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What questions give you the most insight into a candidate?

Posted May 8th, 2019 | Author: John G. Self

I always begin the interview with a variation of the “tell me about yourself” question.  I found that asking “Who Are You?”  is the best way to measure a candidate’s self-awareness, and emotional IQ.

In this case I am listening for values that they were taught growing up, interesting career or life changes,  accomplishments about which they are most proud and whether they give credit to team members. All the while I am trying to get a sense if I can see this person fitting into the organization.

I Dig Into the “How”

Our firm conducts only retained searches. We have a very robust screening process so by the time a candidate gets to me their background has been thoroughly vetted. I try to dig a little deeper into the “how” they accomplished something, the old “walk-me-through-the-process” question. I  always ask how they overcame serious opposition to an idea or initiative they were championing.  I want to know if this applicant can sell ideas.

Our search practice is focused on the healthcare services segment, so I will always ask candidates for a CEO position what they do on a day-to-day basis to foster a culture of quality and safety. This remains a serious issue in most hospitals in America. CEOs who are constantly talking about this issue tend to have safer operations for their employees and patients, so I usually spend time on this subject. I will then ask them to talk about their leadership values before asking how they demonstrate them on a day-to-day basis, how often they make rounds and interact with their employees. I have nine or 10 questions about employee engagement.

I Ask What Is Important in Their Lives

Lastly, I ask very open-ended questions that will allow the applicant to talk about things that are important to them — family, friends, faith, community service, hobbies — whatever they feel like sharing.  Some do, others are not comfortable, so I get very brief and/or vague answers.  I never press here but these interactions may be the most telling.  When people do NOT talk about these issues, it is usually because they never imagined they would be asked something of this nature. 

As I am wrapping up, I always ask if they have any questions. It is shocking to me how many times a senior executive will not have any questions. It is even more shocking how rarely –maybe in two percent of the interviews I conduct — that the candidate will offer a “closing statement”, a summary of their strengths, accomplishments and values and how those can benefit my client.

Take Away Advice

My take away advice to executives preparing for an in-depth, face-to-face interview:  Be prepared for the interview by thinking about these types of questions. Provide memorable answers. More importantly, deliver a compelling summary of how you can add value to the prospective employer. Connect the dots.


What are your favorite questions to ask in an interview?

© 2019 John Gregory Self

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