Most standard interview questions are simply not designed to allow an executive to truly demonstrate their capabilities, ideas, and innovation. Executive search consultants are bored with cookie-cutter interview questions and the answers people give, which don’t reveal what the search consultants—or employers for that matter—really need to know. They want to understand who you are, how you will work and what value (ROI) you can bring to an organization.

executive_interview_search_consultantThe following is a sample of non-traditional interview questions that executive search consultants prefer to ask over the mundane “tell me about yourself” questions because they focus on tangible business challenges, the job, the industry, and the employer. As an executive job seeker, you will want to be prepared for these types of questions that may surface at an interview.

1) Identifying and solving real business issues

What the search consultant is trying to learn: Solve a real problem that you will face.

Search consultant’s question: At this point, the search consultant may hand you a paper outlining an existing problem the hiring company faces and say something like “please walk me though the steps you would take in order to solve this problem.”

Executive: You will need to assess the problem and respond to the search consultant with a viable step-by-step answer. In some instances, the search consultants may you to return a

PowerPoint presentation within 48 hours with your solutions or recommendations.

2) Forward thinking

What the search consultants is trying to learn: Your knowledge/ability to forecast the evolution of this industry.

Search consultant’s question: “Tell me how often you focus on the future of this industry? Please forecast and project five trends in the industry and how the top companies will likely have to change over the next three to five years as a result of business changes, new technology, and need for increased efficiencies and innovations.”

Executive: Keep the following points in mind as you develop your response. Companies are quickly evolving today, and they want to make sure that the executives they are hiring are forward thinkers who anticipate and plan for the future. If you are a veteran in your industry, it may be fairly easy to respond to this question based on your experience. However, if you are changing industries at this point in your career, you’ll need to study industry trends and predictions so that you can give an informed response.

3) Adaptability

What the search consultant is trying to learn: Your adaptability (an aspect of your personality) when dramatic change is required.

Search consultant’s question: The search consultant will provide a possible major change that requires adaptability. Then, the search consultant will ask you: “Show me how you would adapt to this situation that may occur in this job.” Alternatively, they may ask you to talk about a situation and the steps you took in your current or former job that required you to change rapidly and proceed with a different approach.

Executive: Being flexible in a job is pretty much a requirement as you know. But flexibility and adaptability are different; and the search consultant wants to know if this is an easy process that you can take in stride, or one that you’ll have difficulty with because you are a more structured person. Your response with any example you provide will reflect your personality and style. That’s what they want to understand.

4) How you preferred to be managed

What the search consultant is trying to learn: The most effective approach for managing you.

Search consultant’s question: For each factor (feedback, rewards, communication, leadership style, preference, etc.), explain the most effective approach for optimizing your performance.

Executive: This is an open opportunity to share your preferences in a most conservative way of course. Personally, I think this is somewhat of a “throw out” question because the information you provide will most likely not have a huge impact on whether you are the right hire. Look at it from a search consultant’s standpoint. If you reveal that you work best with an open leadership style that gives you autonomy, and your potential boss is a micro-manager, then this could be an indication that you may not work well together. Not a fit.

Takeaway points

Standard interview questions typically focus on experiences in your past; and those still have value. But what executive search consultants also need to know is how you will perform in the job they are seeking to fill. That requires search consultants to ask non-traditional questions where you can reveal how well you will fit into the new position with your problem-solving abilities, your forward thinking, adaptability, and a host of other factors that will help you rise above as an exceptional executive.

For more information on this topic, check out all our resources on the interview process.


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