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5 CEOs each share one “killer interview question”

07 Dec 10:00 by Jon Sparks

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For leadership positions, it’s the softer skills that matter. Here are 5 questions used by leading CEOs to assess you as a job candidate.


“Would you rather be respected or feared?”

Michael Gregoire, CEO of CA Technologies says this “really reveals what you think about your leadership style”.

There is no right answer, rather the role you are interviewing for determines which way the you should lean. In a collaborative environment, it’s better to be respected than feared; at a business unit that’s struggling, the stick may be more useful than the carrot.


“Why are you here today?”

It’s an open-ended question, but Gordon Wilson, CEO of Travelport, is looking for a specific answer.

“I’m surprised how many times people talk about the benefit of the job from their point of view, versus the benefit that they’re going to bring to the company,” This helps him judge whether a candidate is joining a team or whether “it’s all about me”. He wants at least “75-25: if you benefit the enterprise the personal thing will come”.


“What’s your biggest dream in life?”

This is from Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China and a self-made billionaire who built her empire from scratch. With this background, no answer is too ambitious.


“I ask how they were treated?”

Rick Goings, CEO Tupperware does not ask this of candidates, but rather of the people who encountered candidates on their way to an interview with him. “I talk to the driver who brought them in from the airport, my assistant and the receptionist who welcomed them. I ask how they were treated. There you learn how this person acts” Goings says.

What he’s after is a sense of the “non-cognitive skills” that good leaders need to manage and inspire teams.


“What is your favourite property in Monopoly and why?”

Ken Moelis, founder and CEO of Moelis & Co, likes to give this question to freshly minted MBAs interviewing for mid-level positions. It’s a “great way to hear how people think of risks and rewards” he says.  


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