Interviewing Candidates for Key Positions

Phil Kenkel

Bill Fitzwater Cooperative Chair

Oklahoma State University

A recent study at North Dakota University examined the CEO succession planning activities of cooperative boards of directors.  One of the areas in which directors expressed the least confidence in was in interviewing and evaluating potential CEO candidates.  While managers likely have more experience with the interview process than do board members, the evaluation of candidates for any key position in the cooperative business is challenging.

The best way to assess competencies is through historically based behavioral interviews.  The best predictor of future performance is past performance.  In order to predict how well an individual will perform in the future you need to explore evidence of their competencies in past experiences.  Those kinds of questions go beyond the superficiality of most interviews and give you a glimpse of how an individual would perform in a key position.  The approach can be applied to both internal and external candidates and to interviews of the board for the CEO position or the CEO for key mid-level positions.

To conduct a behavioral based interview ask open ended questions that provoke stories about the candidates choices and competencies in a situation.  For example: ‘Give me an example of how you used the planning process to effect a needed change.” Prompt the candidate to describe the situation, what they did and how well it worked.  Use follow up questions to find out what difficulties they encountered and how they overcame them.  By asking for more detail you determine the accuracy of the statements and get more insights into their competencies and personalities.  For example, if the candidate says “we successfully reorganized our inventory tracking procedures” ask specifically what was done what was their precise role.

There is no perfect system for predicting future performance.  Every candidate has flaws, or more precisely, every candidate has a different set of strengths and weaknesses.  A rigorous assessment process gives you the best chance of selecting the candidate that best matches up to the cooperatives culture and challenges.  Provoking stories about past behavior will give you the best insights.  You might also hear some pretty interesting tales!