To interview for an executive-level position can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Certainly you want to do everything right, leaving the best possible impression in the room, showing your very best. Let’s have a look at what will happen in an interview, and how you can improve your chances of signing the coveted employment agreement.


What will happen in an executive-level job interview?

You will likely meet a panel of high executives from the company. Or, in some other cases, you will shake your hand with the head of the HR department, or with the CEO. One way or another, you cannot expect to meet some HR Generalists or external recruiters at this point.

Before you get a chance to talk to these people, however, you will have to pass several rounds of interviews. Typically a screening interview (over the phone, with an HR manager or HR generalist, or agency recruiter), a face to face interview (they will ask you mostly easier behavioral questions at this stage). If you haven’t passed them yet, refer to respective articles on our website. If you have passed them already, let’s have a look at 15 questions you may face in your interview with the decision makers.

people are smiling and aplauding at the end of a job interview

What is your management style/philosophy?

At the end of the day, results matter the most for the executives. Long term results over short term, to be more precise. Regardless of whether you prefer to lead the team by an iron fist, or let your people do whatever they want (or anything in between), as long as it works for you, and you achieve the goals you set, and people do not leave the company under your leadership, you are good to go.

And if you aren’t sure about the right management style, or about your style, you can always emphasize individual approach. You can either say that you will alter your management style according to the project or team you lead, or even the atmosphere in the workplace, or you can talk about individual approach to each employee, considering their motivation, goals, and personality. Show the interviewers that you can adjust your management style to the situation in the company.

* You can check 7 sample answers to the question here: How would you describe your management style?


Tell me about your biggest success and failure

Successes and failures belong to the life of each executive. You should show them that you take neither the first, nor the second, as something definite, that you can look at things from distance and make the best of everything that life throws at you.

Try to emphasize the lessons you learned from your successes and failures, and how they helped you to become a better leader. Show them how the projects you’ve worked on helped you to become the person you are today–with all your experience and skills.

Do not forget to add some numbers and details, to make it easier for the interviewers to imagine the things you achieved, and failed to achieve. Some follow up questions may ensue. They may inquire why you did this or that, and you should get ready to explain your reasoning.


How would you tackle the challenge we face right now? (they describe some challenge, or goal which they want to achieve in the company)

Try to demonstrate experience, proactive approach to work, and ability to come up with a strong vision on how to tackle any challenge.

Analyze the situation, and prepare a simple plan of action. They will likely give you some time to prepare your answer. If you need more information, do not hesitate to start a discussion with the interviewing panel. Show them that you can think analytically, that you know how to set milestones, and how to address various problems a corporation may face.

This is one of the most important question in an executive-level interview, since your ability to deal with it reflects your readiness for the job.

* May also interest you: Executive director interview questions.


Why did you leave your last job (why do you want to leave your present job)?

Fresh graduates do not apply for executive-level jobs. You have likely left your job, or you plan to leave it, if they hire you for the executive-level position. Now you should have a good reason for that…

I suggest you to avoid talking about a better salary, the one you will get in your new job. And you should not say that you want to leave because you seek a better team, or better boss.

What you can say though is that you seek a new challenge, or that you believe you are in a stage of your career when you deserve the executive job, that you are ready to take the position, that you have overgrown your present role. One way or another, try to focus on the future, not on the past. You can check 7 sample answers to this question here.

If we hire you for this job, what will be the first thing you do?

Another test of your attitude to work. Executive represents the company, but they are also bound to make decisions, the most important decisions actually.

You can tell them that you will start with an analysis of company financial statements and cash flow, and talking to the managers from all departments, trying to understand the actual situation of the business.

Nevertheless, if you researched about the company, if you have already made your analysis, and know what you should do, you can present your plan of action in the interview. This can lead to an interesting discussion which can eventually lead to your signature on the coveted job contract…


10 other questions you may face in an executive level job interview

  • What is the most competitive situation you’ve ever experienced?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision without all information you needed.
  • What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever faced at work?
  • Describe a time when you faced an ethical dilemma at work.
  • Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important. How did you eventually overcome that?
  • Describe a situation when you faced a particularly demanding problem or challenge in your personal life. How did that affect you in your job?
  • Tell me about a big obstacle you overcame.
  • Tell us about a time when you had to deal with ambiguity.
  • Describe the biggest failure of your professional career.

* Special Tip: If you are not sure how to answer the questions from my list, or experience interview anxiety, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to basically all tricky questions you may face in your executive level job interview will help you streamline your interview preparation, make a great impression on the decision makers, and get the executive role. Thank you for checking it out!


Final thoughts

They will expect a lot from you in any interview for an executive level job, but the success at this stage isn’t only about your track record, and interview answers.

Personal preferences play a big role, and you should try your best to make a good connection with the people in the room. Be yourself, but give them a chance to show off, and recognize their achievements if you get an opportunity to do so. I hope you will succeed and wish you good luck!


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Matthew Chulaw
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