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We asked HR leaders in the Heller Search network to share their interview advice and questions they ask to assess a senior IT job candidate for that must-have trait: executive presence.

Your company needs a Chief Information Officer. Or a Chief Digital Officer, VP of Information Security, or SVP of Global Application Development. Regardless of the exact title you are recruiting, every member of the IT leadership team must be capable of instilling trust, transforming the culture, building relationships, and inspiring change. Some call this the “X” factor, some call it gravitas, and others simply call it leadership skills.

The candidates you’ll be meeting with seem to have it on paper. You see phrases like “pivot to an innovative, agile IT culture,” and “realigned IT to be service-oriented.” But, in the 60 minutes you have to interview each candidate, how can you be sure they have what it takes to be the strategic, transformational technology leader your organization needs? The answer: pay attention to the executive presence on display during the interview.

Recently, the Heller Search team asked HR leaders in our network to share their advice and interview questions that test candidates for executive presence. Here they are: 

1. It’s not just about what candidates say - it’s how they make you feel.

Shannon Kauffman, HR Business Partner (HRBP) at Chemours, a $6 billion global chemical company says, “When I interview a candidate for a role, I hope to make him or her feel at ease and welcomed. When a candidate makes me feel the same way, that’s a great first clue to executive presence.” Interviewing can be a nerve racking, emotional roller coaster ride. When a candidate is welcoming and relaxed when a lot is potentially at stake, it is a sign of composure, a sense of self-awareness, and emotional intelligence.

2. Look for confidence…the right kind.

Confidence is subjective and can be exuded in both mature and immature ways. Erin Feigal, SVP of HR at Prime Therapeutics, a $4.5 billion pharmacy benefits manager, believes that, “True confidence shows itself in traits like thoughtful communication, genuine humility, strong listening skills, decisiveness and emotional control.”

Says Lynn Merritt, CHRO at Healogics, operator of 700 wound care centers around the nation, “Confidence is also about being inquisitive and respectful.” But be careful – it is easy to misread arrogance, impulsiveness, over-communicating and big egos as confidence.

3. Storytelling isn’t just for children.

“How well the candidate puts together a clear, concise, and convincing story is an indication of how he will communicate to his teams, leaders, and clients,” says Feigal. How do you know the candidate is a good story-teller? Try playing it back to yourself or share it with it the hiring committee after the interview. Feigal recommends you ask yourself questions, like: “Did he provide the right amount of information, or was I bombarded with details? Did he provide context so I could picture the situation? Could he find the right words to tell the story easily and keep me engaged? In the situation described, did the candidate behave like an executive? Did he talk about strategy and finding solutions, or was he focused on the technology?” 

4. Questions can be more important than answers.

Our clients expect IT leadership candidates to be naturally inquisitive and possess the ability to ask bold questions that engage colleagues in a productive conversation about challenges and goals. So as a recruiter and interviewer, if a candidate doesn’t ask me engaging questions, then that candidate doesn’t move forward.

I look for mature, strategic questions around team development, the growth of the company, and relationships across the organization. I also listen for questions that dissect challenges, that are designed to gather more information and search for solutions, and have a sense of excitement in them.

Says Merritt, “I look for the ability to customize questions based on the information I’ve share with them.”

5. Dress – not just for fashion’s sake.

Dressing well is an easy indicator of social and emotional intelligence. It shows investment and maintenance of oneself. It is an indication of how people want to be seen and how they see themselves. 

Says Feigal, “If a candidate doesn’t look crisp and polished, it’s a red flag for executive presence. We don’t need or necessarily want someone to be runway-ready, but their suit, shirt, dress and other attire should be up to date, both in fit and style. Your dress is an expression of you; if you want to express ‘executive presence’, then you need to dress for it.” 

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