Today’s question comes from the president of a technology firm that asks: “I don’t have the best track record when it comes to making executive-level hires. Do you have any specific suggestions that might help?”. Since I have written often on the subject of talent management and have covered the basics of recruiting in previous posts, I’m going to share a few secrets that can help separate the great talent from those that simply interview well.

We’ve all experienced the let down associated with someone who slipped through the cracks of the interview process and turned out to be everything except what they represented themselves to be. The reality is that most candidates interviewing for executive-level positions will have strong resumes and will handle themselves well in predictable interviewing situations. This is why it is essential to put potential C-level hires through a much more demanding interview process than management and staff level hires.

While there is any number of interviewing nuances that can improve the odds of a successful hire, the following three suggestions will help you to quickly spot the posers from the players:

  1. Dispense with Typical Interview Questions: When it comes to executive-level hires, I tend to stray from the usual questions surrounding career history and job functions (hopefully this type of screening has been done long before a candidate reaches my office) and use questions meant to probe deeply for character, problem-solving and leadership ability. I use situational questions that force them to respond quickly to the toughest of real-world experiences where there are definitely right and wrong answers…This is a no spin zone as you either get the questions right or you don’t…
  2. Conduct Interviews in Social Settings: Get the potential hire out of the office…Take the candidate out to a ball game, to dinner, for a round of golf or any other setting where they are likely to let their guard down and reveal their authentic self. While most people can present themselves well in a controlled environment, by switching things upon them, you are likely to see signs of potential issues that may surface later as problems in the workplace.
  3. Include the Spouse in the Interview: Nothing keeps a person humble and honest, like the presence of their spouse. If a candidate has embellished certain things in prior interviews, you’re likely to see inconsistencies pop-up in conversations held with their spouse present.

Candidates that can pass the rigor of non-traditional interviews with flying colors are likely to become valuable members of your executive team that will thrive on the demands of real-world business challenges. Lastly, remember to hire slow and fire fast…This is even more important with executive-level hires.