Human beings are the most wonderfully complex inhabitants of our planet. Their fit with your culture and the honesty of their statements are vital to your customers, colleagues, suppliers and stockholders.

Research shows that untrained job interviewers make up their minds on a candidate in less than a minute. They then spend the remainder of the interview confirming their prejudices. This guide is intended to prime senior executives on important interviewing skills.

Boyden professionals interview over 15,000 executives on behalf of our clients every year. 

The interview and evaluation process is at the very core of our business, and the methods we have developed in over six decades of search work have been critical to our organization’s continuing success.

The purpose of the interview is to evaluate the mutual fit between the candidate and the leadership role in the hiring organization. Effective interviewing is for the ultimate benefit of both parties.

Interviewing is indeed an art form. As such it requires a disciplined approach — one that is outlined here for clients and friends of Boyden.

We examine the basics of the interview process in the pages that follow, including a discussion of the most common interviewing errors. In the section entitled “Leadership Competencies” we focus on ways of assessing the key leadership competencies we believe to be essential in evaluating an executive level employee: integrity, problem solving, communication, motivation, interpersonal and execution skills. The closing section provides a library of questions to be used in interviews.

Approaching the Interview

Getting the Basics Right

Start before the interview to avoid potential problems. Try to interview in a relaxed business environment, at least on the first occasion. Noisy restaurants and bars can give the wrong impression and cloud communication and judgment. If use of video links are necessary at this stage, then use the most professional equipment available. Cheap or home computer links will not enhance the reputation of your firm or make for a smooth interview.

Anyone involved in interviewing and hiring should be aware of the basic courtesies toward a candidate and possible legal issues involved in the interview process in the country in which you are located at that time.

Preparation is critical to a successful interview. In particular, you should have detailed knowledge of the position for which the candidate is being considered, the competencies required, and all existing information on the candidate. Have a “game plan” for each interview. Evaluate, if possible, the candidate’s resume and determine areas to be filled in or clarified with more information. If you do not have a CV or have only a vague resume, you will spend vital time gathering basic data. Insist on having it and reading it first. 

The interview itself should be private, and you should maintain control at all times, which means keeping the initiative and progressing at a steady pace. It is important, as discussed below, to draw the candidate out and encourage discourse, but not to let the conversation ramble along unproductive paths.

One of the important keys to a successful interview is the establishment of rapport, encouraging the candidate to “open up” and respond more spontaneously than one would in a rigid question/answer interview. Care should be taken to make the candidate feel comfortable and develop confidence in the interviewer. The less guarded responses elicited in this kind of setting are likely to be both more reflective of true feelings and more revealing as to shortcomings.Techniques aimed at establishing the desired relationship vary from interviewer to interviewer, but the general practice is to accustom the candidate to talking freely at the very outset of the session.

Typically, this is achieved by opening up with a non-threatening “small talk” question aimed at easing initial tensions and requiring some elaboration. The subject matter might be how the candidate enjoyed living in a certain location or became interested and involved in a particular pastime or community project.

Throughout the interview, the interviewer should strive to be pleasant, maintain a conversational tone and be prepared to be supportive of the candidate’s accomplishments, offering praise where appropriate. All of this helps establish a bond between the participants. As the ice-breaking stage draws to a close, the interviewer should be prepared to move into the business part of the interview with a broad introductory question (contrasting previous work experiences, for example) that is designed to keep the candidate talking freely.

As soon as possible after the interview, take time to reflect. Carefully evaluate the information you have obtained, interpret the facts, rank them and determine a course of action. Make notes of salient points, especially personal impressions, and write a summary of your observations.

Interviewing Errors

One of the quickest ways to understand what makes a good interview is to take a look at the most common interviewing errors.

Poor Homework The interview is ineffective due to a lack of preparation by the interviewer. Do your homework on position specifications before the interview. Avoid over-generalizations about the job and the company. Reviewing a CV and as much available information as possible on a candidate in advance facilitates the interview.

RamblingThe interviewer is confused and does not concentrate. Have a plan for focusing on specific areas for inquiry.

No Notes The interviewer walks away with no written record. Be receptive and be thorough — know what you are after and keep a record by taking notes.

Leading Questions The interviewer telegraphs the desired response to your questions. Keep your opinion to yourself and never over-question.

Air Time — The interviewer dominates the conversation. Be a good listener. Use silence — it’s difficult, but let the applicant be the first to break the silence. 

Prejudices and Stereotypes They get in the way. Review your prejudices and don’t let them influence wyour judgment.

Theoretical QuestionsThe interviewer tends to ask too many “What if…” questions. Questions should be skewed toward specific behavior patterns, responsibilities, accomplishments and methods used in getting results.

ChemistryThe interviewer doesn’t hit it off with the candidate. Don’t let poor personal chemistry cloud the interview. Be careful, too, when the chemistry is very good. In that case, be certain that you still evaluate the candidate’s qualifications thoroughly.

Pop Psychology Shun the role of amateur psychologist.

Tough OneDon’t shy away from asking the hard questions. Similarly, ask follow-up questions — details should be developed rather than overlooked. “Why” is an invaluable probe and can be used frequently.

