Before focusing on some of the questions you are likely to be asked at interview, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of preparation for interviews at Operations Director level. Whilst people always talk about preparation, senior candidates need to ensure that if they are interested in pursuing a role, they are able to dedicate enough time to present themselves in a credible way. You are likely to be put through a robust and probably lengthy recruitment process which will be designed to test and stretch, assessing both your capability and cultural fit for the business you are considering joining. Leadership, management style and culture are critical at this level, as is the need to fit with rest of the executive or leadership team. In addition to the traditional interview process, it is highly likely you will undergo psychometric testing and a possible assessment with an Occupational Psychologist. These steps are designed to provide a rounded picture of you as an individual from an intellectual, personality and capability perspective.
My personal opinion is that as the interview process moves forward, the importance of preparation increases. The risk for senior candidates is to assume that their experience will speak for itself however this is a highly competitive market and you must be able to provide evidence to back up your track record and be able to demonstrate your behavioural qualities which are so critical in a senior position.
I recently met a senior candidate to talk through his preparation for a third interview. Having met the client twice, he was in the position of understanding the three areas of potential concern the client had about him as an individual and his ability to deliver in this role. As a result he had used a “mind map” to develop a clear plan and strategy of how he would provide evidence to the key stakeholders in the next interview to overcome these concerns. By completing this preparation and seeking the counsel of others he was giving himself the best possible chance of overcoming these potential objections.
During the selection process clients will be looking to identify your capability across a number of key competencies and will question you accordingly. I have listed some of the major competencies below and some questions that you could possibly be asked:
Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. In today’s world it is accepted that it is about engaging individuals to maximising their discretionary efforts. From a client’s perspective they are looking for you to provide evidence of how you have led your team to deliver great results.
Typical leadership questions may include:
- Why do you believe you are the best person for the role? Although somewhat crude at a senior level, it is about the individual’s ability to illustrate a clear view on what they feel they can bring to the position.
- How do you inspire others around you that are looking to fill your shoes?
- When have you found recently that old solutions no longer work?
- Describe a time where your team did not agree with your proposed course of action, how did you manage that situation?
- How have you communicated your Vision and ensured your team are fully engaged? How have you measured this engagement?
Being ‘strategic’ in simple terms is having the ability to develop a plan to gain a future advantage. From a client’s perspective they will be looking to assess your ability to think in time, i.e. that you can hold past, present and future in mind at the same time to create better decision making and speed of implementation. Also, that you have the ability to create, analyse and implement a clear strategic vision and plan.
Typical Strategic Insight questions may include:
- What will stop you achieving your goals?
- When you envision your business in three years – what does it look like and what will it take to get it there?
- What do you foresee as the possible future in your sector and potential opportunities that you may be able to exploit through your business’s product or service?
- How do these ideas and decisions tie in with your company’s mission, vision, and goals?
- As you develop a strategic vision for your organisation what are the key criteria that you should focus on?
- How do you adapt your leadership style in a growth business versus in a turnaround situation?
- What is your opinion on our current strategy? What would you do differently?
This could relate to change in the mission, strategy, operation or culture of the business. The economic downturn has forced most businesses to adapt and change and there continues to be considerable structural change in the retail sector. These challenges have required businesses more than ever to rethink the way they do business. Clients will want to understand examples and evidence of where you have delivered change within an organisation. What actions did you take, what challenges you faced and how these were overcome.
Typical Change Management questions may include:
- What’s the biggest risk you have ever taken? How did you mitigate this risk? Did it pay off?
- What are the most common reasons why change fails in most organisations?
- When have you broken the rules in order to deliver the right result?
- How have you restructured your business to ensure it is “fit for purpose”?
- How has technology changed the way in which you approach your role?
Stakeholder management is about managing relationships with a broad range of individuals or groups who have a vested interest in the various outcomes of the business. Your ability to effectively manage these challenging and sometime conflicting relationships is essential when operating at a senior level.
Typical Stakeholder Management questions may include:
- How have you sought to gain the buy-in of your fellow directors to your strategy?
- How do you deal with underperforming peers who are impacting your business?
- How have you utilised Social Media to engage different groups?
- How have you balanced the short-term versus long-term demands of investors?
Commerciality concerns your ability to exploit business opportunities and deliver great results. It is imperative that you know your numbers inside out as you are likely to be questioned hard about the results you have delivered and how you have achieved them.
Typical Commerciality questions may include:
- How is your business performing year to date?
- How does this compare to other regions, divisions or competitors.
- What is your lasting legacy at company X?
- In the last three years how have you balanced the need to cut costs whilst delivering for the customer?
- What action have you taken that has had the biggest impact on sales?
- Explain our brand?
- Who do you view as the biggest competitive threat to our business? Why?
- What are you looking for in an employer?
- Why do you feel you have succeeded where others have failed?
- How do you ensure your team are bought into your vision and company strategy?
- How would you deal with one of the direct report’s for this role who believes this role should have been theirs?
- What are you going to do if you are unsuccessful in securing this role?
Fundamentally the client is measuring you on the evidence that you provide, your ability to articulate that evidence, the results you have achieved and how these have been delivered.
So, preparation is key – whilst you aren’t going to be asked all of the questions listed, you will undoubtedly be asked about questions covering these competency areas and it is critical that you have prepared examples and are clear about the messages you wish to convey.
As a client said to me yesterday, “I can only assess the candidate against the evidence she gave me during the interview…”