Candidates for C-level positions should engage in significant preparation prior to an interview. Part of their preparation should involve thinking about the questions that the candidate should ask during the interview. Potential employers will expect that candidates come to the interview with a deep understanding of the market and some basic knowledge about the company and its place in the industry. Questions from the candidates should reflect their knowledge and point to some careful considerations of how that individual can help the organization to reach its goals. Basic questions about the company show that the candidate has not done the necessary homework and will likely signal to interviewers that the person is not serious about the job. Likewise, not asking any questions sends an equally bad message and can point to complacency or, even worse, a lack of analytical skill.
Even when candidates are interviewing for an entry-level position, they should always ask questions of the interviewer when given the chance. Generic questions, such as “Why did you join the company?” are acceptable at this stage. However, for a C-level interview, individuals need to put more thought into what they ask. Candidates should view this part of the interview as a sort of technical question. Companies want to hire executives who understand how to make good decisions and weigh all their options carefully. The period allotted for questions provides candidates the opportunity to conduct extra research to figure out whether the company is right for them and they are right for the position. When candidates ask generic questions, they fail the technical question, which is really about finding out their ability to glean useful insights.
When interviewing for a C-level position, it is not uncommon for companies to give candidates an hour or more to ask questions. These questions should be specific to the company and its current strategy, which candidates can easily glean through preliminary online research. Questions about the future of corporate strategy, the skills needed for the job both now and in the years to come, and the corporate culture show that the candidate is looking toward the future and thinking about how the company will grow, as well as how he or she can grow with it. Ultimately, an interview is a two-way street, and candidates should use the time to ensure that they will be beneficial to the company. At the same time, the interviewer is using this period to judge a candidate’s likelihood of succeeding.
Below are three of the key questions that C-level candidates can use as templates as they think about the aspects they want to ask during an interview. Individuals should remember to customize the questions as much as possible according to what they already know about the company in order to avoid wasting time with basic knowledge inquiries.
What does success in the position look like?
This question delves into the expectations of candidates about their role at the company. These expectations can change dramatically from one company to another, even with the same title. Through this question, candidates want to find out what will be different for the team that the C-level executive heads and for the company itself should the person be successful in the position. This question can quickly reveal whether a person’s experiences and preferences align with what the company actually wants the person to do. If the definition of success means taking the company in a direction that the candidate does not like or does not feel comfortable with, then he or she is probably not right for the job. Likewise, companies recruit based on a candidate’s history, so it may also be prudent to ask about how historical work will relate to the new role and to what extent the company expects candidates to alter their approach to the position.
How much managerial discretion does a person in this position have?
This question relates to the degree of autonomy afforded to the professional in this C-level position. Some companies may expect a C-level executive to make the ultimate decision concerning all questions related to their department, whereas others still require decisions to be approved by other executives or a board. Candidates should also ask about the hiring and firing process and whether they have ultimate say, as well as whether another formal procedure exists. If a formal procedure is set in place, it is important to understand what the steps of that process are. These questions ultimately point to the amount of freedom given to the position. Some candidates may desire a position with ultimate authority and complete freedom, whereas another may prefer to work together with a board to make tough calls.
What metrics are used to gauge success?
This question focuses on the various ways of measuring success at a company. While the candidate needs a larger idea of what the company wants from a person in the position, the candidate also needs to find out exactly how the company will measure success. Importantly, candidates should ask about whether these metrics will change in the future. Perhaps the position opened up because the metrics used to gauge the success of a former employee were impossibly stringent. Candidates should have a clear idea of what metrics a company cares about and at what intervals they typically occur. Measuring success also involves interactions with the board. The company and the board may have fundamentally different expectations about the role and it is critical that candidates understand any incongruities that could exist and discuss how to balance them.