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The 12 Best CEO Interview Questions You Need to Ask

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Hiring your next CEO is a huge decision that will impact the future of your company. As part of the hiring process, you’ll need to ask candidates the best questions possible.

These questions should address behavioral and operational aspects of being CEO. Without further adieu, here are our top 12 CEO interview questions for your candidates.

Question 1: What change do you foresee for our company over the next 3-5 years? How will you create that change?

Your list of CEO interview questions should touch on changes to your business moving forward. Any company goes through changes, and your new CEO will be at the helm. Any leader you’re considering for the role should embrace change, be willing to encourage it, and know how to make tough decisions.

Importantly, you want to ensure the candidate’s vision for change at your company aligns with your current vision. And, if it does, do you believe in how that candidate says (s)he’ll forge those changes? What approach will the candidate take, and does it mesh well with your company values and vision?

Question 2: What would you do in your first 30 days as CEO here?

CEO interview questions should assess the actions your candidate would take as leader of your company. 

Just as US Presidents have their “first 100 days,” where performance is crucial and precedents are set, CEOs follow a similar path. Their first 30 days are essential for shaping the direction of the company and the CEO’s tenure.

This question is also an excellent way to understand what challenges this candidate feels are most pressing for your company, as those are the ones they’re likely to prioritize.

Question 3: Tell us your thought process behind making a big final decision. What criteria do you base your decision on?

Any CEO has to make big decisions, and sometimes in the face of scant information. Your CEO job interview questions should seek to understand the candidate’s rationale behind decision-making. 

You also want to understand whether this candidate can make decisions under time pressure or with little information. You can ask follow-up questions, presenting scenarios such as these, and ask them to explain their thinking. Does their rationale change? Positively or negatively?

Question 4: Please take the next 5 minutes to prepare a small pitch for our company that you could present to an investor.

This is one of a few CEO interview questions you can ask to understand how the candidate thinks on the spot. Ask them to explain their thought process out loud, and observe their decision-making.

Does the candidate appear flustered, or do they remain calm and work efficiently? 5 minutes isn’t very much time to complete this task, and that’s a good thing. This is an excellent test for how the candidate may act when faced with similar pressures as CEO.

Once the candidate has prepared the pitch, do you feel the candidate understood the main selling points of your company? Do they effectively pitch your product and services?

Question 5: Who are our biggest competitors, and how do we stand out?

This is one of those CEO interview questions that’s business 101. It’s a benchmark question that allows you to rule out candidates you won’t move forward with. Any potential CEO should come prepared for the interview with a deep understanding of your company, its competitors, and how you stand out from the crowd.

In a nutshell, this answer should be immediate, well-thought-out, and hit all the marks.

Question 6: What are some of the biggest challenges our company’s industry will face in the next 5 years?

Any future CEO of your company needs to be prepared to face industry challenges. Businesses and industries are dynamic, and any CEO will stay on top of that.

There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to this query. This is one of those CEO interview questions where the thought process is often more interesting than the actual answer. How does your candidate arrive at their response, and what justifications do they use? This gives you insight into their thinking and creativity.

Question 7: What CEOs do you look up to?

A candidate’s heroes can be incredibly insightful. Most of us want to behave similarly to our heroes, so if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the type of leadership role this candidate may take, evaluate the CEOs they reference here.

Do the leadership styles of the heroes they referenced align with the type of CEO you’re looking for at your company?

Question 8: Tell us about each of your career moves. Why’d you make the moves you did?

This is one of a few particularly interesting CEO interview questions because it allows you to deeply assess the candidate’s strategic thinking and goal achievement capabilities. How was this candidate able to get to where they are today, and what was the rationale behind the moves they made?

Here, the candidate’s thought process is again the most essential part of their answer. Feel free to ask follow-ups and dig deeper on any of the career moves this person made.

Question 9: Teach me something insightful that I don’t know.

Looking to figure the candidate’s creativity and on-the-spot thinking? This question can help with that. Look for answers that are creative and insightful, as well as a candidate who doesn’t struggle to explain clearly.

This is one of a few CEO interview questions that needs to place unexpected pressure on the candidate. Evaluate how they handle that, as there will be plenty of times as CEO where a leader needs to act under (unexpected) pressure.

Question 10: How have you responded to competitive threats in past roles?

Any leader will sometimes run into competitive threats, and they need to be dealt with. Do you like how your candidate answers this question? Do you feel they dealt with past threats fairly and efficiently?

Question 11: Describe the most extreme crisis you’ve handled. What steps did you take to defuse the situation?

Crisis management is an essential part of being a CEO. 69% of leaders state they’ve gone through at least one crisis, with the average being three. Odds are, your CEO will undergo at least one crisis when leading your organization.

Thus, the candidate must know how to handle crises effectively. Does the way this person makes decisions and handles emergencies work well with your company culture?

Question 12: How would your current team describe your leadership style?

Your company likely already has a preferred leadership style that meshes well with company culture and values. This question allows you to pinpoint the candidate’s leadership style to make sure it matches the one you want for your next company leader.

This is one of those CEO interview questions that could use some follow-up questions. Dig deeper into any of the competencies and personality traits divulged by the candidate. 

Need Help Hiring the Best CEO?

Even with all the right CEO interview questions, picking the best candidate for the job is a massive undertaking. Now is not the time for mistakes!

Jennings Executive has over two decades of experience recruiting top executives for top companies. We take the guesswork out of hiring a CEO and will help take your company to the next level. Learn more today!

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