Executives can make or break your company. Great execs help steer the ship with sustainable strategies, while those that aren’t the ideal fit create more stress than success.
As a result, the right executive interview questions are critical. The questions let teams understand how executives think, where they take action, and what they see as their role within the company.
To help you navigate your next hire, we’ve compiled a list of 25 executive interview questions that offer the insight you need to make the decisions that matter.
What are executive interview questions?
Executive interview questions help hiring teams assess potential new hires' professional and personal qualifications. Common question tracks include leadership skills, communication styles, management approaches, and conflict resolution frameworks.
While there are no hard and fast rules about what questions you need to ask or how many questions provide enough information about potential candidates, it’s worth choosing a mix of different question types to explore what executives bring to the table and what they may leave behind.
25 Executive Interview Questions
We’ve tracked down 25 of the best executive interview questions. Scroll through to explore different questions and their merits, or click on the question of your choice and jump right to the good stuff.
To help make navigation easier, we’ve divided the questions into five broad sections: Personality, behavior, leadership, experience, and strategic insight.
Personality Interview Questions
1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Why it matters: This is a classic interview question for any employee, and it still works because you’re asking potential executives to describe where they excel and where they can still learn.
Ideally, you want a mix of both — executives should be confident enough in what they know to highlight their strengths and confident enough in themselves as people to admit what they don’t know.
What a good answer looks like: A good answer includes specific strengths and specific weaknesses. Generic responses about “hard work” or being a “team player” may suggest that the candidate hasn’t done enough introspection to see who they are or where they could improve.
2. How would you describe your communication style?
Why it matters: Companies run on effective communication. If executives lack solid communication skills, the results could range from projects that don’t meet deadlines to work that never gets done.
What a good answer looks like: Good answers focus on collaboration rather than dictation. For example, it’s a good sign if executives point to the need for exploring different perspectives before making a decision. It may be a red flag if they focus on simply relaying orders to their team.
3. If you encounter a personality conflict, how would you deal with it?
Why it matters: Conflict is inevitable, so it’s important to understand how executives will respond when it occurs.
For example, what happens if an executive starts and there’s friction with employees who have been with the company for years? The friction could negatively impact performance and productivity without an effective strategy to mitigate conflict.
What a good answer looks like: Beware of answers that suggest all conflict can be avoided. Instead, look for responses that describe previous personality conflicts and how the executive handled the issue. You want a leader who’s proactive in resolving any conflict.
4. How would former coworkers describe you?
Why it matters: Success is a team effort. While executives often take on the role of leaders, they can’t do everything alone. As a result, it’s critical to develop a professional rapport with both other executives and employees.
What a good answer looks like: Good answers include a focus on being hardworking, dependable, and trustworthy. Listen for traits that you think are important for your company’s goals and culture.
Beware of responses that suggest other staff were conspiring to cause problems for prospective employees. More often than not, this is tied to behavioral issues with the candidates themselves.
5. What are some of your hobbies?
Why it matters: As the last few years have made abundantly clear, work/life balance is critical for companies to succeed. Staff working from home are more engaged and generally more productive, in part because they’ve traded commutes for more free time. This question also gives you a fuller picture of who the person sitting on the other side of the table is.
What a good answer looks like: The hobby itself doesn’t matter. What matters is that executives are doing something else other than work. If work is the only focus, burnout soon follows.
Behavior Interview Questions
6. Describe a time you were frustrated in your last job. How did you handle it?
Why it matters: Things rarely go as planned. Frustration is a part of business life and requires executives to think on their feet even when things don’t go their way.
What a good answer looks like: Here, you’re looking for an acknowledgment of frustration — maybe the department couldn’t find new staff or had their budget cut — along with a solution, such as reorganizing projects or leveraging new technologies to reduce manual processes.
7. Where could you improve?
Why it matters: No one is perfect, and executives should always seek improvement. From additional certifications or skill sets to working on interpersonal connections, there’s room to grow.
What a good answer looks like: It’s a red flag if candidates say they do not need growth. This indicates a closed mindset, which could impact employee trust and collaboration.
But if their admitted need for improvement is a skill or area you need them to have mastered already, they may not be the candidate for your position.
8. You have a staff member who consistently fails to meet targets. What’s your approach?
Why it matters: Staff members also have different strengths and weaknesses. This means that executives will inevitably have to deal with employees who can’t meet their project targets.
What a good answer looks like: What you’re looking for here is a focus on facilitating growth rather than punishing failure. Ideally, you want an executive who will help employees design and document a plan for success and help staff achieve that goal.
9. How do you deal with failure?
Why it matters: From not getting a job to losing a contact or missing a deadline, failure is part of corporate life. As a result, it’s important to know how prospective executives deal with failure when it happens.
What a good answer looks like: While there’s nothing wrong with an admission that failure is frustrating, the bulk of your candidate’s response should focus on what comes next: What steps will they take to mitigate the impact of current failure and avoid the same issue next time?
10. What part of this job will be the most challenging for you?
Why it matters: Ideally, executives are interested in your company for the chance to grow. But growth doesn’t come without challenge, meaning asking prospective staff where they think they may struggle is worthwhile.
What a good answer looks like: Consider an IT executive applying for a position that’s equal parts tech and finance. You’re looking for someone who will be upfront with their (currently) lacking knowledge of finance processes, along with a desire to learn.
Leadership Interview Questions
11. What do you see as the top priority for executives?
Why it matters: Executives are first and foremost leaders. But leadership means different things to different people. For some, it’s about ensuring team confidence and buy-in; for others, it’s about the bottom line.
