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Executive Search Articles

Interviewing Executives

Assessing Executive Talent: Start with Success

How do you define success?

When interviewing an executive, it is important to understand first how the executive defines success. Then explore how the executive has achieved his or her successes.

People defines success differently, and of course achieve success in unique ways as well. Some finance executives define success by being appointed to the CFO role; others by being appointed to the CEO role. Some executives define success by their income. These definitions tell you something about the executive's motivation. And motivation impacts short- and long-term performance and retention.

Back to success. One of the key questions we ask when we're interviewing external and internal CFO candidates is: How do you define success?

A follow-up question is: Do you believe that you have been successful?

That's a fairly general question, so it isn't unusual for an executive to answer "yes and no." That gives the interviewer an opportunity to drill down, to get specifics.

How did you succeed in achieving your performance objectives this year. What specifically did you do?

This is key: what did he or she do. There are all kinds of research sources available that indicate that success is achieved by what we do rather than what we are. It's not IQ as much as effort. Winston Churchill said as much: "Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential."

There is an excellent post on a Harvard Business Review blog that addresses what successful people do. Specifically, they set specific goals. The acronym "SMART" is widely-used and well-known, and the first letter, "S" stands for "specific".

Successful people make sure their goals are:

  • Specific, clear and understandable.
  • Measurable, verifiable and results-oriented.
  • Attainable.
  • Relevant to the mission.
  • Time-bound with a schedule and milestones
  • What else do successful executives do? They "seize the day." In other words, they take advantage of opportunities by being nimble. They measure their progress; they are realistic; they believe in themselves; they persist; and they strive to improve.

    Our clients want to hire successful executives. This is one way we interview for success.

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