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Prepare yourself for these executive interview questions!

Prepare yourself for these executive interview questions!

Artwork by: Veronika Kiriyenko

  • How do I prepare for an executive interview?
  • What type of interview questions for executives should I expect?
  • What is the difference between behavioral intelligence and emotional intelligence?
  • What should I talk about in an executive interview?
  • How do you sell yourself in an executive interview?
  • How do I answer executive interview questions to the best of my ability?
  • After the interview for an executive position
  • Key takeaways

How to prepare for an executive interview. We show you specific examples of questions to guide your thought process and help you showcase your best abilities through your answers.

You set up the interview, and now it’s time to prepare. Without a doubt, you want to ace the interview for an executive position, so you need to ensure you can answer the questions asked of you in a manner that exemplifies your intelligence, skill sets, and accomplishments.

Executive questions can be complicated, requiring thoughtful responses. You want to make the right impact to land this position, leaving nothing to chance. Here’s what we’ll discuss in this article to keep you focused.

  • How do I prepare for an executive interview?

  • What questions should I expect?

  • What is the difference between behavioral intelligence and emotional intelligence?

  • How do I answer to the best of my ability?

  • What do do after the interview for an executive position

How do I prepare for an executive interview?

Preparing for an executive interview requires a lot of research. You applied to a particular company because after researching it, you think you are a good fit for the executive position. Know why you believe you are a good fit and be able to talk about it. You can use the data points from your resume and cover letter to fit the narrative. 

Expert Tip

Arrive 15 minutes early. Have a long list of questions for the end of the interview. It will demonstrate your preparedness and inquisitive mind.

What type of interview questions for executives should I expect?

Now you’ll have to research the questions expected in an interview on the executive level.  Understand they’ll be based not only on your hard and soft skills but also on how you demonstrate behavioral intelligence. 

You’ll be asked how you handled specific situations that were difficult, commonplace, or unusual. While you can’t predict the exact questions you’ll be asked, it would be safe to presume you’ll be expounding on your overall management style.

What is the difference between behavioral intelligence and emotional intelligence?

Behavioral intelligence combines knowing when, why, and how to direct a team using effective methodologies to produce the desired outcome. Not only can you manage people, but the processes need to be implemented strategically to produce the deliverables without losing sight of the goals.

Emotional intelligence is focused on having “people smarts.” Understanding how people think and feel in a variety of situations gives you a broader depth of how you approach managing people. How you relate and empathize with others is a quality of character necessary for effective communication and interpersonal skills.

“Behavioral Intelligence is a set of skills and abilities used to select and execute at will the right behaviors to be effective with people and situations.”

“Behavioral Intelligence requires effective thinking, decision making (relative to what wants to be accomplished) and also effective follow-through behaviors.”

“Emotional Intelligence is generally defined as the ability to be smart with people. Because Behavioral Intelligence includes the awareness, skills and behaviors for getting the job done, whether or not people are involved, you can see that Emotional Intelligence is necessary but not sufficient for Behavioral Intelligence.”


Source: Behavioral Intelligence at Work.

What should I talk about in an executive interview?

Companies hiring on the executive level are looking at a candidate's leadership style. For example, you could relate the tactics you used to handle conflict resolution at your current company. It will show your strong communication and management skills that support your leadership abilities. Do you demonstrate diplomacy and honesty? 

Expert Tip

Use YouTube to look for videos of the person who will be performing the interview so you can get a sense of their communication style.

They’ll also be looking at how much knowledge you bring to the table about the employer. Perform due diligence by demonstrating what you know about the company's position in the market and what makes up its core differentiators. It’s not enough to convey a sense of understanding the company mission, but you should also know how operational methods are employed on a daily basis that sets them apart from competitors. 

Expert Tip

Read the headlines. Find news articles on the company you’ll be interviewing with to keep current and up to date so you can use this in your interview.

How do you sell yourself in an executive interview?

Selling yourself in an executive interview is not about hyping up your expertise to convince the interviewer you are the perfect person for the job. Sure, they’ll be evaluating whether you can do the job, but they’ll also be listening to determine if you fit into the company culture, how passionate you are about leading, and whether they’d enjoy seeing you on a daily basis. 

You are not just a professional commodity. Therefore, you also want to display your personality in the interview. Engage authentically with the interviewer. Before the interview, look them up on LinkedIn to learn details you can toss into the conversation. For example, ask them how they got their position. Make it feel real. But don’t get overly personal. Be warm and courteous.

How do I answer executive interview questions to the best of my ability?

Prepare a list of answers drawn from your extensive career history that covers the following questions. We break it down into three sections based on soft skills, hard skills, and behavioral intelligence.

Soft Skills

An interviewer will evaluate your self-awareness through how you describe a connection between your actions in the work environment and the subsequent outcome. Equally as important will be how you portray your intuitive skills when it comes to empathy and teamwork. 

