In most academic settings, it’s unethical if not forbidden to “study” by obtaining exam questions in advance, but sample questions are fair game.
So it is in the world of the job interview. To help you prepare for your next opportunity, we caught up with three CFO recruiters and asked them, “What’s your favorite interview question, and why?” Their very different responses have a common objective: to test a candidate’s self-awareness.
Partner, Battalia Winston International
Bailey favors a classic: “Within the last year, what has been your greatest professional challenge, and how did you manage the situation?” This question not only probes the candidate’s character, it also sheds light on his or her approach to problem-solving. “The answer to this open-ended question,” she explains, helps to reveal a candidate’s “degree of resiliency, humility, objectivity, acknowledgement of a potential developmental weakness (as opposed to blame-shifting), and capacity to address a challenging issue in a positive and productive manner.”
Global CFO practice leader, DHR International
Hulce likes to pose hypothetical questions that help ascertain how savvy the candidate is about how others perceive him or her. For example: “You will be announced as the new CFO for XYZ Corp. tomorrow. Unknown to you, your former boss and your new boss were college roommates. What will your old boss have to say to your new one?” Assessing a candidate’s self-awareness is valuable in and of itself, observes Hulce, but this question also serves as a good measuring rod for other responses later in the interview. “If a candidate is self-aware, they should have a good sense of how they are perceived by others,” says Hulce. “If they can answer questions like this one with a good degree of clarity, then as a recruiter you should be more capable of assessing their fit with your client.”
Chairman and CFO practice leader, Highland Partners
Recently, Kelly has been putting a new twist on an old question: “How do you lead the finance team since the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley?” In both our personal and professional lives, he maintains, we all do things differently from the way we did several years ago. (At least we should, he adds, if we have the humility to recognize ourselves as fallible yet able to learn and grow.) Kelly has been asking a version of this question for years; Sarbanes-Oxley is simply his latest touchpoint. Is there a wrong answer to this question? “Sometimes people will think for a while and then say, ‘I can’t think of anything.’ That scares me,” says Kelly. “Either they’re egomaniacs, or they just don’t get it.”