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Is a company’s CEO going to interview you directly? Not sure what to ask them when the time comes? Don’t panic. We cover the essential questions to ask the CEO in an interview about their company’s culture, goals, and values.
Job interviews can be very tense, especially when the company’s chief executive officer is the one asking questions! At the same time, job interviews with CEOs are a chance to learn more about the company you’re applying to and impress the highest-ranking executive in it. To show off your curiosity and win the respect of CEOs, make sure you ask these questions during your upcoming job interview.
This blog talks about interview prep, the best questions to ask CEOs, and these extra topics:
Why CEOs attend interviews
Questions about the industry
Questions about company culture
Questions about a CEO’s goals
Questions about ideal company employees
Questions about the CEO themselves
If you’re applying for an entry-level position, you probably won’t need to worry about impressing a company’s CEO. If you’re applying to a high-level management position, the chances of the CEO attending the interview go up. Finally, CEOs will almost always be present to interview candidates for “C-Suite” executive positions such as the chief financial officer, chief operating officer, etc.
In general, CEOs show up to interview job candidates they’d work with daily and hire professionals who are both skilled and pleasant to work with. With that in mind, don’t treat your conversation with the CEO like a technical interview where you only show off your skills. Also try to ask questions that demonstrate your curiosity, knack for self-improvement, and passion for the same goals the CEO pursues.
You should have researched the company, its business model, and its home industry well before your interview with its CEO. That said, a job interview run by a CEO lets you plug gaps in your understanding by asking questions. Ask questions that show the CEO you’re thoughtful, curious, and passionate about what their company does. Here are some sample industry-focused CEO interview questions:
Are your company’s goods and services popular with a specific customer demographic?
How has the business model of your company shifted over the years?
Do you think demand for your company’s goods/services will shift soon?
What qualities does a company need to thrive in this industry?
How does your company stand apart from its other competitors?
Often, companies will talk about their company’s culture and ethos on their websites and brochures, highlighting the best parts of their workplace with employee testimonials and declarations of values. Even if you’ve done your homework on the values of the company you’re applying to, it’s still worth asking CEOs questions about those values.
Ask questions that make sure the CEO and their company live up to their proclaimed values. Their answers might reveal whether you’d genuinely enjoy working at the company. Try these sample company culture-focused CEO interview questions:
What behaviors do you try to encourage in your employees?
How do you promote diversity and tolerance in your workforce?
What values do you think should be on every company mission statement?
How do you try to maintain a good work-life balance among your employees?
How do you encourage your employees to grow, innovate, and voice their thoughts?
Good CEOs don’t just keep their company functional; they have concrete goals and bold yet practical ideas on how to help their company grow and adapt to changing times. To get an idea of your CEO’s vision for their company, ask them questions along these lines.
The CEO isn’t the only hand on the company’s rudder: shareholders, executive boards, and other senior managers all have a “hand” on the company’s “steering wheel.” Still, asking CEOs questions about their vision can help you figure out if you’d have a bright future at their company.
Try these vision-focused CEO interview questions:
Do you see your company expanding its scope or breaking into new industries?
How do you think your company’s industry will change with the spread of [insert social/technological trend here]?
What growth opportunities should your company pursue over the next few years?
What are some ways your company tries to promote social justice and environmental sustainability?
What skills do you think your employees should master to tackle future challenges?
CEOs who run job interviews are almost always looking for very specific qualities in their job candidates. If you’re not sure what the CEO’s “ideal employee” would be, be open about your confusion and ask them questions like these.
If the “ideal employee” the CEO describes sounds like you, draw the CEO's attention to qualities of yours that match what they want.
Sample employee-focused CEO interview questions:
What qualities do you like to see in new hires?
What do you think is more important for a new hire: a strong educational background or extensive work experience?
When an employee makes a mistake or shows a gap in their knowledge, how do you offer or ask for feedback?
How do you motivate your employees to excel?
If I’m hired, what steps should I take to make sure I excel at my new position?
Most of the advice in Dale Carnegie’s genre-defining self-help book How To Win Friends And Influence People boils down to this: “Get people interested in you by showing interest in them.” If you want a CEO to walk away from the interview with a positive impression of you, questions about their history and achievements are a great way to earn their goodwill.
Rapport-building aside, questions like these also let you learn about the CEO who’s interviewing you and whether you’d enjoy working with them.
Sample background interview questions:
How did you come to join this company?
How would you describe your management style?
What do you enjoy most about working for this company?
What would you say is your greatest accomplishment at this company?
What inspired you to pursue the role of CEO?
Check out Carreer.io’s Interview Prep service for more feedback on how to ace your CEO interview!
CEOs take charge of job interviews when they’re hiring people to work with or under them.
Show your professionalism by asking CEOs interview questions about their industry’s challenges/opportunities.
Build rapport by asking CEOs interview questions about their background and ethos.