6 Executive Director Interview Questions to Find the Right Candidate

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June 7, 2022Executive Search Functional Roles Interview Tips

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Executive directors play a vital role in the longevity and success of your organization—whether it's nonprofit or for-profit. Not only are they responsible for propelling vision, strategy, and innovative thinking in the organization, they also oversee daily operations to make sure each element is implemented. 

Holding responsibilities for high-level executive objectives and day-to-day operations, Executive Directors forge a link between management and the board. They also oversee department heads, report revenue, and act as the spokesperson and public face of the organization. 

To entrust someone with such a high level of responsibility, organizations need the best chance at hiring top talent in a highly competitive market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of executive directors is projected to grow continuously—roughly 247,000+ positions will open up each year over the next decade. 

Companies will be vying for candidates who: 

  • Are strategic thinkers
  • Have influence and can inspire trust
  • Present well in front of the company and public
  • Have a wealth of experience
  • Can effectively motivate and manage others

In addition, with the accelerating pace of change in almost every industry, you need an executive director who can adapt to, and thrive on, change to pull the company forward. 

As a search firm that has helped over 1,000 partners hire the right executives, Hunt Club has you covered. Here are six executive director interview questions to help you find the right leader  for your organization 

 

The Most Commonly Asked Interview Questions for Executive Directors

These three questions help interviewers gain a general sense of their candidates’ experience and approach to strategy. 

1. How do you manage your ties with key stakeholders? 

Why Ask

Stakeholder management is vital to an executive director’s success. For example, executive directors may work closely with a board of directors and management teams to ensure current, and future initiatives align with the company’s mission. 

As the interviewer, you possess knowledge of your current stakeholders' communication styles and personalities. Thus, this question helps determine how aligned a candidate is with your current leaders and staff members. 

Alternatively, this allows you to analyze how the candidate will  bring new traits and expertise to the table, and pivot the organization in a more advantageous direction.

Elements of a Good Answer

The right answer will entail: 

  • Specific examples of interactions, meetings, or projects the candidates have had with stakeholders. The key is to assess whether the candidate possesses collaborative skill sets.
  • How the candidate earned the support of stakeholders and encouraged them to support their ideas. This may include the communication styles they applied and their outcomes.
  • Strategies that perhaps did not work in the past in gaining key stakeholders’ trust and what the candidate learned from that experience. This can illustrate the candidate’s level of authenticity and self-awareness—two key traits of a successful executive director.

Sample Answer

“I aim to be candid yet caring when connecting with key stakeholders. I’ve had the chance to work with executives on promoting our diversity and inclusion efforts with our partners in my current role. 

“With these types of projects, I usually have an initial consultation/discussion with stakeholders on what needs to be done and how we can achieve them. Then, I work with them to create a roadmap with milestones listed. I typically try to delegate these milestones among the team to gain their input and encourage participation throughout the project consistently. 

“Therefore, my communication style aims to promote a good balance of analytics, collaboration, and creativity. In the past, I found that not establishing a roadmap resulted in people taking a reactive rather than proactive approach to our initiatives.”

 

2. What key points do you believe an executive director needs to assess before making key business decisions? 

Why Ask

A strong executive director takes a company’s mission and develops a strategic plan to achieve those objectives. A large part of this involves estimating the operational budget a company needs to meet current market demands and maintain a surplus in the event of unexpected demand.

Elements of a Good Answer

The right executive director candidate for your company will understand the value of balancing three areas—the organization’s mission, finances, and staff roles/competencies: 

  • Explain the value of strategizing from both a short-term and long-term perspective to make the best decisions. Look for examples that focus on: 
    • How the candidate tapped into current company initiatives. 
    • How they added further value to those initiatives by drawing the bigger picture.
  • Highlight financial and administrative metrics. A strong executive understands the value of making data-driven decisions. After all, data-driven companies earn more revenue and develop successful operating efficiencies.
    • Therefore, the ideal candidate should excel in creating and analyzing financial forecasts to ensure the projects they pursue are well within the departmental budget AND amplify the organization's potential. 
  • Assess current talent supply and demand to see if the candidate can realistically achieve business goals. Being a data-driven business is essential, but only 20% of companies actually inspire and empower employees to take action with the data.

Qualified executive directors will be able to strategize a plan on how to train their workforce and drive them in the right direction.

Sample Answer

“My decision-making involves a three-step process: 

  1. I take a look at how the given topic/initiative either bolsters or harms current company initiatives. I draw out the short-term and long-term impacts, as well as  possible metrics we can track throughout the project timeline.
  2. I evaluate how the initiative will impact the departmental budget and the potential ROI it can bring. I usually have discussions with the finance departments to talk about possible risks and whether those risks are worth it.
  3. Last but not least, I take a look at whether or not these initiatives are realistic—can our workforce carry them out? This may involve discussions with teams to receive their input and look at performance metrics. I think it’s important to consider how a vision will impact the folks running the ship.”

 

3. How do you plan to train/manage your employees in a way that contributes to the objectives and longevity of the organization? 

Why Ask

Executive directors serve as the liaison between board members, leadership, and staff members.

Your prospective executive director should be able to motivate and lead employees to help advance the business’ mission and values. Managing people is no easy task, so the ideal candidate is someone who thrives on it. 

