Executive Recruiting: Creating a Detailed Interview Guide

By David E. Perry, Mark J. Haluska

Nine times out of ten, you need the candidate way more than the candidate needs you. After all, she probably already has a job — and one she likes. So you don’t want to blow it by conducting poor interviews. That’s why you write an interview guide: to usher you through the interview stage.

Prospects form impressions of the company with each interaction — especially interviews. One misstep could sour a prospect on the opportunity. For example, no senior executive would tolerate a generic “Tell me about yourself” during an interview. Candidates expect you to have done your homework and to know everything about them before the interview. That’s why the interview guide is so important!

When interviewing senior executives, there should be no off-the-cuff questions!

So, what is an interview guide? Simple. It’s a document that contains several questions that relate to the competencies required for the role. You’ll use the job order and job description to write these questions, many of which will be unique to the role. Candidates’ answers to these questions will reveal their qualifications, traits, characteristics, and behavioral tendencies, improving your ability to identify and hire the right executive for the role. The interview guide should be so thorough that an inexperienced interviewer would be able to pass as a pro and be able to assess the answers provided by the interviewee.

The interview guide is an internal document. It is not for public consumption. Only those involved in the interview process — the ultimate hiring manager, search chair, search committee, and recruiters (internal and external) — should have access to this document. The candidate should not have access to this document, however.

You must create a unique interview guide for each specific position. Although some questions will be more generic, designed to assess leadership style and management skills, others will be specific to the role being filled.

Contents of the interview guide

Often, the interview process occurs in several stages. That means you’ll need specific questions for each stage. These include the following:

  • Basic qualifying questions to gauge the candidate’s skill and experience at a macro level, to be asked by phone
  • Questions to tease out the confidential candidate brief
  • Recruiter screening questions
  • Initial face-to-face questions
  • Search chair questions
  • Ultimate hiring authority questions
  • Search committee questions

As you might expect, interview questions tend to get deeper, more specific, more personal, and more pointed the farther along you are in the interview process. Some will be behavioral, while others will be situational. During the final stages of the process, these questions will help you cull the truly excellent candidates from the merely great ones. By the end of the process, the final candidate may have answered as many as 50 specific questions, which in turn generate dozens of follow-ups.

Each successive step in the interview process will prompt new questions.

Sample questions

While it’s true that each interview guide will be unique, there are some standard questions that apply whether you’re hiring someone in engineering, sales, marketing, finance, operations, administration, or what have you. These questions primarily pertain to past performance, as well as leadership and management style:

  • To what key factors do you attribute your career success to date?
  • What do you consider to be some of your most outstanding qualities?
  • What is your greatest strength or asset?
  • In what areas have others been particularly complimentary about your abilities? Why?
  • During past performance reviews, what have your superiors consistently cited as your major assets? Why?
  • From a performance standpoint, what do you consider to be your best attributes?
  • If I were to speak with two or three of your peers, in what areas would they describe you as particularly effective?
  • Regarding this position, in what areas do you feel you would be a particularly strong performer? Why?
  • Describe your three greatest strengths and tell me how you used them to bring about improvements in your job.
  • What two or three major accomplishments best demonstrate your key strengths?

Interview guides can take days to compose. The intricate weaving of questions is best left to an experienced recruiter or HR professional.