How to Prepare for the C-Suite Executive Interview

Preparation for executive interviews requires that candidates promote their personal leadership style and brand while addressing industry knowledge, skill, insight, and experience.

Successful interviewing demands that qualified professionals prepare through a rigorous process of research, networking, reference development and rehearsal.

Understand the Leadership Profile

To start, C-Suite executives and board members should work with their executive search consultant to fully grasp the position specifications. Developed by the retained executive search firm in collaboration with the hiring organization, “specs” typically feature an organizational overview along with information on mission, vision, values and goals.  Position specs also focus on the new position’s priorities and responsibilities such as “identify creative labor expense avoidance solutions” or “attract, retain, grow and lead an effective internal team.”  Also featured within the specs are required qualifications, experience and personal characteristics.   While executive search consultants almost always provide final candidates with copies of the position “specs,” executives should ask probing questions like the following:

  • What’s the hiring organization like?  What’s it like to work there? 
  • Who previously occupied this position?  What was the outcome?
  • How does the organization perceive the new executive’s role—both now and in the coming years?  
  • Of the many responsibilities listed within the “specs,” which ones are most critical to the organization?  
  • What are the hiring organization’s deal breakers?  In what areas is the organization willing to compromise?    
  • How would you describe the ideal candidate in terms of leadership style?          

Network for Information and Advice

C-Suite executive candidates should actively network with friends, colleagues and industry opinion leaders to get an inside track on what it would be like to work for the hiring organization. Among the issues to cover in confidential, private conversations are the following:

  • What do you know about the hiring organization?
  • In what areas does the organization excel?
  • What do you see as the organization’s most significant challenges?  What’s the organization’s biggest challenge in the coming year?
  • How is the organization viewed by executives, clinicians, employees and consumers?
  • How strong is the culture and work environment?    
  • How do members of the C-Suite work together and collaborate?
  • How does the C-Suite relate to the board?
  • Is this an organization where you would want to work?
  • Do you see this as an organization where I could perform well and be happy?

Prepare for High-Level Interview Questions 

C-Suite executives who make it to the final round of interviews for high-level executive positions will need to do more than deliver a run-down of details typically found in a resume. Hiring organizations usually ask probing questions that requires executives to reflect on the past, focus on the present and envision about the future. Consider the following questions in preparing for C-Suite executive interviews: 

  • How do you explain the success you’ve had in your career? 
  • Why do you want to be part of the health care industry?
  • What do you do when you’re not working?     
  • How would you describe your leadership style?  How has that style worked in previous positions? 
  • How would you mobilize your most significant strengths if this organization were to hire you?      
  • How would you compensate for your limitations?    
  • What makes you want this position? 
  • What are you reservations about this position and organization? 

Many C-Suite executive interviews include behavioral questions where interviewers asks candidates to tell a stories around a specific situation.   Among these behavioral questions are the following:  

  • Tell me about a situation where you didn’t get along with a C-Suite colleague, external consultant or board member?  How did you resolve it?
  • Describe a situation where you were part of a failed program or project.  How did you react?  How did you apply the lessons learned?
  • Describe a situation where you were able to use persuasion to convince someone to see things your way.
  • Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful business situation that required coping and resilience.
  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used judgment, evidence and logic to solve a business problem.
  • Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence the opinions of others.
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you didn’t agree.
  • Discuss the process you used to put together a strategic document and presentation.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty to get a job done.

For questions that measure emotional intelligence, see

Research, Research, Research

Executives should thoroughly research current and emerging trends. In health care, be fluent in topics such as value-based reimbursement, system consolidation,clinical integration, patient engagement and technology.  Scan the most recent reports, studies, news and features articles and videos to identify the implications of trends and proposed strategic actions.  

Even more important, be prepared to relate broad industry trends to the hiring organization’s clinical, financial and operational needs.  How, for example, could the hiring organization achieve gains in quality, safety, efficiency, engagement, collaboration, outcomes and cost management?  Moreover, how would such gains help achieve the organization’s mission, vision, values and strategic priorities like the following:  

  • Patient and consumer engagement and experience
  • Clinical performance and excellence
  • Performance management—clinical, operational and financial 
  • Business growth
  • Education
  • Research

Consult the organization’s Web site, which will often include an “about” or “who we are” section” with strategic plans, annual reports, fact sheets, news coverage, leadership profiles and links to videos.  

