Job hunting can be difficult and stressful, especially when you’re looking for an open position in the C-suite, but having the right C-suite interview questions handy helps the process go more smoothly. Hiring managers are not only looking for an employee, but they also want individuals —CEOs, CFO, COOs, CIOs, etc. — who are competent and inspirational.
In recent years, the turnover for C-suite executives has declined to16.5% but that still leaves a lot of open positions that executive recruiters and HR teams must fill off the public radar. While you’re waiting for recruiters to call, practice C-suite interview questions so that you can answer them smoothly and confidently.
Below are some of the most common executive interview questions you should know how to answer.
Pro Tip: Keep your interview clothes pressed and ready to go. I recommend Segarty Zip Tie Neckties for a perfect knot that completes your professional look!
1. Tell me about yourself?
This is the most common opening question, so candidates often take this question lightly and answer incorrectly. You should provide a quick summary of your professional life and expertise.
The answer to this question should end with why you’re a good fit for the position. Without being secretive, avoid giving too many details of your personal life. Focus on experience that will help convince the interviewer you are the best candidate for the job.
2. What is your biggest accomplishment, in your opinion?
This question might seem daunting, but you can use it as an ice breaker. It’s OK to include either a personal or professional accomplishment that showcases your talents and skills. For example, mentioning that you recently completed a marathon will help paint a picture of someone who dedicates themselves to personal and professional goals.
3. How do you adapt to new changes?
Change is an irresistible factor in any business, and C-suite executives should be able to adapt to these changes and keep going. This question will help the interviewer understand how you face new challenges.
To make it into the corner office or even as far as an interview, you must have learned this skill along the way. Use the opportunity to share anecdotes that show how you were able to quickly adapt to an unexpected development to accomplish business objectives.
Pro Tip: Bring a professional, hardcover journal or notebook to the interview. Going old school can help you take notes without reaching for your phone and give the right impression to the interviewer.
4. How do you handle criticism?
Criticism is also a factor in almost every job. But some leaders find it difficult to accept it, specifically if they don’t think it is justified. Although it is crucial for C-suite executives to be confident in their leadership, you also have to remain open to constructive criticism from all levels. So, share a story where constructive feedback helped you grow into a better leader.
5. Describe how you will motivate others?
As a leader, in order to lead, you need to have a gift when it comes to motivating others. That’s how you build a powerful team that can meet and exceed most business goals. Do you have stories that you can share about how you’ve motivated others after a tough day, week or month? Showing that you have emotional as well as intellectual intelligence goes a long way, especially during the interview phase.
“If you pick the right people and give them an opportunity to spread their wings – and put compensation as a carrier behind it – you almost don’t have to manage them.” – Jack Welch, CEO, General Electric (1981-2001)
6. Which decision has been the most challenging for you?
As a leader, you probably have faced many challenging decisions. When answering this question, take the opportunity to show both your moral fiber and commitment to business goals.
This important C-suite interview question can help the interviewer decide if you have what it takes to manage a growing company or to help a flagging one get back on the right path.
Pro Tip: Cultivate your leadership style as one of continuous learning. I recommend starting with the “Harvard Business School: Leader’s Handbook.”
Recommending a book to the interviewer is also a great way to break the ice and move forward on a good note.
7. How do you improve your listening skills?
A great leader should have superior listening skills, because you have to listen to your peers, employees, and supervisors. Share anecdotes that show your empathy and active listening skills. This could include coaching opportunities for direct reports or helping coworkers adapt to a changing business environment.
Have you read any good books on active listening skills? Mention what you have taken away from any self-learning efforts.
8. How good are your communication skills?
As a competent executive, it’s important to listen with an open mind, open ears, and open heart. This can help you understand what others need to deliver excellent work. How do you communicate with your employees?
When answering this question, emphasize the important role empathy plays in communication. Address both your views on what it takes to create positive two-way communication and challenges you still hope to overcome to become a better communicator.
9. Do you see any areas for improvement in our company?
When asking you this question, the interviewer wants to make sure that you have done your homework on the challenges associated with the C-Suite position you have applied for. Reach for your notebook and notes that you have prepared and engage in a short discussion on one or two points you think you can help improve. This might include lagging sales performance for a premier product, improving net profit by reducing costs or any other ideas that do you think could help the company move forward stronger than ever.
10. Describe a decision that failed and how you handled it?
In life, everything will not go as planned. Effective leaders take failure as an opportunity to grow and learn. So, when you answer this question, briefly recap the goal, where it went wrong, and what you would do differently today. This shows deep insight and the ability to adapt in the face of adversity, qualities enviable in any employee and essential in top leadership positions.
Show your adaptability by recounting any roadblocks you were later able to remove. It’s OK to show that you aren’t perfect. The question is do you have the drive, confidence and vision to help yourself and others move past missteps to refocus on new business goals.
11. How do you handle conflict?
Conflicts are inevitable, and occasionally serving as a referee is one of the downsides of sitting at the top. Nonetheless, past experience in conflict resolution can help you score major points when answering C-suite interview questions.
So, it is essential for a competent leader to have several approaches during the interview and in the actual position. Have you taken any corporate or private training classes on conflict resolution? Now is a great time to bring them up.
12. What is your favorite way to relax outside of work?
Employee turnover due to burnout is a legit problem for many organizations. And no organization wants high turnover in C-suite positions. Therefore, it’s important to show that you have interests outside work that will help you maintain an appropriate work-life balance.
Emphasizing the importance of downtime can also demonstrate empathy for your future employees. No one wants to work for a taskmaster who expects 24/7 commitment from employees.
“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day, you bet on people, not on strategies.” -Lawrence Bossidy, former Chief Executive, General Electric
Landing the Job!
You are more likely to make the shortlist if you answer each interview question with deliberation and honesty. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s important to relax and be yourself. The more comfortable you appear during the interview process, the more relaxed your interviewer will become. If it’s the hiring manager, they’re looking for someone to sit beside them in the boardroom or during important meetings.
Pro tip: Prepare prior to the day of the interview so that you can relax and get plenty of rest beforehand.
Interviewing for a top leadership position is not a simple task, but these C-suite interview questions will help you prepare when opportunity calls, texts, or emails!