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3 top interview questions when interviewing leaders and managers

It’s a busy time of year for recruitment and if you are a manager, it is highly likely you will be involved in the process of interviewing candidates for vacant positions within your team.

Throughout my career in executive search, I discovered effective interviewing is a combination of science (or following good processes) and gut instinct – and both are equally as important.

Music is a combination of science and instinct - The Leader's Digest

Like effective interviewing, music is a combination of science and instinct.  Image source: Flickr Commons.

I also learned that no matter how brilliant our selection techniques are, there are never any guarantees it will be a match made in heaven.

However, one of the ways to help ensure selection of the best candidate for the role, is to simply be prepared with great questions.

As Benjamin Franklin once said – “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Here are 3 of my favourite interview questions when recruiting for senior leadership roles:

1.  “Tell me about the most difficult leadership issue you have faced in your career and how you dealt with it.”

I find this question works well, because it talks to a number of relevant leadership competencies – how they overcome challenge, their decision making style and approach, resilience and problem solving abilities.

Even the example they choose provides insight into them as a leader.

How people overcome challenges can provide great insights - The Leader's Digest by Suzi McAlpine

How people overcome challenges can provide us with great insights.        Image Source: Flickr Commons.

 2.  “Tell me about a time you had to deliver a vision message to a group of people with vastly differing backgrounds, views and roles.”

Managing vision and purpose is one of the most difficult but important things a leader will do.

This question will provide answers to questions you may have around the candidate’s ability to effectively manage a diverse range of people, their cultural sensitivity to issues surrounding management, and their ability to inspire a wide range of people to work together cohesively, towards achieving a common goal.

3.  “ Tell me about a time when you have failed at something.  Describe the situation. What was your response? What did you learn?”

This is one of my all time favourites to ask, because as humans we can be reluctant to talk about failure, due to the inaccurate perception of failure being perceived as weakness.

However, great leaders are aware failure is an inevitable part of success (and life in general).

Growing and learning lessons from failures is integral to personal and professional development as a leader.

What is your favourite interview question, and what insights has it provided you with?

For further information about interview skills training workshops, please contact me.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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