Prepare to Ask Questions of the Hiring Organization

Just as C-Suite executives must prepare to answer the questions of executives and board members, they must also ask their own series of questions as they speak with board members, C-Suite executives, employees and clinicians. Among the possible questions are the following:     

  • What are the most important milestones or yardsticks by which this organization will evaluate an executive’s performance in this position? 
  • What do you see as the organization’s most critical goals for the next three-to-five years?  How do you see the person in this position addressing these goals and objectives? 
  • ‘What health care trends have shaped the organization’s goals, objective and priorities for 2016?  What emerging health care trends are likely to influence this organization within the next three-to-five years?   
  • What do you see as the newly hired executive’s greatest challenges in working to fulfill these goals? 
  • What’s it like to work here?  What’s the culture and environment?  How would you describe the typical workday?
  • How do people tend to communicate, solve problems and resolve conflicts?   
  • What do you see as the organization’s greatest achievement of the last three years?  
  • What leadership style would never work here?  How would the ideal executive operate in this position?

Prepare for Executive Assessment   

Hiring organizations want insight into how final candidates will perform and lead others.  While some hiring organizations rely on in-house tools, many turn to HOGAN's Executive Competency Assessment Tool.  Based on the HOGAN Personality Inventory, this tool predicts candidates’ future performance and competence by relying on the Five Factor Model, which includes openness to experience, emotional stability, dependability, extroversion and agreeableness.

HOGAN converts assessment results into 23 competencies needed for C-Suite executive performance and leadership. Among them are the following:

Interpersonal:  communication and interpersonal relations, influence and networking, conflict management; politeness, cooperation and teamwork

Intrapersonal:  reliability, consistency, prudence, flexibility and adaptation and commitment to development

Leadership:  prioritizing, management independence, objectiveness, achievement orientation and interest reinforcement

With these results the executive search firm and hiring organization can decide how well final candidates would rise to the expectations of the C-Suite or board role.  They can also identify those who would fit within the hiring organization’s culture and perform best in challenging situations. 

C-Suite and board executives should be open to the assessment experience.  However, they should also realize that there’s little they can do to prepare for assessment.  Since there are no right or wrong answers, the best approach is be candid and direct.        


Executive search consultants typically ask top C-Suite candidates to share a list of four-to-six references.  Make sure these references are trusted, respected and relevant to the requirements of the position.  Also think about how well references would address open-ended questions like the following:

  • How would you describe your relationship with the candidate?
  • When you think of candidate, what words come to mind?
  • How would you characterize the candidate as a leader?  
  • How would you describe the candidate’s track as an innovator?  
  • How would you describe the candidate’s ability to manage up, down and across an organization?
  • How would you describe the candidate’s strengths as a strategist and tactician?  .
  • Can you describe a time when the candidate was responsible for executing a major change or turnaround?  How was it handled?
  • How does the candidate respond when under extreme pressure?
  • What kind of environment or culture would the candidate need to flourish? 

The best reference checks provide a 360-degree view of a candidate’s personality, character, on-the-job performance and leadership style, including how well the executive collaborates and innovates within teams.  To that end, the executive search firm or hiring organization tend to consult varied sources, including the following:

  • Vendor executives 
  • Direct reports
  • C-Suite colleagues
  • Board members
  • Managers
  • Employees
  • Association executives
  • Industry opinion leaders

Reference checking typically doesn’t end with official reference verification.  The executive search firm or hiring organization typically completes secondary reference checks with sources not provided by the candidate.  Executive reference checkers are skilled at reading between the lines.  Suppose, for example, the reference checker asks a source, “What’s the candidate like outside of work?” If the source responds, “I don’t really know the candidate on a personal level,” the reference checker might infer that the candidate is lacking in social skills.