What a good answer looks like: Look for an answer that aligns with your current corporate goals. For example, if you’re looking to hire and retain skilled staff, listen for answers that focus on collaboration and teamwork.
12. How would you motivate your team to achieve specific goals?
Why it matters: Motivation matters in achieving business goals. Put simply, the more motivated your team, the more likely they’ll reach key milestones and hit intended performance targets.
What a good answer looks like: People drive processes, not the other way around. Here, great answers focus on encouraging and equipping staff to do their best and offering support if they encounter challenges.
13. What is your approach to handling criticism?
Why it matters: Criticism still happens even if you do everything right. In some cases, staff may not like a specific executive’s leadership style or feel that project assignments are unfair.
What a good answer looks like: Ideally, candidates should encourage criticism within a structured format. This could take the form of regular one-on-one meetings where staff can voice their opinions, or the ability to submit complaints anonymously.
They should be willing to accept and evaluate the criticism to see where it’s legitimate and where they are right so they can make changes accordingly.
14. How do you define success for your team?
Why it matters: Success isn’t just about profit. While ensuring that teams meet objectives is critical, long-term performance largely depends on the bonds formed between team members.
What a good answer looks like: Good answers start with the team itself, including an acknowledgment that working well together helps boost overall productivity. If the only metric mentioned is profitability, this may be problematic for teams.
15. Where would you improve our workplace culture?
Why it matters: It’s worth asking executives how they view your business and where they would make changes to get a sense of who they are, what they prioritize, and how well they’ve researched your company.
What a good answer looks like: Listen for answers that focus on fostering bonds between staff and creating engagement through active management. If the response is all about streamlining processes to make more profit, this may cause problems down the line.
Experience Interview Questions
16. What do you want to accomplish here?
Why it matters: Executives are people too, each with their own plans and goals. Understanding why they want to join your company — and what they want to do — helps provide context for their application.
What a good answer looks like: While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here, look for responses that speak to professional growth or the desire to learn a new skill set. This is another opportunity to see how well they understand your company and to see if their goals align with yours.
17. Describe our company in two sentences. Why did you choose them?
Why it matters: You want to know that your candidate has researched what your company does, how it’s been performing, and what it’s looking for.
What a good answer looks like: Ideally, it’s a compliment sandwich — something positive about your company at the start and end of the response with a recommendation or constructive criticism in the middle. This shows that candidates have taken the time to understand your business and aren’t afraid of making suggestions.
18. Where can our company improve?
Why it matters: Speaking of improvement, it’s worth asking candidates about where they think processes or policies can be changed for the better.
What a good answer looks like: You want someone who doesn’t pull their punches, instead pinpointing specific areas for improvement, such as technology integration or eliminating error-prone manual processes.
19. Can you offer one idea for increasing company revenue right now?
Why it matters: Businesses exist to make money, so it’s worth asking prospective staff their opinion on making more.
What a good answer looks like: Here, you’re looking to tap candidate expertise. For example, if their background is in finance, they may have an idea to improve accounts payable (AP) or invoicing processes to help save money. Look for a relevant and feasible answer given what you know about your company.
20. How would you onboard a new employee?
Why it matters: Good staff are hard to find — and harder to keep. This makes onboarding a key process in staff retention. If staff doesn’t feel they’re given the tools and training to succeed, they won’t stay long.
What a good answer looks like: Look for answers that describe working with staff to bring them up to speed, rather than relying on training manuals or digital assets alone. A well-rounded response considering the multiple facets of joining a new company is key.
Strategic Insight Interview Questions
21. What do you see as your biggest challenges here?
Why it matters: No transition is seamless, which means executives must have some concerns about their integration into the company. Self-reflection and preparation to face these challenges are essential.
What a good answer looks like: Honesty about where candidates might come up short, along with a commitment to seek out the right people with the right knowledge, means they’re on the right track.
22. Describe how you make decisions. Why is this your approach?
Why it matters: Executives are responsible for decision-making, even when they’re not sure about the best course. Understanding how candidates make decisions can help determine if they’re the ideal fit.
What a good answer looks like: Good decision-making has two parts: Listening to differing opinions and then taking this information to make a definitive choice. Look for staff that leverages both sides of this approach.
23. What is the role of failure in success?
Why it matters: Success without failure is rare and often doesn’t teach as much about getting back up and trying again.
What a good answer looks like: Good answers highlight the role of failure in creating the conditions for success by helping teams identify where they can improve. Listen for a specific anecdote that illustrates how the candidate has learned to succeed from their failures, making their response concrete, not merely theoretical.
24. What makes a good strategy?
Why it matters: Strategy sets up businesses for success by defining clear goals and creating roadmaps to reach them. As a company leader, you want an executive with a clear vision, as well as strong planning and execution skills.
What a good answer looks like: Look for a mix of short- and long-term strategy that considers both immediate needs and goals over time.
25. What data do you need for effective decision-making?
Why it matters: Effective decision-making isn’t possible without the right data. Executives must consider how these sources impact operations.
What a good answer looks like: Great answers include mention of “gut feelings” that come from industry experience, combined with the recognition that these feelings aren’t enough without data to back them up.
Preparing for Your Interview
Hiring the right executive is crucial for a company's success, and asking the right interview questions can help you make the right choice. By using a mix of different question types, you can better understand a candidate's qualifications, skills, and fit with your company culture. Now gather your questions, get a cup of coffee, and get ready to interview.