• Estimated read time: 8 mins
  • Date posted:09/01/2019
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It’s often been said that there’s more to succeeding at interview than giving the right answers. You also need to ask the right questions.

As a senior manager or executive, you’ll be familiar with the interview process. You know that the Hiring Manager is evaluating your fitness for a leadership position, so the key is to convince them that you have the skills and expertise to lead and further the organisation.

While you might believe that the answers you give during interview will paint your expertise and qualities in the best light, don’t underestimate the importance of asking questions during interview. Hiring Managers frequently acknowledge that questions posed by leadership-level candidates offer telling insights into the individual’s character, emotional intelligence and cultural fit, and is the part of the interview they most look forward to.

Why ask questions

Heads up: The Hiring Manager is expecting you to ask informed questions about the organisation and the role. The questions you put to the Hiring Manager during interview help demonstrate your knowledge, experience and personality while finding out more about the following:

  • The remit of the role
  • Expectations and aspirations
  • The organisations’ values and culture
  • The onboarding process for the successful applicant

Your goal isn’t simply to wow the Hiring Manager. It also an opportunity for you to address any uncertainties or concerns you may have. By the time the interview is over, you should have a clear understanding as to whether the position and the organisations’ culture are a good fit for you.

Thinking forward

Interview success is dependent upon your understanding of the role requirements and using that information to deliver a gold standard performance.

Don’t think you can wing it. Here’s a quick summary of how and what to prepare for a senior-level interview:

  • Research the organisation to gain an understanding of its missions, values, products and competitors. Check the organisations’ website, social media channels and press activity.
  • Get clued up on the Hiring Manager. What is their role? What are their recent accomplishments? Where did they go to Univerisity? Details like these can help break the ice and build rapport.
  • Understand the job requirements. Examine the job specification and, for every listed requirement, prepare an example of a similar situation in your career where you excelled.
  • Brainstorm how you would develop the role over the next 6- 12 months. These predictions should play to your personal strengths while demonstrating an understanding of the organisation.
  • Dress for success. When deciding what to wear to interview, visit the organisations’ website or social media platform for clues as to organisational dress code.
  • Be Punctual. After confirming the address, locate the interview site on Google Street View. If you happen to run late, be sure to contact the organisation in advance to warn them.

And don’t forget to…

Articulate answers that impress

Impressing at interview is all about the way you tell your story. Any interview for a senior-level management or executive position will include questions about:

  • Your experience.
  • Your management style.
  • Past career accomplishments.
  • Mistakes and how you overcome them.
  • Expectations for the future.

Your answers to these questions will help the Hiring Manager judge your competence for the role and cultural fit. Excelling at answering these competency questions is key to interview success.

Use the STAR technique – Situation, Task, Approach, Results –  to articulate your responses. To give an effective response, all four elements of your answer need to work:

1. Situation
Set the scene by providing the Hiring Manager with some background information which will help put the other elements of your answer into context. For example, if the interviewer asks you about your last position, you could say, “I developed and lead the regulatory program for [Organisation], an industry leading biologics organisation based in California”.

2. Task
Build on your background by outlining what you had to do to complete all deliverables. Building on the Regulatory Affairs example outlined earlier, you could say “I assured the compliance of all marketing initiatives by having final sign-off on all marketing collateral and campaigns developed in-house and by external agencies”. Don’t go into too much detail unless prompted.

3. Action
How did you resolve the situation? Your interviewer will know that challenges are common, so don’t be afraid to be honest. Tell them what hurdles you had to overcome to accomplish your goals. Be sure to align your response with the skills, experience and qualities outlined in the job description wherever possible.

4. Results
Describe the outcome. Did you achieve target? If you failed, explain what you learnt from the experience and what you would do differently if you were to approach the task again.

For more information on how to prepare for a senior-level interview, read our blog: How To Prepare For A Senior-Level Job Interview.

13 Questions (and why they matter)

Questions are traditionally reserved for the end of the interview. More often then not, some questions will naturally be covered off during the interview as conversations ebb and flow around topics like organisational remit and the responsibilities of the role. But don’t necessarily save all your questions until the interview starts drawing to a close. Where appropriate, use questions posed by the Hiring Manager to ask questions of your own around topics where you can truly demonstrate your knowledge and experience.

Here is a list of 13 questions that help to demonstrate your interest in the organisation, the role and paint your skills and experience in the best possible light:

1. Have I answered all your questions?

Before asking questions of your own, determine whether you’ve given the Hiring Manager all of the information they need to evaluate you as a candidate. They will appreciate the opportunity to ask for any extra details or information before concluding the interview.