Elements of a Good Answer

A qualified candidate will: 

  • Explain their leadership and training styles. These approaches should closely mirror what your business culture values.
  • Dive into detail on how they customize their approach for each individual they are training. Customization shows the candidate cares about their employees’ development and is invested in motivating others. 

Sample Answer

“I like to have 1:1s with my team members to understand their strengths and weaknesses better. This helps me identify areas they can leverage to help them develop in their roles AND promote the long-term mission and vision of the organization.

“For example, I had a few employees who were great analytical thinkers but often failed to see the big picture of the project they were focused on. So I invited them to one of our board meetings to have them see how their project was being discussed on a higher level. 

“Afterwards, my employees discussed: 

    • Key takeaways from the meeting. 
    • Tangible ways they can better align their tasks with the short-term and long-term objectives of the organizations.
    • How these perspective projection management plans can elevate the overall performance of the team.
    • How they would like to become more proactive contributors to the organization.

“In the end, my team’s development brought in a 30% increase in employee engagement and $20K in revenue.”

 

In-Depth Executive Director Interview Questions 

To further bolster your strategic recruitment plan, consider asking these in-depth executive director interview questions to understand your potential hire better.

4. In a group setting, when have you made a decision against the prevailing view? How did it turn out?

Why Ask

Executing a fluid interpersonal exchange is not easy, yet it’s central to an executive director's role. They may be expected to serve on or participate in their organization’s board meetings. 

While some boards may carry a harmonious relationship, some have their fair share of challenges. Whatever the case, your prospective executive director should possess the right:

  • Conflict-management skills and ownership mindset to align initiatives with the company’s mission and future goals.
  • Personality to be candid but caring. They are not afraid of breaking through inertia to unlock strategic moves.

Elements of a Good Answer

The right candidate will: 

  • Explain ways they’ve asked for further clarification to better assess the situation and how they can get the board back on track. This may involve: 
    • How they spoke with the board chair to alleviate differences and identify a clear path forward.
    • How they leveraged analytics to help them make their case.
  • Understand the shared and distinct responsibilities of the board vs. executive director to not step on anyone’s toes.
  • Outline the outcomes of the strategy they explained above.

 

5. Explain how you would pitch our company’s role in the community if you were at a public meeting. 

Why Ask

The executive director serves as the face and public spokesperson for your business. They should possess the confidence and expertise to highlight your business’ value propositions. Moreover, these value propositions should be tailored to fit the demands of a given community. 

For example, an executive director at a non-profit organization may be responsible for spearheading fundraising programs by partnering with research institutions. The ideal executive director is skilled at developing relevant, authentic, and profitable relationships.

Elements of a Good Answer

The ideal candidate will discuss specific areas such as: 

  • Donors and organizations they have partnered with and explanations on why they chose to partner with those entities. They should also detail what their strategy was in fostering those relations. 
  • The outcomes of those community discussions/partnerships. They will present a portfolio of these achievements along with metrics. For example, the candidate’s efforts raised $XX for their company’s XX initiative. 
  • The candidate further expands on the above by noting how this community effort bolstered or changed the outlook of their organization. 

 

6. How will you approach risk management and help future-proof our organization? 

Why Ask

According to McKinsey, only seven percent of corporate directors believe their boards were “most effective” in risk management. Not to mention, less than half say their company is prepared for “the next large crisis.” 

Executive directors play a key role in keeping their team members and business nimble to help mitigate risk. This requires focusing on societal, technological, and geopolitical changes. These areas can help keep executives accountable for building a continuity plan.

Elements of a Good Answer

The right executive director will have experience in future-proofing organizations. They will discuss areas such as:

  • Reskilling: “60% of a company’s future roles” can be filled by current employees. A strategic executive director understands this and will look to establish adequate reskilling programs. Even better if they bring up specific experiences doing this.
  • Company ethics: The executive director is knowledgeable on how to carry out risk management techniques that adhere to company ethics and policies. Rather than paying lip service to ethics, they possess conviction and lead by example on how to respond to emerging threats.
  • Market trends: The candidate expresses how they stay up to date with market trends and would make the necessary changes the company might need to meet the right demands. 

 

3 Tips for Interviewing an Executive Director

Here are three tips to help you feel even more confident in your hiring journey:

  • Collaborate in advance with the key stakeholders who will be working closely with your executive director. That way, the questions you prepare align with everyone’s needs and goals. You may even consider inviting them to the interview to give it the holistic approach the hiring process merits. 
  • Pay attention to intrapersonal skills. Skillsets are important, but a strong executive director also possesses emotional intelligence. This characteristic sets apart roughly 90 percent of high performers from colleagues who possess similar IQ and technical skills. 
  • Allow interviewees to ask questions. This gives you the opportunity to assess: 
    • Their level of interest in the role. 
    • How much they know about the organization, its role in the industry, and local communities.
    • Their areas of interest. 

Find Your Next Executive Director with Hunt Club

Hunt Club’s recruiting service is paving the way for how high-growth companies source and hire top talent. Leveraging the power of relationships and referrals, our network of 13,000+ experts helps you hire the most qualified executive directors smarter and faster. 

 

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Amanda Price avatarAmanda Price