9 CEOs Share Their Favourite Interview Questions

By James Mills, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International

Leaders not only know what qualities they are looking for in people, but also know the best questions to ask to find out who possess those attributes.

How do you feel going into an interview... nervous or confident? Are you worried the interviewer will ask questions that you may not be prepared for? Here's a fascinating list of powerful interview questions asked by CEOs, that will not only help anyone preparing for an interview, but anyone who is looking to expand their thinking in terms of career progress, attitude and self-awareness.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

"On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?"

Reason: One of the values that shape the culture at Zappos is to 'create fun and a little weirdness'. Mr Hseih says,

"If you're a '1', you probably are a little bit too straight-laced for the Zappos culture. If you're a '10', you might be too psychotic for us."

Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of YWCA

"How would you describe yourself in one word?"

Reason: This question gives an insight into how the candidate packages themselves. She assesses them not on the answer they give, but rather on the way they consider the question before answering.

Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Group

"What didn't you get a chance to include on your résumé?"

Reason: Billionaire Richard Branson isn't just looking for skills and experiences presented on a piece of paper, he is keen to gain an insight into the person beyond the initial application. He is looking for depth in a candidate; as he explained in his book The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership,

"Obviously a good CV is important, but if you were going to hire by what they say about themselves on paper, you wouldn't need to waste time on an interview."

Zhang Xin, CEO of SOHO China

"What’s your biggest dream in life?"

Reason: Zhang Xin is a self-made billionaire who came from working in a Hong Kong garment factory to starting one of China's largest commercial property developers. She isn't a believer in people playing small in relation to their potential and wants to uncover a candidate's level of ambition.

Rick Goings, CEO of Tupperware

"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."

Reason: Rick Goings wants to see the character of the person and he feels that the most effective way of doing this is not just asking questions in an interview, but seeing how a candidate behaves in everyday situations.

Jenny Ming, CEO of Charlotte Russe

"Tell me about your failures."

Reason: Jenny Ming realises that people may find it easier to talk about their successes in an interview, but she is keen to understand how a candidate faces challenges and adversity.

"It doesn't even have to be business; it could be life-lessons. I think it's pretty telling. What did they do afterward? How did they overcome that? I always look for somebody who's very comfortable admitting when something didn't work out."

Lonne Jaffe, CEO of Syncsort

"Can you tell me the story of your prior successes, challenges, and major responsibilities?"

Reason: Lonne Jaffe is looking to assess someone's ability to tell a story - this is a very important skill he learnt, whilst working at IBM.

"In business, creating a compelling narrative is invaluable for motivating a team, explaining strategic priorities in a way that's easy for others to understand, or communicating complex ideas to customers and prospects. Successful senior-level leaders are good storytellers, and it's also a very useful skill early on in your career... Storytelling is especially important in the tech industry because technology can be very complex, and sometimes people find technical details to be somewhat boring."

Michelle Peluso, CEO of Gilt Groupe

"OK, I've interviewed an eclectic crowd about you: the guy who delivers your food, the last people you worked with, the person who can't stand you the most, your best friend from high school, your mother's neighbour, your kindergarten teacher, your high school math teacher who loved you, and your last boss. If I were to say to them, 'Give me three adjectives that best describe you,' what would I hear?"

Reason: Michelle Peluso wants to get a balanced assessment of a candidate through helping them to objectively view themselves through their relationships with others. Because the group of people includes people who don't have a positive view, Ms Peluso will not accept three positive adjectives!

Peter Thiel, President of Clarium Capital

"Tell me something that's true, that almost nobody agrees with you on."

Reason: The billionaire co-founder of PayPal wants to test a candidate's ability to back themselves and their opinions.

"It sort of tests for originality of thinking, and to some extent, it tests for your courage in speaking up in a difficult interview context."

The key thing that is revealed in these questions, is that CEOs tend to look for candidates who are self-aware and have a depth of character that goes far beyond their CV and slick pre-prepared answers.

You can find these questions and others in these articles on Business Insider and Quartz.

If you're keen to learn what qualities CEOs look for in candidates, then check out this article about the preferences of former CEO of Burberry Angela Ahrendts.

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