As an increasing number of independent advisory firm owners are trying to hire CEOs to help them run their businesses, it might be a good time for a refresher course on interview techniques. Some firm owners aren’t especially good at interviewing job candidates and may risk alienating those they meet.

The main problem is that during the interview process, these owners keep trying to change the person they are seeking to hire by giving them advice and/or recommendations about everything from their career goals to their areas of interest (e.g. financial planning, portfolio management, technology, marketing, etc.).

This “friendly” advice often is usually not well received by CEO candidates, who, by this point in their careers, believe they have a pretty good idea about what their professional lives are all about and what they want to focus on. Thus, if this sounds like you, it’s probably time to rethink your interviewing technique.

A Different Approach

To have more productive and successful CEO interviews, concentrate the discussion on the main purpose of these interviews: to determine the candidates’ goals, strengths and leadership style by asking questions and carefully listening to the answers.

Don’t give advice or recommendations or talk a lot about yourself. The goal is simply to see if his or her goals match yours. Trying to “change” his or her goals to get the outcome you want will, at best, just get you the answers you want to hear and, at worst, lead to a poor hiring decision.

Here are the questions I recommend advisory firm owners ask CEO candidates:

1. What are your goals for the next three to five years?

I find that while longer term goals may be interesting, they frequently can be subject to change and thus don’t really provide useful insights.

2. What is your relationship with your current employer, how is it structured and what restrictions do you have in leaving the firm?

3. Can you tell me about any other advisory firms you are looking at, what it is that makes them attractive about to you, and how old are their client bases?

4. What are your thoughts about running a business, what ideas do you have, do you see yourself as a business owner or a financial advisor, and what do you think the primary role of a CEO is?

These questions should give you a good overview of your candidate. As an advisor, you do this questioning all the time with clients, so it should be natural to you.

Treat CEO prospects like clients; don’t share any opinions or make recommendations until you get all the information you are seeking. The goal is simply to learn about him/her.

While you are asking questions, listen for contradictions in what he/she is saying. The contradictions are the opportunities, if (and it’s a big if) they match with what you want. “Making a lot of money isn’t my top priority,”  for instance, “but building a large advisory firm is my goal.”

Great leaders ask a lot of questions and give very little advice or recommendations to others.

You don’t want to change a job candidate,or what he/she wants out of their career. You simply want to ensure what he/she wants is the same as what you want.