Many people put a lot of thought into how to answer the questions they will be asked during the interview process for an executive or non-executive role, but few think about what questions they themselves should pose.
Asking the right questions is extremely important, especially if you are interviewing for an executive or non-executive role.
Here are our top tips for getting this frequently overlooked element of the interview right.
AS A NON-EXECUTIVE…
Tip #1: Don’t ask leading questions
As a non-executive director, it’s all about your ability to ask questions, and you need to be able to do that in a certain way.
Specifically, you cannot ask leading questions – that is, a question that prompts or encourages the answer wanted. Furthermore, you cannot reveal your opinion as part of the question.
An example of a leading question would be: “Why did you hire the CEO internally without doing an executive search?”
A better way to phrase that question could be: “Could you please provide me with the board’s reasoning behind the hiring process of the CEO?”
As you can see, the wording of the second question is non-leading. It’s open. And there is no judgement involved.
Tip #2: Prepare A LOT of questions
Imagine this scenario. You are interviewing for a board position and the chairman asks you if you have any questions.
The worst response would be to say ‘no’. This implies that you are either not prepared or not interested enough in the role.
The next worst thing you could do is to rattle off the first two to three questions that spring to mind, without having thought them through.
Instead, you should have 2-4 pages (yes, you read that right!) of questions pre-prepared to ask the chairman during the interview. As mentioned earlier, these questions should be non-leading and non-judgemental. And you should have some idea of the types of responses you may receive.
AS AN EXECUTIVE…
Tip #1: Ask open-ended questions During the interview, you want to keep the conversation flowing. A great way to do that is by asking open-ended questions rather than closed ones.
Open-ended questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” or a static reply. They require a longer response.
Here are some examples.
“I see from your LinkedIn profile that you’ve been working within this organisation for four years. What changes have you seen within the organisation since you joined?”
“In your opinion, what are the top three priorities for this role for the next 3-6 months?”
“How would you describe the culture within the organisation?”
These types of questions help to drive the conversation. They also show that you are genuinely interested in the opportunity, whilst potentially arming you with useful information, which leads us to our next tip.
It’s perfectly fine to throw in a couple of process questions, but these should be kept to a minimum. Examples include: “Who else will I be meeting?” or “What is the next stage in the interview process?”
Tip #2: Be strategic in your questioning and make your follow-up response count
Another mistake people make when asking questions in an executive interview is that they move straight on to the next question, without following up the interviewer’s response.
The follow up is an opportunity to overlay your response with any experience you have that relates to that question.
Here’s an example.
Candidate: “How has the company culture changed in the past five years?”
Candidate: “That’s really interesting and I can totally relate to that. In my previous role, I led a cultural movement in the organisation thanks to the introduction of a comprehensive wellbeing program that incited collective action and ultimately doubled productivity.”
Tip #3: Avoid taboo questions
There are some questions that are best avoided during an executive interview process, particularly in the early stages.
As a general rule of thumb, avoid salary talk, unless the interviewer brings it up first. Discussing salary too early on can send the wrong message.
It’s also a good idea to avoid discussing hours, benefits and bonuses during the interview process. These can be negotiated down the track.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Whether you’re going for a non-executive or an executive role, it is important to: 1) Ask the right questions 2) Ask enough questions; and 3) Follow up the responses effectively. Do those three things well, and you’ll be more likely to land the role.
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