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Interviewing is a critical skill and is covered in most all the Operating Discipline sections of InsideSpin. The CEO needs to be the best at it as choosing the right team members, especially leadership team members, is one of the top two or three critical decisions the CEO needs to do right (ideally all the time).

Some CEO's choose to interview all candidates for employment (at least in the final stages of an interview cycle), some prefer only to be involved during senior hires, some only handle direct reports. CEO involvement in interviewing takes time away from other tasks. It can also be seen as interfering by other managers (too bad). In the end, the CEO is responsible for building a successful company and should be able to be as involved as needed in choosing team members committed to achieving success.

This section explores how the CEO can perfect relevant interviewing skills. How the CEO makes decisions on when and when not to be involved in choosing team members. It also explores how the Human Resource function works with the CEO to establish success planning, a critical factor that should be explored during the interview process.

When the CEO Should Be Involved

When first starting a business, it is almost universally understood that the CEO will spend time interviewing all team candidates. Although there is a mode of thinking that says a leader should empower people to make decisions, being involved in exploring the viability of a new team member is not taking away from that empowerment. By interviewing a candidate, you are not making the decision but are able to have a knowledgeable discussion about how that candidate would or would not fit in to the desired role. When all is said and done, the CEO is responsible for the results of all decisions, so you can both support your leadership team to make new hire choices but at the same time reserve the right to overrule anyone you feel is not the right fit. Everyone should keep in mind the CEO has an overall Company perspective in mind while any one leadership team member (or manager) is hiring for the sphere of influence and responsibility they have.

It is natural for the team to look for your endorsement if you are involved through interviewing. This can create the perspective that you are making the decision. This really talks to your leadership style and whether you express yourself in a dominating way or not. Make sure it is ok for people to disagree with your feedback, hear them out and if needed, stop a bad hire from happening. It would be unusual to force a hire the managers do not want.

Key Things the CEO Should Look For

Interviewing is a complex skill to master as you typically only have a short time to assess someone. What you do with that time is what is important. Some key things for a CEO to look for include:

Excellence in recruiting normally says everyone plays a role in the interview cycle. The CEO is responsible for making sure the team is building strongly, other people would interview for technical skills for the job, team fit, etc. You can overlap so that you can share opinions later -- perhaps meet with the interviewing team to establish some questions that will be focused on. Comparing answers is sometimes a good way to develop a feel for how real the candidate is presenting (sometimes people loosen up over a day and start giving different answers to similar questions -- an alarm bell for sure).

Approaches to Interviewing

In some sense, the first goal of interviewing is to expose the real candidate. Some candidates are good at hiding their real styles and personalities underneath practiced presentation skills. This can be a problem if they reveal themselves a few days or weeks after starting and it turns out they are not the type of person you want. As such, there are a variety of ways to approach interviewing from a CEO perspective to reveal the real person underneath:

Given the goal is to form a thoughtful opinion about the candidate, you should take whatever time is needed to get to know the person your team is hiring. Even if they are far from being a direct report, knowing high quality people in the organization is valuable. As the level of role increases, the nature of how you approach the interview changes, until you reach a point of hiring a direct report, in which case, the hiring plan is yours instead of one of your team members.

Interviewing Leadership Team Candidates

Choosing a direct report, especially a leadership team candidate, is an important decision for the CEO. The choice has wide spread impact on the Company for which bad choices can be significantly damaging. It's not uncommon for a settling period to be needed where the new team member adjusts to new colleagues while everyone retests the political waters around them. They can bring new energies to an operational area and often have the preferred ear (for a while) of the CEO as the newest senior hire.

It's natural for the CEO to want to choose someone they have prior working experience with. The communication bandwidth tends to start high, the work habits are understood and often the problems that need to be solved are known from past experiences. These types of hires can go astray if the CEO appears to be passing over internal candidates or is hiring friends and family for the comfort factor. Clearly, hiring for experience is important so someone you have worked with who is a known quantity appeals to most CEO's. How they fit into the team and respect that this new team might be different than their current team, even if led by the same CEO, is important for this kind of hire to be accepted.

When hiring someone new, the need to find someone who can be entrusted with significant responsibilities despite no prior working relationship with the CEO becomes the challenge. You often only spend in aggregate a few hours with the person before choosing, You rely on references, the opinions of others involved in the interviewing, your gut feel as to their overall capabilities, etc. Ideally the person is willing to spend some time on the job as part of the interviewing cycle, although this is not always practical. If you can afford the time, extending the interview cycle tends to reveal more about the candidate. If time is a factor, you may need to move faster and take some chances..

A few things to consider for a leadership team hire includes:

Once hired, make sure the job description is well defined, they are well socialized with the team (versus hiding in an office) and that they get a chance to demonstrate their value early on.

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