Why does the CEO Need to Interview Top Candidates?
For years now, articles and blogs have proclaimed that certain CEOs “always” interview their company’s top candidates. I’ve always admired that as a genuine leadership trait and feel it’s a good investment of valuable time that usually pays off.
CEOs who engage in the practice of interviewing top candidates are typically at the helm of companies that have great cultures, lower turnover, higher employee engagement, more innovation, and more profit compared to their competition.
Yet many CEOs say they’re too busy to spend time with every top/final candidate before an offer is made, and that they have a recruiting team and hiring managers for that. These are often the CEOs of companies with high turnover, low employee engagement, lower profit margins, and stagnant and/or negative cultures.
As a leadership coach as well as a CEO, I feel that by interviewing top or shortlisted candidates, a CEO or senior executive’s effort pays off for several reasons.
Keep in mind however, that my job is not to make the decision for my hiring managers. Instead, it is to verify their selection or, occasionally, to veto it. If it was a strong candidate and I knew I was going to approve the offer, I would use the final portion of our discussion to convince them why they should join our team.
CEOs Drive the Culture
The CEO and Senior Executives are responsible for creating and championing the company culture. These top leaders should live and exhibit the company’s core values and work ethic. When meeting the final candidate, the CEO or senior leader has an opportunity to talk to the candidate and evaluate their culture fit, as well as to represent the culture the candidate is considering.
As a CEO, I've found that conducting that final interview puts me in a unique position to represent the company that we have built, and talk about the type of culture we value and the vision we have for the company.
It also allows me to clearly reinforce expectations, and shows I take our people and culture seriously. Because I’m personally getting involved by taking the time to get to know a potential teammate, I’m sending a clear message that my employees in general, and this candidate in particular, matter.
Competitive Spirit—and a Personal Touch
The labor market has become very competitive over the past few years and like most CEOs, I’m a very competitive person. So I want to try and tip the scales as much as possible in my company’s favor. This is why I take the time to interview top candidates. I want them to be convinced that our opportunity, our culture, our leadership, is their best option. In essence, I aim to be a positive differentiator for my company through personal contact with the candidate. I also know recruiting talent is extrinsic or relative in nature (i.e. getting your candidate to see you are the best option).
While I use this interview time to really get to know the candidate, I also let them know who we are, since as the CEO, I can give them a great example of our culture. As a CEO or senior executive, you are especially well-positioned to influence candidate decisions.
Think back to times when you’ve been a candidate. Consider how you would feel if a company’s CEO spent time interviewing you, in comparison to another company where their CEO or senior executive never took time to interview you. Which company might be more appealing to you?
Engagement and Retention
It’s not surprising that companies with great leaders, leaders that genuinely take time for their people and invest in developing the culture, have much higher employee engagement and retention compared to companies where leaders don’t focus on these things.
By taking the time to meet with top candidates you are also starting a long-term process of building reciprocal loyalty. One of the key principles I teach leaders, one that always pays off for them is this: the more time you spend getting to know your employees, their needs, motivations, and dreams (i.e. what’s important to them), the more they will focus on what’s important to you.
Your presence in that interview as the CEO or senior leader will never go unnoticed. By taking time out of your busy day, you make candidates feel important. That can only be a good thing.
Executive Interview Focus Areas
As CEO or senior leader, here are some key focus areas for interviewing top candidates.
How well do you think you’ve done so far in your career? The goal here is to see how self-aware the candidate is and if their ego controlled.
What feedback or suggestions do you have regarding our interview process? I like getting feedback from candidates to 1) see if they can think critically and to learn how we can improve; and 2) to see if they are confident enough to give direct and constructive feedback.
How did you find out about our company and this opportunity? I’m always interested in hearing how someone found out about the position. It often tells you a lot about what’s important to them as well as how they handle major decisions.
What have you learned about the opportunity, company, and our culture so far that most excites you? I like to confirm the culture fit as well as gain an impression of how much the candidate has researched the company.
Even though it might be time-consuming for a busy executive, senior leader interviews of top candidates have many benefits.
It sends a message to the candidate that they are important and your company takes hiring seriously.
It gives senior leaders the opportunity to get to know new employees and makes for a little easier onboarding.
It sets expectations for performance and the culture.
It provides the opportunity to gather feedback on the interview process for continued improvements.
If you’re a CEO and you’re not interviewing candidates you’re about to hire, I suggest you start today.