5 Tips on Interviewing an Executive Candidate. Is There Room for Improvisation, Questions You Should Ask and How to Interpret the Results Correctly


by: Anna Usikova — Executive Search Consultant at Indigo Tech Recruiters Since there is a myriad of executive jobs and each has its own peculiarities, it is important to prepare your own interview strategy for each particular vacancy based on what

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by: Anna Usikova — Executive Search Consultant at Indigo Tech Recruiters

Since there is a myriad of executive jobs and each has its own peculiarities, it is important to prepare your own interview strategy for each particular vacancy based on what you need to learn about the candidate.

How to effectively communicate with senior executives within the little time you have? How to make the dialogue equally useful for both parties (yes, the notorious Win-Win strategy)? And how to conduct an effective interview without getting your candidate tired? Here are some important tips that, based on our experience, might be useful and important to keep in mind:

TIP No 1.

When communicating with executives, it is critical to remember that they are executives, and therefore, with great probability, they walked the walk — both the interviews and dealing with subordinates, so put your psychological analysis aside. This is a completely different level and cheap tricks will not be tolerated.

TIP No 2.

If you still decide to use specific interviewing techniques, make sure that you know how to interpret the answers/results.

If you want your interview to succeed, use only the tactics/methods that you are confident with and know the exact outcome of.

By asking the standard method routine questions you can run into socially desirable, yet even pre-formulated answers that carry very little useful information.

It is also ineffective to stick to the list of prepared questions. Such a survey will most likely drive the candidate into the framework of typical answers, which differ slightly from the information recorded in CV and in such case is of no additional value to the recruiter.

Thus, in my humble opinion, having a respectable and more improvisational two-way dialog (rather than “I’m asking the questions here” approach) works way better.

The more improvisation — the less trite answers the candidate has up their sleeve.

You can try to deviate into career coaching if you know how and if it’s appropriate, and, of course, if you get a request/approval from the candidate. For instance, if the candidate is good as a COO and as a product manager, and you need not just to find out if they meet the position requirements, but also to ascertain where else they want/can apply themselves.

TIP No 3.

There is room for improvisation only when you have already asked all the core questions that need to be asked, based on the context and requirements you have to the candidate (for example: experience managing 30+ strong teams/projects, ability to identify A-players, level of English, expertise in certain technologies/methodologies/whatsoever, notice period, salary expectations, etc. ).

TIP No 4.

Interest in the candidate and attentive listening is the recipe for an easy improvisation and successful interview.

In this situation, interesting (and for the candidate too) questions are easily generated, molds are broken and communication with you is remembered.

TIP No 5.

A two-way open dialogue makes it possible to immediately ease the tension, endear candidates and evaluate their soft skills.

Moreover, this approach contributes largely to extended dialogue at the request of the candidate, even if initially they were set for a quick, limited in time communication.

Here is a tentative list of questions to help you understand your interlocutor:

  • Why has the candidate decided to respond and talk? This way you will find out what exactly met candidate’s eye in the current job offer and what they are looking for.
  • What are they currently working on and how interesting is this activity to them? Which project can they single out in their career as the most outstanding (+ questions about the deliverables)? Find out about the candidate’s personal interests, overall stamina and involvement in the current project, and also about the tangible results of their work.
  • What drives the candidate and if there were projects that the candidate was thrilled with? Find out about their interests, focus, zeal, ability to engage themselves in a project and be a team player.
  • What do they look for in live and vocation besides their current work? What are their expectations from the job? What is off the limits?

The answer allows you to understand their priorities, interest, and, sometimes even unexpected plans as well as demotivating and depressing factors.

  • Why does the candidate consider themselves a good specialist (do they at all? — if not, what’s missing to become one?)
  • A couple of questions about the team, if it’s crucial: what makes their team successful? What contribution did the candidate make to the overall result and its success? Tells you about the collaboration with the team, specialist development boundaries, their attitude towards the current activities.
  • How does the candidate assess their fitness to the requirements of the current position? Showcases well enough the adequacy of the candidate’s self-assessment and their ability to listen and identify the essentials. 
    Once I talked to a specialist aiming at a rather high executive position (VP of Sales), who, after a detailed presentation of the vacancy, which presumed the ability to listen and hear the interlocutor, talked about himself the entire interview and could not adequately assess how he met the position requirements.  
  • What growth opportunities does the candidate use? What are their interests, inspirations? How do they obtain the new knowledge? About after-work activities, ability to communicate, about burnout and its management.
  • How does the candidate see their development if they get the job? What are the ultimate goals? Can help find out if the candidate plans to stay in the company for a long period of time and for how long, their ultimate goal and priorities.

It is always a good idea to include a couple of behavioral questions in the interview that might help focus on the candidate’s past performances (e. g. when a candidate shares their past experience, chosen approach and behavior in certain situations).

If a candidate is Russian speaking and English is essential for the job, some of the questions can be asked in English. It will help you assess the level of English and get an unconventional answer (it is unlikely that the answer to this question can be prepared in advance in English).


  • Is the candidate a talented and motivated specialist or not?
  • Will they be able to ensure a high level operation of the entrusted department?
  • Is the candidate capable to design a strategy and map out a course of actions in accordance with the company’s strategy? Or, if the candidate is CEO, are they able to design the company’s strategy in line with the owners’ requests?
  • Will it be easy for the candidate to blend into an existing team and work effectively within the team?
  • Will the candidate be able to manage their team effectively?

All in all, you might not want to hide yourself behind the assessment method. It is far better to leave the professional comfort zone and try to dig deeper. A two-way dialogue, a pinch of improvisation accompanied by a couple of the right questions can deliver a decent result. By the way, one should not forget that candidate’s comfort and personality during the interview are as important as the interviewer’s.

Author: INDIGO Tech Recruiters
Category C-level
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