Halo Effects The interviewer tends to judge by inference from answers not thoroughly provided by the candidate and allows personal opinion to become too influential. This behavior can tend to “wish someone” into a position. Again, follow up and seek specific answers. Have data to support your assessments and conclusions. Beware of the halo from the candidate’s existing employer’s reputation.

Buying vs. Selling The interviewer fails to differentiate between the two. You should evaluate the candidate’s experience from a buyer’s perspective, make a value judgment and then decide upon the degree of persuasion needed or not needed to “sell” the individual.

Executives often say proudly; “I don’t want the person if they don’t want to come here.” However, if the candidate is desirable and is currently employed, strong reasons must be given to induce a change. This requires a shift from “buyer” to “seller.”

Evidence — The interviewer fails to identify sources of corroboration for what the candidate says. This can apply to performance figures, salary, bonuses and personal versus team achievement.

Leadership Competencies

Six Leadership Characteristics 

In every search conducted by Boyden, we evaluate those candidates on six leadership characteristics, while looking at many others. Overall, each candidate is rated, on a scale of one to five, on each characteristic. 

1: Integrity

We were reminded of the importance of integrity by the accounting scandals of the early 2000s. Today, we still see CEOs resigning because of tax fraud, pre-dated stock options and other behavior which can wipe out value built over a lifetime in a few days. We emphasize the importance of checking the integrity of candidates through interviews, as well as through the reference and due diligence process. 

Key questions and issues to consider: 

Honesty Keeping promises, being straightforward, respecting the law and regulations, declaring any conflicts of interest, and having a strong sense of right and wrong without preaching or being judgmental. 

Reputation Concern for his/her own reputation as well as that of the corporation, recognizing that a strong reputation is hard won and easily lost. 

2: Problem Solving 

Problem AnalysisProficiency is indicated by such accomplishments as involvement in turnaround situations; penetration of a new market; successful handling of a start-up situation, or design of a successful course of action to deal with problems. 

Judgment A record of constructive job changes; success of executives or employees promoted; skill in budgeting; ability to stay on a career path with few lateral moves and ability to make significant policy decisions.

3: Communication Skills 

Key questions and issues to consider: 

Dialogue Skills Appointment as a group leader; representation of a unit or the company; success in negotiations/training of subordinates; successful avoidance of pseudo-technical vocabulary. 

Listening Skills Corrects remarks, indicating he or she has listened; goes to others for advice; asks sensible questions and summarizes discussion or statements made. 

Presentation Skills Success as a teacher or trainer, often a speaker to large groups; member of speaker’s bureau in a civic activity. Measure the effectiveness of his/ her communication during the interview. Intercultural Skills — Success in previous interactions with people of different gender orientation, religion and cultures.

4: Motivation

Key questions and issues to consider:

InitiativeGetting the company involved in new products; working successfully on commissions; starting his/her own business or division, initiating projects, going to college at night; dissatisfaction with status quo; using innovative methods and making constructive organizational changes.

DriveRapid advancement; involvement in outside affairs; success in meeting goals in a Management by Objectives (MBO) program; determination to exceed goals; ability to handle multiple assignments well and put in long, productive hours.

Reaction to Pressure Maintains composure during interview; functions effectively in crisis situation; maintains good human relations and meets imposed deadlines.

Commitment to ExcellenceHas an outstanding academic record; frequent reference to high standards and a desire to do the job better than anyone else.

Orientation Toward Achievement Goals achieved; recognition attained; honors bestowed; competitions won.

5: Interpersonal Skills

Key questions and issues to consider:

Leadership In past positions, a strong track record of ability to direct a large staff; head up a task force; develop subordinates.

Sensitivity Rate of turnover among subordinates chosen personally vs. turnover among subordinates not chosen personally; relationship with people he/she has fired; reference to others in interview; demonstrated understanding of people’s needs and sensitivity to social considerations.

Impact Personal impact during interview; representation of the company in public; work as a sales leader or consultant; considers arising problems as personal challenges.

6: Execution

For most clients this is the overriding competence required.
Key questions on which the candidate should be evaluated are:

Planning and Organization Preparation and organization for interview; setting up a new department; holding a planning position; successful non-crisis handling of a dynamic job; ability to prepare budgets, marketing plans, etc.

Delegation Developed a strong organization; delegates authority to others; holds regular meetings with subordinates; refers to accomplishments of others; is not swamped with details in present position; is able to define duties of subordinates.

Delivery Results generated to a timetable; action taken to remove blockages. Did the candidate lead or participate in getting the results?

A Library of Interview Questions

In this section we offer a collection of potential interview questions arranged under the six key characteristics, plus a concluding section entitled “Self-Analysis.” 

The interviewer should select questions with which he or she feels comfortable and that fit the game plan established for the interview.


Problem Solving

Communication Skills


​Interpersonal Skills



Interviewing is an art form Boyden professionals have been perfecting for over 70 years. It requires a disciplined approach. Be prepared for the interview, maintain control throughout and carefully evaluate the candidate. These techniques are crucial when it comes to selecting the right candidate for your organization.

The interview is only one part of the recruitment process. Post interview evaluation, thorough reference checking and closing a deal with the chosen candidate are also crucial steps.

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