I have interviewed hundreds of senior executives in my more than 20 years of executive recruiting, and I have come to understand that the part of the process that trips up many candidates is  the first part of the face-to-face interview.  It is what I call the get acquainted segment.

First, we would not be talking to the candidate if they were not academically and professionally credentialed and have the requisite types and years of relevant experience along with quantifiable examples of their success across several dimensions.  So the question then is, what are we looking for?

Warren Buffet famously said that you hire people for their brains, their energy and their integrity.  If they do not have the third piece of that formula, they can kill you.

So, I am looking for people who have the experience and the record of accomplishment, as well as integrity in how they treat and deal with the customers, their colleagues and their employees.  I am looking for the people who have their heads screwed on right regarding how they act, what they believe in and whether they are a boss or a true leader.  When the candidate thinks this is about them, then we are all wasting our time.

Here are some of my strategies as well as frequently used questions for this part of the interview.

I always go down to the lobby of the hotel of the meeting facility we are using.  Once we have made the initial introductions, I usually stop for coffee.  I watch to see how they interact with people at the coffee bar, on the elevator and at the front desk.  If we have lunch, I watch to see how they interact with the wait staff — are they engaging, courteous ?

In terms of questions, I ask a variation of the “tell me about yourself.”  Lately I have asked people to do that in two minutes and to tell me what makes them tick.  I am not looking for the elevator speech reciting their career because I am looking at their resume.  I am listening for the stuff that tells me who they really are.  I have had people ramble on for 20 minutes with an almost incomprehensible life story delivered in such a rapid-fire style there was barely a second for a comma, a period or a breath of air.  That is not impressive either because they apparently were not listening to the instructions.

Here are some of the other get acquainted questions I like to use:

  1. Tell me something about yourself that is NOT on your resume and that will help me understand who you are.
  2. What do you think about my client?
  3. What do you think this job is really about?
  4. What are your top three priorities in life?
  5. How can you make a difference for my client?
  6. How curious are you?  What are you curious about?
  7. If our professional lives are about constant learning, how do you go about learning in addition to the various professional association meetings?
  8. What is on your bedside table in terms of reading?
  9. How important is gaining the support of your colleagues and all of those who work for you and how do you go about building relationships during the first 90 days?
  10. What is the essence of being a good leader?

In this new healthcare environment, we need leaders, not bosses, who are at the top of their game and who can produce the necessary results.  If they are not a balanced, ethical leader who treats his or her people with respect, their leadership tenure will not be sustainable.

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I once heard a very wise person say: the right vision, values, strategies and beliefs do not mean squat without the right actions.