Eight Essential Interview Questions CEOs Swear By

Get beyond job candidates’ pat answers to hiring managers’ standard queries by recasting questions to elicit thoughtful responses.

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“If time, money, and talent were no object, what would you do?”

That was the question that Saundra Pelletier, CEO of Evofem Biosciences, shared with me when I asked her how she interviews job candidates — one of the themes that I often explored with chief executives in the weekly “Corner Office” series I created and ran for a decade at The New York Times.

Pelletier’s question is just one of many surprising hiring approaches I’ve learned about over the course of more than 1,000 interviews with leaders, published in the Times and now on LinkedIn, over the past 15 years. Through all those conversations, I’ve amassed a large data set of questions that leaders use as a work-around to avoid the pat and predictable answers that job candidates recycle in response to standard hiring questions. Some leaders have come up with “bank shot” questions to get around the polished facades that people present in interviews so that they can better understand who candidates really are.

To categorize all of the interview questions I’ve heard over the years, I sorted them into what I call essential questions — the core questions that the interviewer is trying to answer about the candidate as part of their key checklist. For example: Are they self-aware? Are they a team player? Do they have a strong sense of personal accountability and responsibility? In an ideal world, it would be more efficient to simply pose those questions and get an honest yes-or-no answer. But many people are quite savvy about offering up answers that they think the interviewer wants to hear.

The bank-shot questions below require meaningful and authentic answers that candidates can’t take from a cookie-cutter script, even if they’ve been asked them before.

Essential Question 1: Do You Really Want to Work Here?

It’s a natural first question for an employer: Is the candidate simply playing a numbers game by blasting out 100 applications to different companies? You want to know that the candidate has done their research and has authentic and meaningful reasons for wanting to work at your company rather than just wanting to land a job.

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Comment (1)
Stuart Roehrl
Very good information.  This outline can be applied introspectively by the reader.  It can be helpful in self-understanding - where do I stand in my company now? how  well am I preparing to advance?  
Stuart Roehrl