2. What is the long-term strategic vision of the organisation?

Demonstrating an interest in the future of the organisations shows an impressive degree of engagement. When you follow up that question with, “How does this position contribute to this?” you’re actively showing interest in how you can support its future success.

3. Who do you consider your major competitors? How are you better?

This question suggests that even now you are thinking about how you can assist the company in standing out from the competition and accomplishing its primary business goals.

4. What problems does your organisation face right now? And what is your function doing to solve them?

Life science organisation across all sectors experience challenges, and asking about them at the interview will give the impression that you’re interested in developing solutions if you are hired. The interviewer’s answers will also give you some valuable insights into how the organisation approaches problem-solving.

5. What is the history of this position?

This is an important question because if you are offered the position, you will be working in a setting that your predecessor established or developed. If the role is a new one, created to support the organisation’s growth or a new direction, you should ask about how its responsibilities were handled up until now and how they will be transitioned.

6. What are the challenges of this position?

This is not information that the Hiring Manager may disclose in its entirety. This interview is a time when both potential employer and employee want to make the best possible impression, so you’re not likely to be told (for example) that the function is underperforming or many people on your team have performance issues. If they say there are no challenges, be wary. Are they being honest?

7. How do you evaluate success?

This is a great question to ask because you will have a more definite idea of the expectations for the position and how the organisation defines excellence in that role. These insights will also clarify what it would take to advance within the organisation.

8. What makes an outstanding (insert position title) in your opinion and how do I compare?

This question can be daunting because the answer can give you a good idea of whether or not you’re likely to land the position. At the same time, it can be an opportunity to clarify any misconceptions (e.g. the hiring manager doesn’t know that you possess a necessary skill) or confirm that this may not be the position for you.

9. Is there anything I have said that makes you question if I would be an excellent fit for this position?

Yet another daunting question, because you are essentially asking whether or not you can expect an offer after the interview. Like the previous question, it gives you the chance to address any reservations about your candidacy before the interview concludes.

10. How would you describe the company culture?

This question provides you with the opportunity to understand the organisation’s corporate philosophy and how it can relate to interactions with employees. Is employee satisfaction a priority? If it isn’t, are you sure that you want to work there?

11. What do you like most about working for [Organisation]?

If you get an enthusiastic response that matches your values (e.g. the company respects its employees and is committed to helping them succeed), it’s a sign that you will enjoy assuming a senior management or executive position there. On the other hand, if the hiring manager gives you a ‘canned’ response that sounds like it came from the employee handbook, be wary.

12. If hired, what are the three most important objectives you’d like me to accomplish in the first six months?

Too many job specifications present generic responsibilities. Asking the Hiring Manager to specify what the organisation’s expectations are for the position and what it will want you to accomplish if hired shows that you are sincerely interested in adding value. It also makes it easier for you to demonstrate your fit for the job.

13. What is the next step in the interview process?

You don’t want the interview to conclude with a simple “We’ll be in touch.” Once you’ve determined that you like the company and believe you are a good fit for the position, your next step should be to know the next stage in the interview process. Ask the Hiring Manager who you might hear from next and when.

Sometimes, a Hiring Manager is so thorough in their introduction to the organisation and the role that they cover all bases before you get an opportunity to ask questions. If this is the case, you can say something along the lines of “our discussion has been very thorough, so right now I believe that all of my questions have been answered. May I reach out to you if I think of anything else?” If you part on this note, be sure to follow up with the Hiring Manager via email or telephone with any questions you might have within three days of the interview.

The benefits of asking great questions

Asking great questions during a senior-level job interview will send the following message to those making hiring decisions:

  • You have the knowledge and experience to succeed. Asking questions will further reinforce your performance during the Q&A session.
  • You are naturally curious. Curiosity is a sign of intelligence and the ability to absorb and retain information, helping you make informed decisions.
  • You are emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence (EQ)  is the ability to harness your emotions, helping you communicate more effectively and emphasise with others.
  • You have prepared. Thorough preparation is a quality of a good leader.
  • You are keen. Never underestimate the importance of showing you are interested in pursuing an opportunity with the company.

At the senior management or executive level, life science Hiring Managers are looking for evidence that you can deliver measurable results for their organisation. A candidate who knows how to ask the right questions will stand out during interview as someone with the confidence and insights needed to lead and develop the organisation and helping it achieve its’ goals.


For more job search advice tailored to senior managers and executives…

* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.