May 17, 2022 – For many senior-level executives, there comes a moment when that perfect C-suite role appears, and it is time to apply. Whether this is a role that has surfaced in their current organization or in a different one, the idea of leading an organization at this level is exciting. However, if they haven’t interviewed for a C-suite position before, it can be difficult to know what to expect. It’s hard to know if you are ready to interview for a C-suite position, whether you are concerned about your experience or interviewing skills. A new report from The Ropella Group can help you determine whether you’re ready to interview for a C-suite position and how to prepare.
One of the biggest concerns for C-suite applicants is their work experience, says the search firm. “The C-suite board are the leaders of the organization, showing they have the greatest work experience possible,” said The Ropella Group. “This is why there is a perception that applicants must have dozens of years of experience to be awarded a C-suite position. However, this isn’t entirely the case. The truth is, being qualified to be a C-suite executive is much more than work experience. C-suite executives need leadership skills, compatibility, humility, and resilience.”
While experience is certainly a factor when it comes to leadership skills and resilience, it’s more difficult to develop humility and resilience, said the search firm. For many great leaders, these qualities come naturally. And, many leaders struggle to find humility and be compatible with other executives, which is a critical flaw in a C-suite role.
According to research, despite 87 percent of executives wanting to be CEO one day, just 15 percent of them actually had the characteristics needed to be successful, said The Ropella Group. “Because of the very specific qualities a C-suite executive must have, there is a small percentage of people who would fill the roles well,” said the search firm. “With that being said, a C-suite leader needs much more than experience to do their job well. If someone has enough experience to show they have excellent leadership skills and are humble, they may be just as qualified to interview for a C-suite role as someone with decades of experience.”
Know the Mission Statement
It is important to become familiar with your target company’s mission statement, the driving force behind what the organization does. “Many of the interview questions for a C-suite role will revolve around how capable they are to work towards the company’s mission,” said The Ropella Group. “The applicant should agree with the mission statement and feel a sense of passion around it. During the interview, they should answer questions in a way that leans towards the mission statement to show they’re a great fit for the role.”
If you are granted the C-suite role, keep in mind everything you do will be with the mission statement in mind. How you lead your teams, how you instruct managers to lead their employees, and even the policies you make will be around this mission statement. “So, you should truly feel a sense of responsibility around the mission statement,” said the search firm. “If you don’t feel this way towards an organization’s mission statement, it may be best to apply for a role elsewhere so you feel more passionate about the role.”
For applicants with plenty of leadership experience and who have proven they have the characteristics of a great leader, the interview may be their top concern. An interview for a C-suite role is very different from any interview for another position. Even interviews for senior-level managerial roles are drastically different. “The reason there are so many differences is that C-suite leaders have the potential to change the organization – for the good or for the bad,” said The Ropella Group. “So, interviews must be far more in-depth for these executives. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for it.”
There are times where C-suite positions open up because the previous executive encouraged a negative culture. In this case, it may be the new executive’s responsibility to make changes where they see fit. “If this is the situation at hand, it’s important to be made aware of this, as changing a culture is a massive undertaking,” said The Ropella Group. “Setting the new framework for the company’s culture should be the top priority for C-suite executives and the entire human resources department.”
Readying Your Resume
As with any interview, it’s vital that you prepare your resume. Beyond listing your accomplishments, it will also be helpful to have a list of quantifiable successes. They should be objective and measurable achievements like ROI improvements, an increase in profits, an increase in diversity, high employee satisfaction reporting, etc., said The Ropella Group.
Improving Employee Retention with ‘Stay Interviews’
Typically when an employee leaves a company exit interviews are conducted with questions being asked such as: What did you like most about your job? What did you like least? Do you think your manager gave you the tools you needed to succeed? How did your role change and evolve? Was your work and accomplishments regularly recognized? They’re questions asked at the wrong time, according to a recent article from GattiHR. The firm says that nothing can be done to change the result once they’re asked—the employee is already on their way out. So, when is the right time to ask these questions? “When the employee is still an employee,” said J.L. Baker, CEO at GattiHR.
For your major accomplishments, it’s best if you can memorize them. This way, you can easily explain why you are the best person for the role and why you think you’re cut out for a C-suite position. “Applicants aren’t expected to memorize every accomplishment they have achieved during their leadership experience,” said the search firm. “However, it’s best to know some off hand to bring up in your interview.”
Every experienced C-suite executive knows the culture must be a good fit for them in order to be successful. “C-suite executives can make changes to an organization, but if they don’t fit from the beginning, it may not be a long-term job,” said The Ropella Group. “This is why it’s important for potential C-suite executives to ask the interviewer questions as well. The applicant should feel confident they will fit in with the organization. They should also feel as though the on-boarding process will be easy with minimal leadership style changes.”
Asking questions about the organization and the role also shows the applicant cares about their success and that they are actively listening. The Ropella Group suggested the following questions that applicants should ask during a C-suite interview:
- Why is the role open?
- What does the best candidate look like for this role and this organization?
- What are the biggest obstacles this role will face?
- Where will this organization be in the next five years in your opinion?
- Are there any organization-wide changes coming soon?
If any other queries emerge, they should be addressed. “The responsibilities of a C-suite role are significant,” said the search firm. “They must enjoy their role and be passionate about leading to achieve the specific goals of an organization. So, asking questions about the role and the organization should be encouraged by the interviewer. This will ensure the applicant is the right fit for the role and they will occupy it long-term.”
Veteran Search Consultants
For the past 35 years, Ropella has been a strategic partner serving clients in the chemical, technology and consumer products industries. Among the firm’s clients are chemical companies such as BASF, Dow, Akzo Nobel, Tate & Lyle, National Starch (Ingredion), IFF, and Lonza; technology companies such as GE, J&J, Ethicon, Tyco, Sony, PPG and Benjamin Moore; and consumer products companies such as Clorox, Nike, Bayer, Whirlpool, JM Smucker, Shell Gas, and Reckitt Benckiser. The firm is headquartered in Milton, FL.
The firm’s president, Robbie Ropella, works closely with her husband, Patrick, chairman and CEO, to provide synergy and balance to the search team. Ms. Ropella has over 25 years of recruiting experience in the chemical, allied and high technology industries, giving her insight into the unique career, recruitment, and hiring challenges faced by leaders in these areas.
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media