Executive directors play a vital role in the longevity and success of your organization. Not only are they responsible for propelling vision, strategy, and innovative thinking in the organization, but they also oversee daily operations to make sure each element is implemented.
With responsibilities for high-level executive objectives and day-to-day operations, executive directors forge a link between management and the board. They may 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 318,000 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.
- Are financially and technologically savvy.
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 thousands of the fastest-growing companies hire the right executives, Hunt Club has you covered.
Here are eight executive director job interview questions to help you find the right leader for your organization.
*Disclaimer: Please note that the sample answers below should just be used as a guide to help you gauge strong responses — not as a way to assess a candidate’s answers verbatim.
The 8 Most Commonly Asked Interview Questions For Executive Directors
1. How Do You Manage Your Relationships With Key Stakeholders? How Do You Get Them To Trust You?
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.
“I aim to be candid yet caring when connecting with key stakeholders. For example, 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 together.
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 Critical Business Decisions?
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 team’s bandwidth, long-term goals, and 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. Qualified executive directors will be able to strategize a plan on how to train or utilize their workforce and drive them in the right direction.
“My decision-making involves a three-step process:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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 train. Customization shows the candidate cares about their employees’ development and is invested in motivating others.
“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.
Afterward, 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.”
4. In a Group Setting, When Have You Made a Decision Against the Prevailing View? How Did It Turn Out?
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.
"I understand that in a role as far-reaching as Executive Director, I won't always be in agreement with the rest of the board or key stakeholders. In fact, I believe that the most successful organizations are a culmination of many diverse viewpoints.
In my previous role as Executive Director, there were a handful of times when my position didn't align with the prevailing viewpoint of the board. When I'm faced with anything I don't agree with, I start by doing as much research about the topic as possible to better understand every viewpoint.
From there, if I still believe my decision to be better for the organization's growth, I take time to outline in detail how I see my strategy affecting the organization both short- and long-term, keeping members of the board in the loop at all times.
I also sat down with the board to explain how my decision would be better aligned with the objectives of the organization while acknowledging their viewpoints respectfully.
Ultimately, the board understood the reasoning behind my decision and supported it — and it ended up being the right choice for the organization."
5. How Would You Pitch Our Company's Role in the Community If You Were at a Public Meeting?
Executive directors can often serve 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 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.
"As Executive Director, the importance of the organization's public perception is not lost on me. I view every public meeting as a unique opportunity to establish and foster community partnerships by communicating the organization's value propositions clearly and strategically with my audience in mind.
I believe this allows me to build meaningful relationships with members of the community whose own values align with our cause, which leads to better fundraising.
In my previous role as Executive Director, I was able to build strong partnerships with local research institutions, and I credit the start of that relationship to my work at a public meeting.
Ultimately, this partnership increased our fundraising by 35% compared to the previous year, allowing us to carry out much-needed research to fuel our goals."
6. How Will You Approach Risk Management and Help Future-Proof Our Organization?
According to McKinsey, only 7% of corporate directors believe their boards were “most effective” in risk management.
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.
"I strongly believe that risk management is one of the most important responsibilities of any executive director, and this is a duty I do not take lightly. Every decision I make involves carefully weighing the choice with not only the short-term goals of the organization, but the long-term outcomes and potential for risk.
In my own work, I've focused on future-proofing the organizations I've served by spearheading a reskilling and upskilling initiative. The more time I spent with the organization, the more I realized that there were some significant skill gaps and mismatches in skills among employees.
Ultimately, I was able to reduce turnover, support career growth, and improve operations with my deskilling initiative — saving the organization tens of thousands of dollars on recruiting while ensuring that all departments were prepared for long-term success."
7. Describe Your Leadership Style and Philosophy. How Do They Shape Your Approach To Leading Teams and Driving Organizational Success?
While this may seem like a "basic" interview question, it's especially important to ask of a prospective executive director because not all leadership styles and philosophies align well with every organization.
Taking the time to ask this question will help the board get a better feel for what kinds of traits, skills, and beliefs the candidate brings to the table — and how well those traits align with the expectations of the board and leadership team.
Elements of a Good Answer
Ideally, a candidate answering this question will highlight:
- Their previous work in leadership roles, whether they have worked as an executive director in the past or in some other leadership capacity.
- How their leadership style and philosophy may have evolved over time based on newfound beliefs or realizations.
- A specific leadership style that they subscribe to today.
- Ex: Leading by example, leading through communication, and leading through delegation.
- Examples of how their leadership style has supported their teams and organizational growth in past roles.
"I like to think of my leadership style as collaborative yet always driven by results. As Executive Director, I understand that I'll be working with board members, employees, and members of the public with diverse viewpoints and belief systems.
I believe that by focusing on leadership that fosters healthy communication and collaboration among all workers and stakeholders, I can help the organization reach its full potential.
In my previous work as Executive Director, I worked hard to ensure that every team member felt that their contributions mattered and that we were all aligned with the organization's goals and values. I believe my leadership style directly empowered my team and helped us achieve our quarterly revenue goals."
8. Outline Your Strategy for Expanding Our Social Media Presence and Maximizing Reach. What Specific Tactics and Techniques Would You Employ To Achieve These Goals?
More than ever, social media is playing an important role in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations and their fundraising, marketing, and customer engagement efforts.
The right social media strategy can maximize reach to supporters while raising awareness about the organization's mission and potentially attracting new customers.
The right executive director, then, will recognize the importance of using social media as a tool and will be familiar with the right strategies and best platforms to maximize reach.
Elements of a Good Answer
The right candidate will be able to speak to:
- Their past experience with building a social media strategy, with specific discussion of the platform(s) used and the goals for the campaign.
- Their overall understanding of how social media can be used to carry out a specific business strategy or goal.
- The specific outcomes of a social media campaign or strategy that they played a role in building.
- Ideally, this will include a detailed discussion of how many more followers, new leads, or attributed revenue this created.
"Social media is such a powerful tool for businesses, and I have a lot of experience working with it to gain new leads, build awareness, and even drive fundraising efforts.
In fact, in my past work as Executive Director, my team’s social media initiatives resulted in a 25% increase in followers and an additional $100,000 raised through Facebook Fundraising alone.
For this organization, my first step would be to audit all current social media accounts to see where things stand.
From there, I would consult the marketing team and with social media professionals to create a plan for improvement that includes scheduling new posts to better engage with our audience and running specific campaigns that align with the business’s existing goals."
Bonus: 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% 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 own areas of interest and/or concern.
Find Your Next Executive Director With Hunt Club
Hunt Club is paving the way for how high-growth companies source and hire top talent.
Leveraging the power of network effects and automated sourcing technology, our dedicated Search Team is ready to help you source, interview, and hire the most qualified executive directors faster than legacy models.