What do you say to executive recruiters when they call? What questions do top CXO candidates ask in interviews?
1. Did you find me by referral or on LinkedIn?
START with a good ice-breaker like this one. It gives you a chance to gather your thoughts. And it is important for you to know where you have visibility online or with your colleagues.
STOP saying, “How did you find me?” Vague questions get vague answers and outright lies. Be specific.
2. Is this a contingency search?
START working with exclusive or in-house recruiters. STOP wasting time with contingency searches. Unless you are an exact match for the job and the salary, the odds are not in your favor and you can waste a lot of time.
What’s the difference between an exclusive search and a contingency search?
If the recruiter is the exclusive agent of the hiring organization as an internal employee who recruits or is on retainer to conduct the search, you have a better chance of going to the next step. A retained search means the recruiter has a contract and is being paid. An internal recruiter is usually an employee or works exclusively for the hiring organization. Your hiring materials will most likely be presented directly to the hiring manager with four or five other candidates.
A contingency search is usually a speculative effort of the recruiter in response to a job posting you can often find yourself. Recruiters pitch resumes on the hopes that the hiring company will go with their candidates and pay them a commission. There may be multiple recruiters submitting candidates and your materials will most likely go to HR for screening, not directly to the hiring team.
3. How does the recruiter see you as a good fit? Get details of the responsibilities and requirements.
STOP submitting your resume for jobs that are not an 80% match or higher with your experience. More is not better. START focusing on finding one job. Quality counts. You only need to find one new boss.
4. How did the position come to be open? You’ll want to know why the job is open and who had it before. STOP trying to convince them to hire you. START listening for signs of a problematic or difficult Board Chair or turnover on the board or in the position. These are red flags.
5. At this point, if the job is not appealing to you, you may need to take a long-term view of the relationships. Ask for their opinion on hiring within the sector and what they forecast for the months to come.
STOP being annoyed that they contact you with the wrong jobs. Don’t just delete the message or hang up. START viewing recruiter emails and calls as long-term opportunities. Use it as an opportunity to get insights and build a relationship.
Executive recruiters specialize in different sectors, levels, or functions. Even if you’re not interested in the specific assignment they contact you with, you can gain market insight and build a relationship with someone who may bring a better placement your way down the line.
Always leave the door open to conversation about the job at hand or other opportunities that come their way in the future.
6. If you’re still interested, you’ll want to get some insight into the hiring process and timeline. What is the interview process? Phone? Video calls? Site visit? How many interviews are likely? How many candidates do they want to consider?
INTERVIEW QUESTIONS. Some executive recruiters will do an in-depth interview with you before submitting you to the hiring organization. If that is the case, the following questions apply. Either way, the questions that follow are ones you want to be certain to cover in the interview with the hiring team.
A good interview process will allow one to two hours for candidate questions. While this may seem excessive, it is a wise move by the hiring organization to see if the candidate did research about the role and the company, and how to turn that research into insight.
Kim Whitler, former CMO and current professor at UVA Darden School of Business, put it this way, “The reality is that it is the candidate’s responsibility to get as data-based and specific as possible about the job characteristics that can impact their success. And this is why the part of the interview where the candidate questions the interviewer matters – a lot. It’s not just about demonstrating your skill at unearthing key insight about the job.”
7. What is your take on how internal employees view this company/organization? How do external stakeholders see it?
8. What does success look like in this position? In six months, what will you want the team to have accomplished? How will I be measured and at what intervals?
9. What were the specific measures for the person previously in the position? Do you expect the measures to change?
10. What is the Board’s greatest concern about this role as it relates to the business goals and strategic plan?
11. What do you expect the person taking this position will find to be the biggest challenge? What do you think might be the greatest surprise for an external candidate taking this position?
12. What is the degree of managerial discretion given this position? How do decisions get made? What is the signing authority of the individual in this role? Do they have the right to hire and fire candidates as needed or is there a formal process that is followed?
13. Do you have concerns about me or any of my qualifications?
This is obviously not an exhaustive list of questions, but the point is that many executive candidates walk into jobs and are surprised. They are surprised that their responsibility doesn’t match expectations. Or they are surprised by the metrics and how their performance is judged. Or they find that they have little managerial discretion or authority.
The true purpose of an interview is to gain a solid understanding of the job and determine if it is a good fit for you and your future. And the best way to do that is to ask good questions.