Executive Recruiters Share What They Like to Ask CEO Candidates

//Executive Recruiters Share What They Like to Ask CEO Candidates

Executive Recruiters Share What They Like to Ask CEO Candidates

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

favorite interview questions

What questions can CEO candidates expect during interviews? TMG’s Ivan Adler lists his favorite ones and why they’re important.

By Walt Williams | June 10, 2016

What are you most proud of in your career?

It may seem a simple question, but it’s a favorite for executive recruiter David Martin, of Sterling Martin Associates, to ask candidates vying for CEO vacancies at associations.

“It is not always an expected question and sometimes stumps candidates,” he told CEO Update in an email. “Also, sometimes it elicits a very different response than you would expect.”

For the most part, top executives have reached where they are today by answering interview questions.

With that in mind, CEO Update asked several recruiters: What are your favorite questions to ask candidates for top positions? And what do their answers tell you about them?

“Often the easy questions are the ones that trip people up,” recruiter Pamela Kaul of Association Strategies said.

Take, for example, the candidate’s opening statement, she said. Everyone knows they will be given three or four minutes at the beginning of the interview to introduce themselves, but few candidates nail their presentations.

“They hear the question as ‘why are you interested in the job?’” Kaul said. “But the question behind the question is, ‘Sell me on yourself.’ Why should we hire you? Your credentials got you this far, but what is going to be the tipping point?”

“Search committees are going to remember two things about you: how you enter the room and how you leave it,” she added. “That opening presentation sets the stage for everything else that follows.”

One question Kaul said comes up frequently: “What, in your view, is the ideal relationship between a CEO and the board?” The textbook answer is that the board sets strategy and the executive implements, but that’s not necessarily the answer a search committee wants to hear. Candidates need to do their research and determine if that is the relationship that organization is expecting, or if it is looking for something different from a new executive.

But beware of too much preparation. Rote, rehearsed answers are a big problem for candidates, Kaul said. Many association executives have learned to respond to questions put to them based on something they’ve read or picked up in training for certification. She has seen search committees throw up their hands in frustration at getting essentially the same answers from different candidates on simple questions.

“Doesn’t anybody think outside the room?” she said, echoing their complaints. “Does anybody have any creative thinking?”


For recruiter Ivan Adler of The McCormick Group, a good question to start a conversation is to ask candidates what is the latest book they have read and why they picked that work.

“I always like to hear there is reading because I think people who read are a different breed of cat,” Adler said. “It is a positive.”

The recruiter also likes to ask candidates about their proudest accomplishments in both their business and personal lives. Again, no right and wrong answers. Adler said he is instead trying to get a sense of who candidates are by getting them to talk not only about themselves, but about the people they know.

“As a threshold matter, it is not always the answers to the questions that are the most important,” Adler said. “What’s most important for me is can they articulate an answer that makes sense.”

To read the rest of the article, go to | CEO Update

To contact Ivan Adler, go to | Ivan Adler

The McCormick Group is a national executive search consulting firm that since 1974 has delivered high-qualified candidates to fill key positions across a diverse range of industries and all functional disciplines.

As the largest executive search firm based in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region, The McCormick Group has superior knowledge of federal Washington and its impact on the nation’s business community and non-profit sector.
By | 2018-02-09T16:11:48+00:00 June 13, 2016|Categories: News|Tags: , |