflect on accomplishments and use singular personal pronouns such as “I” or “me.”

Keep in mind, however, that especially in the interim executive space, you aren’t engaging someone for what he or she personally accomplished. You are engaging the interim executive for results. You are engaging an executive who has led companies and teams to accomplish great things. A company is rarely looking for someone who will operate alone. Listen carefully for the singular personal pronouns and how the narrative about accomplishments is related. Does the executive speak about mentoring the team and leading them to great accomplishments, or is this discussion a long story about the star of the show?

On the flip side, listen carefully to the plural pronouns as well. Are all of the pronouns “we”? Is there any “I” in this team at all? Did the executive lead the efforts or was he or she merely a member of the team that accomplished the very impressive result, with someone else leading it? Depending on the executive’s role in the company, this can matter very little or a great deal.

Resumé of The Executive Can Serve as a Discussion Anchor

As archaic as it seems to have an executive talk through the resumé and discuss each situation, the circumstances, what transpired during their tenure there, and the reason for leaving, it can provide some launching points for discussion—an anchor of sorts for a more free-flowing discussion.

• Referring to the resumé, ask the executive about the strategy at each company.

• Have the executive describe the leadership team they worked with. Even the most experienced executive at interviewing will have a tough time hiding any misalignments or disagreements.

• Ask the executive how he or she personally led the execution of strategy at each company.

• Ask what experiences on the resumé are most directly relevant to the challenges your organization is facing now and how they would shape the executive’s first thirty days in the role.

• Ask about the size, scope, and structure of the teams and support infrastructure at prior assignments or positions. How did those factors contribute to the executive’s results? It’s one thing to generate operational efficiencies in a global enterprise with a team of twenty direct reports and a robust ERP/MRP system; it’s another to come in and build those resources from scratch.

You get the idea. The resumé is a springboard, not a script; use it to shape a discussion about how the executive you’re speaking to can work with your organization to tackle its current challenges and lead the team to mission-critical breakthroughs, and how past work informs his or her approach to creating infrastructure for future success.

Come back tomorrow to read part 8. You can find part 6 here.

To learn about how Cerius Interim Management can help you and for more information on interim executives, please visit our home page by clicking here.


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  1. […] To find the answers to these questions, come back tomorrow to read part 9. You can find part 7 here. […]

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