If you’re job-hunting and an executive job interview is looming, you’ve probably done some research on what kinds of questions you’ll be asked.
If you have no idea what you may be asked, and expect to nail interviews with zero preparation, you may be in for some very uncomfortable and awkward conversations, combined with that sinking feeling afterwards that you didn’t come across well at all.
Remember that at the executive level, interview questions will probe more specifically how you’ll perform in the job. Interviewers want to know about:
- Your problem solving skills
- How you’ll navigate unpredictable challenges
- The traits you bring to the table that predict you will be successful in the role.
Executive interviews, in general, are about:
- Positioning yourself as a good hiring choice
- Helping employers envision you on the job, contributing to the company’s success
- Helping you with your due diligence for the job and the company
Click on any of these links to go directly to that section:
31 Common Executive Job Interview Questions
This list of interview questions comes from 2 sources:
- Recruiter Jeff Lipschultz’s article Smart Answers to Common Interview Questions
- Job search expert Alison Doyle’s article Common Interview Questions for Executive Level Jobs
- Tell me about yourself.
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
- Why should we hire you?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What do you know about us?
- How do people describe you?
- Why do you want this job?
- Why do you want to leave your current job?
- When can you start?
- How did you find this job?
- Why did you quit your last job?
- Why were you fired?
- Explain your gap in employment
- Do you have any questions?
- How would you describe your management style?
- What do you think makes you a good fit for this position? Thinking about this specific role, what aspects do you think would be the biggest challenge for you?
- What is the most difficult thing about being an executive or manager?
- What are the methods you typically use to evaluate an employee’s job performance?
- Tell me about a time in which you brought productive change to a company. How did you implement this change?
- Describe a time when you had to deal with difficult or unmotivated staff.
- Describe your experience reading and interpreting accounting and financial reports.
- If you were hired, what would be your priorities in your first three to six months on the job?
- What are two things you believe our company is doing well? What’s one thing that you think we should change?
- What do you look for in an employee? What behaviors and performances do you expect of an ideal employee?
- Tell me how you have created a shared purpose among people who initially differed in opinions or objectives.
- Give us an example of a method you have used to successfully encourage/motivate your staff.
- How would you handle an unforeseen obstacle or a situation that resulted through a third-party, that affects your bottom line?
- What’s your communication style?
- Describe a time when you confronted an employee whose results were inadequate.
- What did you do to increase company revenues at your current company?
Answering Common Executive Job Interview Questions
As an executive, you’ll be making important decisions for this new company and you’ll be counted on to deliver results.
You can reassure interviewers that you’ll deliver on these expectations by interjecting specific examples showing how you’ve done this for your companies in the past.
If something comes at you from left field – a question you’ve never heard anyone ask in an interview – rely on telling a short career success story.
Go back to the CARs (Challenge – Action – Results) strategy you should have used to develop content for your resume, bio, LinkedIn profile, etc. These stories are built around the valuable contributions you’ve made to current and past employers.
These are the things you’ve done for them that boosted revenue, streamlined operations, increased profit margin, improved team performance, etc.
In general, here’s your playbook for executive job interviews:
- Prepare to interview well with my Guide to Executive Job Interviews: The How-To’s, Why’s and Best Practices.
- Keep your answers focused on differentiating the value you offer over other candidates.
- Help interviewers envision you on the job, helping the company be successful.
- Don’t ramble on. Keep your answers short and to the point.
- When you need time to think about your answer, say something like “That’s a really thought-provoking question”.
- Ask intelligent questions that show your enthusiasm for the job and the company.
Avoid These Stale Answers To “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”
Interviewers may speak with dozens of candidates for any given position. They get tired of hearing the same answers to some of their common questions.
Do your best to keep your answers fresh, specific to you and not what everyone else is likely to say.
The more interesting your side of the conversation is in the interview, the more they will like you and be drawn to you.
Come prepared with specific examples from your past that you can use to help explain your answers.
Here are some answers to the “weakness” question to avoid, according to a Forbes article:
I Work Too Hard
This answer “portrays a poor work-life balance as a weakness when the candidate clearly means to portray it as a strength. I want my employees to be healthy mentally and physically, and a good work-life balance is key to that.
Not only that, but this answer also tells the interviewer that the candidate is not able to show weakness. This will create problems down the road as the candidate needs to work within a team. Teams are meant to support each other’s weaknesses, and if one member refuses to acknowledge their weakness, the team can’t support that person.
Instead, candidates should really show they are self-aware and try to identify areas where they may need support down the line, which also indicates a receptiveness to feedback.”
I Have No Weaknesses
“This is a very general answer and it doesn’t really tell you anything about someone’s skill set. If you’re instead offering a specific weakness, then it would be better to say something like ‘I am not good at public speaking’ or ‘I’m not good at managing people.'”
I’m A Perfectionist
While this answer “may make you seem like a good employee, [it] also comes off as insincere. A better way to answer this question is by giving an example of a time when you struggled in the workplace but were able to overcome the challenge.
For instance, you could say, ‘I used to struggle with time management, but I’ve developed some strategies that help me stay on track.’ This answer shows that you’re willing to admit your weaknesses, yet be proactive about finding solutions. It also shows your intrinsic characteristics and desire for continuous development.”
A Recruiter’s Advice on Answering Common Executive Job Interview Questions
In general, Jeff Lipschultz advises that it’s really all about differentiating yourself and the value you offer, when you answer interview questions.
How do you know what differentiates you from competing candidates? Do the personal branding work to identify the unique combination of qualities and qualifications you possess that no one else does.
Here’s how Jeff advises dealing with “When can you start?”
