How To Conduct An Executive Interview

Assessing Executive Talent: Start with Success

How do you define success?

When interviewing an executive, it is important to understand first how that executive defines success, then explore how the executive has achieved successes.

People define 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 us 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.

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

This is key: what did he or she do? Research suggests 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 executives for success.

And if you're ready to start your next executive search, find out how our experienced consultants at GAAP Executive Search can help you recruit top-performing financial executives.