Expect these types of questions or similar:

1. Q: What are your strongest traits? Tip: Show how you view yourself as a leader.

A: “My strongest traits are being perceptive, motivational, empathetic, and strategic. I think these traits are necessary to identify team pain points, solve problems to steer the team forward, understand issues as they evolve, and guide the group towards company objectives.”

2. Q: What is the most challenging aspect of the job for you as an executive? Tip: Explain how you overcame a specific challenge.

A: “Terminating employees can be a tough call to make as you want to deliver it in a business-like manner, making it non-negotiable. My role as an executive requires I be able to make tough business decisions as needed in line with company objectives.” 

3. Q: What is the most satisfying thing about being in a leadership role?

A: “Helping people perform at their best, achieving company goals through excellent teamwork, giving customers a reason to trust in the product, and ultimately making a positive difference in the world.”

4. Q: What areas do you believe you could improve in? Tip: Demonstrate an area for personal leadership improvement.

A: “I am highly interested in agile methodologies to increase workplace performance while maintaining a culture of open communication. I took the initiative to start an agility course designed for upper management.”

5. Q: What leadership roles do you assume outside of the workplace? Tip: This question helps to determine your interests in a leadership role on a personal basis.

A: “I created an online group for 600 people in my community, appointing several neighbors to help me run it in a democratic style.”

Hard Skills

Think of hard skills as your technical knowledge in a given industry developed over the span of your career. You may even be asked why you chose this particular industry. Elaborating on how you apply that historical knowledge to a future situation will let the interviewer see the depth of your passion for executive leadership.

Expect these types of questions or similar:

1. Q: How would you describe your management style? Tip: The interviewer is looking to hear how you describe your style and how you would lead in a new role.

A: “I am a leader who prefers a democratic style of management. However, I have been known to demonstrate a direct upfront style letting my team know what my expectations are.”

2. Q: How would you describe our company? Tip: You want to show your research on the company.

A: “I would describe your company as a start-up in a very competitive field looking to position itself as an industry leader within a few years.”

3. Q: Why do you want to be a leader in our company? Tip: This question is to probe if your professional values align with the company mission.

A: “I want to lead this start-up because it’s exciting to be at the forefront of new technology, and I think I’m a good fit bringing in my 30 years of IT experience.”

4. Q: What do you think needs to be changed at our company? Tip: Showcase your in-depth research on the company, pointing out both positive and negative.

A: “I think this company is strong in team-building but needs refinement on qualifying individuals for their specific roles. I dislike micro-managing, so I would delegate the right channels to change role requirements.”

5. Q: What would you want to accomplish within your first six months of employment? Tip: Do your projected plans align with the existing plans?

A: “I would study the overview plans of action with each manager gaining insight from their feedback on how we can better approach a new set-up on procedures and processes that were holding the team back.”

Behavioral Intelligence

Here, you’ll be describing effective change management scenarios you tackled and how you handle the potential strategies to get the job done. 

Your ability to lead a company through thick and thin requires behavioral intelligence. It’s the integration of knowing what steps must be taken and how to motivate a number of people together to achieve the desired goal. Analogous to building a vehicle, you must put it together in the right order so that it will operate correctly, fulfilling the mission. 

Expect these types of questions or similar:

1. Q: Can you tell me about your most challenging experience as a leader? Tip: Bring up a problematic incident and how you solved it. 

A: “We had to lay off 500 people in the quarter right before the holidays to meet our end-of-year budget. Upper management discussed the timeline, stressing to meet the deadline and offer the standard severance package allowing one extra month.”

2. Q: What would you do to help improve workplace culture? Tip: Describe a quick outline strategy.

A: “First is to know what the complaints are compiled from a survey. Secondly, analyze and rank the importance of those answers, third, implement the rollout for new training to ensure each employee feels valued, heard, and respected for their contributions.”

3. Q: How would you increase communication across departments? Tip: what would you do to enable company productivity using a better communication process?

A: “I would send out a survey to all employees to determine where the gaps exist and discuss with the IT team how to implement an external third-party solution, such as slack, to align with our commitment to open discussion.”

4. Q. How would you address employee complaints about company procedures? Tip: Describe a time when you resolved employee issues.

A: “I oversaw a department of 20 creative individuals who all had different ideas on how to move a project forward. Their immediate supervisor was overwhelmed with duties and needed assistance, so I asked one of her peers to assist. We had to have several meetings to get everyone in agreement on new procedures addressing expectations, timelines, and recognition.”

After the interview for an executive position

You did it! You feel you aced your interview for an executive position. At the close, it’s meaningful to convey your interest in the position to the interviewer. 

At that point, don’t ask for feedback on how you did in the interview or whether they feel you are executive material. Politely reconfirm what the next steps would be and how excited you will be to come on board and take the helm.

Expert Tip

Send a thank you email to each person who interviewed you within a day or two. It can make the difference in getting hired.

Key takeaways

  1. Anticipate what to expect in an executive interview.

  2. Research in advance the types of questions generally asked.

  3. Prepare by rehearsing answers to three main style categories of questions.

  4. Be professional and follow up with a thank you!

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