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Peter Tulau, Director at AltoPartners, shares his “insider’s view” on the preparation good executive search consultants do to optimize the 60-minute interview time and get the most pertinent information from candidates during the executive search interview. As you prepare for your next executive interview, consider the crucial questions executive search consultants will ask themselves as they evaluate candidates’ suitability for the position.

The Executive Search Interview – a Search Consultant’s Perspective

So, you have 60 minutes or so to interview a candidate for a crucial role. How do you spend your time? Here are a few things to consider. executive interview

Physicality, bearing, posture, presentation and professionalism are important. Initial impressions both physical and temperamental can set stereotypes which may need to be unwound later but having said that, trust your instincts and experience. However, the most crucial question to consider in the first few minutes after meeting the candidate is “Is this candidate a cultural fit with your business?” If not, do not spend 60 minutes in the executive interview. 

Did the candidate bother to do any research on your organization and the role? They should come prepared with a strong feel for your strategy and challenges and be able to pre-empt your questions and approach. A lack of insightful questions could signal ignorance, arrogance or complete comfort with the roles requirements. What do you feel is the case? Be passionate about your organization but don't spend 55 of the 60 minutes telling them about it. If you possess a leadership capability framework drive it into your questioning. Elicit solid case study material which demonstrates personal involvement and achievement. When you give them the floor towards the end of the interview they should pummel you with high quality questions. 

 

The Key Questions – A Checklist

As you review their career it is important to focus on the evolution of the candidate’s responsibility, autonomy and performance within their past organizations where they have spent a significant period. While you interview, you should be asking questions that help you gain a deeper understanding of the candidate. Ask questions that explore their values and their decision making, and see if they are a cultural fit with your company.

These are the questions we ask directly, or indirectly:

  • Is the candidate actively shaping their career by initiating and securing new opportunities, or is the candidate at the mercy of internal and external change pressures?
  • Does the candidate survive organizational restructures resulting from decentralization /centralization, merger/acquisition activity?
  • How has the candidate made an impact in the organization?
  • What legacy did they leave behind?
  • What was transformed?
  • Are there any gaps in the resume?
  • Have they fudged dates or glossed over details?
  • Why do they want this job?
  • Are they passionate about it or are they just kicking tires?
  • Can they articulate their rationale behind wanting the job?
  • Do you think your role represents a viable step in their career?
  • What is the candidate’s leadership/management style?
  • Will it fit with your organization?
  • What does the candidate respond to in terms of leadership/management?
  • How do they like to be led and can they articulate this?
  • What is their customer engagement style?
  • Can they partner and value add?

 

The Ideal Candidate – Key Factors to Consider

Be wary of shoehorning a senior person into a smaller role. They may not stick. The best shortlists are emotionally connected with your role and very motivated.

You must get the hygiene factors on the table early. No point having a shortlist full of candidates beyond your remunerative reach. Ensure current and desired remuneration requirements are well understood including, Fixed Annual Remuneration and STI/LTI structures.

  • Do you feel their temperament is aligned to your reward structures?
  • Explore the nature of past reward and how this may have driven their behavior. 
  • If currently engaged how will their organization respond to their impending departure?
  • Will they be shown the door by their current organization if offered the role, meaning they can start with your organization immediately?
  • What is their notice period?
  • Do restraint covenants exist on the candidate? This is particularly important for market facing roles when you may have an expectation of quick market penetration and speed to revenue.
  • Are you competing for this candidate?
  • Is the candidate in discussions with other consultancies/employers?
  • Would you fast track this candidate? 
  • If they are very active in the market they may have recently undergone executive assessment.
  • Can you access this material and feed it into your decision making? 
  • Will you undertake executive assessment on candidates yourself?

Definitely a busy 60 minutes, but the thoughts outlined above go a long way towards mitigating the risk of an inappropriate appointment which could cost you dearly over the longer term.

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