Notebook #02 – The questions you must ask candidate CEOs

My experience over the past 20 or so years has taught me that many non-profit boards need a structured approach when recruiting a CEO or Executive Director. Too often questions are general and retrospective in nature, tending to focus on candidate experience and why the person is applying for the role. More often than not, the questions do not explore prospectively nor thoroughly test the candidate’s ideas. I have seen selections made primarily on the basis of personal chemistry and suitable experience, with the right candidate for the role being turned away. It is a common mistake for staff to be promoted on the basis of past performance and not on their ability to do the job in the role to which they are being promoted. This second notebook features 20 questions that a non-profit board should ask to avoid this.

  • Why do you want this role?
  • We assume you have researched our organisation, what changes do you suggest we make to our strategic direction?
  • In your opinion, how should we further differentiate ourselves from other non-profits in the same sector?
  • We have multiple revenue streams, how would you respond should new regulations mean that one of those revenue streams would effectively dry up?
  • Name one thing you think we should stop doing and explain your reasoning.
  • How do you see the marketplace for our organisation changing over the next couple of years?
  • Think of one non-profit which you admire for consistent high-performance and describe the performance gap between that organisation and ourselves.
  • How do you think this organisation has performed to date under the current Board?
  • How would you spend your first 100-days in the position? And, what would will the three must-win battles be for your first year?
  • Describe what you understand our organisational culture to be.
  • How would you go about raising volunteerism within our organisation?
  • How would you assess the talent in the board and in the staff?
  • How do you enact and manage change?
  • What do you believe are the most important skills a candidate must have to succeed in this role, and why?
  • Do you think you have the adequate experience, skills and reputation to meet the demands of the CEO role well and, if so, tell us how they shape you as a person?
  • Provide a few examples of how you have used your personal strengths for greatest effect.
  • What are your biggest failures professionally and what have you learned from them?
  • How would you mobilise staff and volunteers to drive organisational performance?
  • How would you manage the staff should you get the role?
  • If you do not get the role, what would you do?

Having an interview plan where the questions are carefully crafted in advance, as well as a pre-defined scoring process for the answers given, will enable non-profit boards to have a structured approach and will improve the likelihood of the most suitable candidate being correctly identified.

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