Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

What the CEOs want to ask you

Area executives tell the favorite questions they ask job hunters. Such as: How fast do you drive?

William Hunt, CEO of the U.S. operations of AgustaWestland, takes candidates on tours of the helicopter plant.
William Hunt, CEO of the U.S. operations of AgustaWestland, takes candidates on tours of the helicopter plant.Read moreCLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

The questions can be key. After all, most chief executives have interviewed many job candidates over the years.

Most said they use the interview to look beyond the resumé and learn about the candidates as people: what challenges them, how they have managed to overcome obstacles, how they build a team, and how they work with one.

When a potential hire interviews with the CEO, his or her ability to do the job is a given. Whether that person shares the company's values and will mesh into the company culture is more important.

That's why some executives insist on their stock questions. Here they are:

Question: "Assume that I am not here tomorrow and for the next six months you have to be the CEO. What are the first three things you would do and why?"

Rationale: "Whether you are interviewing to be an assistant brand manager or a Web person or an engineer or a senior something, I ask it because I want to see how they think about something they probably haven't thought about."

- Michael Araten,


chief executive, K'nex.

Question: "When the interview is over and we walk out of my office, then I ask them to identify everything they can that was in my office."

Rationale: "I want to see how observant they are. In our business, I want people to want to know about other people, to connect. If I'm interviewing them for a sales or marketing position, that's really critical. They have to be able to go into someone's office and pick up cues about who that person is. I have shocked a lot of people with that question."

- Skip Rosskam,

chief operating officer,

David Michael & Co.

Strategy: "I tour them personally through the [helicopter] plant."

Rationale: "You can see it in their face when they are done - whether the person is excited about what they went through. Some of them look like, 'You just bored me to death.' And if they have that look on their face, Ma'am, you don't belong here."

- William Hunt,

chief executive,


Philadelphia Corp.

Question: "I always ask the candidates to tell me if your coworkers or your supervisors are at the water cooler talking about you and saying, 'I really love it when she does this . . .' and 'I really hate it when she does that . . .' Finish that sentence. My other measuring stick is their questions."

Rationale: "I generally look for them to ask questions about culture [especially] if they are working for me and they don't ask what I am like to work for. I always feel that [they] should be interviewing me as much as I am interviewing them."

- Cynthia Figueroa,

chief executive,

Congreso de

Latinos Unidos.

Question: "This may sound superficial, but I ask people when they are driving on Route 422, how fast they are going."

Rationale: "There's really no right answer. But there is the right answer for the position. My quality manager, and this is a true story, my quality manager is driving 55 m.p.h. and he's obeying the speed limit. But you don't want your sales manager doing 55 m.p.h. You want him pushing the limit. You probably don't want someone doing 110 working at your company - they are taking unbelievable risks. If you are going the speed limit on 422, you are getting passed pretty often."

- Chris Kneizys,

president, Micro-Coax.

Question: "I'm always interested in how a person would handle a difficult employment situation. How would you counsel a direct report if there is poor performance? 'Let's pretend: I'm Jeff, and you need to talk to me about why my numbers aren't where they need to be.' "

Rationale: "You want to see if people are going to give you a look into how they'll handle things. Because we won't hire jerks. We just won't. We want people who aren't afraid to have a tough conversation and who want to solve problems head-on instead of beating around the bush."

- Jeffrey A. Bartos,

president, chief executive,

MARK Group Inc.

Question: "Describe the manager under whose responsibility you would thrive."

Rationale: "What I'm trying to mine for there is fit, especially when they are reporting to me."

- Mark Edwards,

president, chief executive,

Philadelphia Works Inc.

Question: "Not really."

Rationale: "A lot of people talk, including most of our politicians. I look at the performance. What have they done? Talking is fine. Interviewing is fine. It's important, but to me, past is predictor."

- Alan Miller,

chairman, chief executive

Universal Health

Services Inc.

Questions and rationales have been edited for space.