Our executive search clients often ask us for interviewing advice. One common request is how to evalute the expertise of a senior executive. This usually happens when the interviewer is not an expert in the candidate’s specific functional area (a CEO interviewing a CFO for example).

Here are three simple rules to help you quickly winnow the field.

  1. Experts don’t talk jargon, pretenders do. Experts know how to avoid jargon and can sythesize complex ideas into understandable examples. If the candidate does not tell SHORT stories, or provide you with understandable analogies, or concrete examples, they are often not a true expert.
  2. Conversely, If candidates tell LONG stories about glories from the distant past, they are often trying to hide their dated skills behind that “impressive” story, or trying to baffle you with BS. When you are looking for a concrete example from a candidate, a long windy answer is never good. It’s far better when the candidate shows curiosity about your situation, and asks clarifying questions. Curiosity and asking you questions is good. But if their questions don’t make you think, they might not be an expert.
  3. Real experts like business problems that require their expertise. So if they don’t focus like a laser on the BUSINESS IMPACT of what you want to have done, you should move on.

Once you have winnowed the field of candidates, you might also want a third party opinion about your finalists. Perhaps you could have your outside auditor interview your CFO candidates, or your outside employment counsel interview your HR finalists.

If you’d like to stop wasting your time on the irrelevant, superficial aspects of interviewing, and start understanding the deeper elements of what really predicts success a new hire, read our post on How to Conduct a Job Interview so Top Performers Actually Want to Take Your Job.

And, if you prefer all that research and information pulled together into one attractive document you can easily share with others, download our Employer Guide to Interviewing.

Of course, interviews are only one component of a great hiring process, our Resource Center has additional topics you might find helpful:

  • How to Replace Underperforming Employees
  • How to Write Job Descriptions that Attract Great Candidates
  • How to Handle Bad Glassdoor Reviews
  • How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Your Hiring Process
  • How to Make Your Hiring Process More Certain, Predictable and Consistent

One disclaimer: This advice will be most relevant to hiring managers who are interviewing professional staff in large metropolitan areas. Our perspective is shaped by our work, and we work in a retained executive search firm, conducting searches for CEO and senior staff positions. We’ve completed over 600 searches for associations and other nonprofits in major metropolitan areas like Washington DC, New York, and Chicago, so we make no claim that all of our advice will be relevant if you are interviewing for other types of positions in other job markets.