This one may seem to be a fairly innocuous question, but Jeff says to be careful:
“It doesn’t mean that you ‘got the job’. They may be just checking to add that to their notes. You must keep your guard up until you are in your car and driving away from the interview.
If you are currently employed, you should be honest about the start date and show professionalism. You should tell them you would have to discuss a transition with your current company to see if they require a two-week notice (or some other timing). If you currently have a critical role, your potential new employer would expect a transition period.
If you can start right away (and they know you are not currently employed), you certainly can say you’re able to start tomorrow. Sense of urgency and excitement about starting work at the new company is always a good thing.”
And his best advice on “Why do you want to leave your current job?”
This is one that my clients fret over often, and Jeff says it can be a deal breaker.
If you disparage your current employer, the interviewer will assume you’ll do the same to them eventually. And if you say you’re leaving because you aren’t earning enough, they’ll also assume the worst.
Of course, you need to spin the reason you left or want to leave in a positive way. Jeff advises:
“Highlight a reason that the hiring manager cannot be concerned about.
Your current company or department may have become unstable (hopefully the interviewer’s company is very stable). Your current employer may not be able to offer you any professional growth (the interviewer’s should be able to do this).
Of course, if you have an issue that is very important to you that could be a deal-breaker (like company culture), you can mention it. Just be prepared for them to take one extreme or the other. For example, maybe you only want to work for companies that buy from vendors in your home country. The hiring manager will let you know if their company does this. And if they don’t, I guess the interview is over.”
Here’s how he suggests you answer the “Do you have any questions?” query.
“My simple advice is: yes, you had better have questions.
This is your chance to ‘interview the interviewer’. In essence, to learn about the company, the role, the corporate culture, the manager’s leadership style, and a host of other important things. Candidates who are genuinely interested in the opportunity, ask these types of questions. Those who don’t ask questions give the impression they’re ‘just kicking the tires’ or not really too concerned about getting the job.”
The “What Do You Know About Us?” Question
Let’s take a closer look at the “What do you know about us?” question.
This question is designed to find out if you did any research about them and, basically, to see if you cared enough about the job and the company to learn all you could about them.
You’ll find lots of info in my article, Best Ways and Places to Research Your Target Employers.
But here are just a few things FastCompany says you need to research:
Who is conducting the interview?
Your interviewer will have Googled your name to find out whatever they can about you. You should do the same with your interviewer(s).
“A little background research on the person’s name might reveal some shared beliefs or accomplishments. It may also give a hint as to the person’s interests as a hiring manager and what sort of questions they’ll ask in an interview.”
What are the company’s values?
“You can look up a company’s website and general social media to get a pretty quick idea of what they do, how they do it, and why it matters to them. When you express these principles in your interview answers, it will show you are much more than just someone looking for a job.”
What clients or customers do they serve?
“Every company has a unique client base. Showing you understand the needs and desires of those people will go a long way. Case studies and white papers released by the business can help showcase customer service situations they are proud of, and company websites often have a testimonial page full of stories about why customers prefer them.”
Who are the main competitors?
“Tools like Amazon Alexa, Ahrefs, and similarweb offer data on the biggest competitors to a business online. Once you’ve identified the key competitors, you can compare their websites and other branding. When you get asked why you want to work with a certain company over competitors, being able to give examples that demonstrate research will create a very good impression.”
The “What Would You Change About Our Company?” Question
Here’s a probing job interview question posed on BlueSteps:
What is the one thing you would change about our company if you could today?
This question helps the interviewer find out how much you know about the company. It also gives them some insight into what kinds of strategies you would focus on if you were to be hired for the position. Don’t worry about being overly detailed when answering this question. The interviewer will be looking to see how much you know about the company, your thought process, attitude, and priorities.
Your Appearance and Composure Are Important, Too
Alison Doyle offered this advice about what to wear and how to act:
“Plan your interview outfit the day before. Make sure to wear something that is appropriate. Planning your outfit ahead will help you avoid unpleasant day-of realizations, like that you have a stain on your favorite interview shirt, can’t walk confidently in your shoes, or have an itchy tag on a new interview outfit.
You don’t want to look like you’re playing dress-up during the interview; you should comfortably inhabit your clothes.”
She also has advice for when you’re stumped for an answer but know you have to say something:
“Try using stalling phrases such as ‘That’s a really thought-provoking question’ to buy yourself a bit of time to formulate your thoughts.”
More About “Do You Have Any Questions?”
The interview process is all about you and the company assessing each other for good fit. This is part of your due diligence.
Now is the time to find out if this job and company are really right for you. It’s okay, and wise, to bring along to the interview your list of the questions you want to ask.
- What does your best-fit candidate look like?
- Why is the position open?
- What responsibilities in this job are really going to define success for this person?
- What skills and qualities will be most important in this position?
- If there’s a job description, may I see a copy of it?
- What will my first assignment be?
- What are the prospects for growth and advancement?
- [If this is a short-term consulting position] How long do you expect the project to last?
- Any major changes coming internally that I should know about?
- Where do you see this division/company in the next five years?
- How can I demonstrate that I’m a good fit for this position?
- What do you (the interviewer) like and not like about working here?
- [As things are wrapping up] What are the next steps? I’m very interested in this position, will you consider me for further interviews? When will I hear from you? May I touch base in a week to see how things are moving along?
And here are a few more questions to ask, from the same BlueSteps article noted above:
- How would I be measured?
- What do you expect the person in this role to accomplish in the next 6 months?
- How are new employees onboarded?
- Which departments would my role intersect with the most?
- Tell me more about the team I would be managing?
- How does the company deal with changing priorities?