Executive Director Interview Questions

Executive Director Interview Questions: What to ask and look for

The executive director role is uniquely different from members of the board, other managers, and employees, yet this role is connected with all of them. In forming a list of interview questions, it helps to think about the duties that an executive director is expected to perform and how that role relates to, and interacts with other roles within the organization.

The executive director runs the day-to-day operation of the nonprofit organization, which means managing people and working towards the organization’s strategic goals. Executive directors are overseen by the board of directors, so it’s imperative that there is a good working relationship between them.

Sort interview questions into categories so that the interviewer will be sure to cover all of the areas that the board of directors may have questions about. Each organization may have different categories of information that they are interested in. Here’s a listing of common interview categories:

  • Beginning questions
  • Results questions
  • Working/management questions
  • Questions about bridging from profit to non-profit
  • Cultural fit

Beginning Interview Questions

Start your interview with beginning questions. These will be questions about the candidate’s current or most recent role. Begin a discussion about why the interviewee is making a change and what sparked interest in your organization. Probe a little further to better understand how an executive directorship can fulfill the interviewee’s future goals.

Results Questions

Beginning questions will give you a feel for why this person was led to your organization. Follow beginning questions with questions about past accomplishments and how they became accomplishments. Talking about successes comes easy, but it’s also important to ask questions about the tougher aspects of the executive director job. The second part of the results questions should focus on managing problems and tackling challenges.

Inquire about what things were learned from past challenges or failures. Ask about weaknesses; how those weaknesses affected past job positions; and how to compensate for them. Generate a discussion about working with superiors. Ask for descriptions of how to handle conflict and provide examples from past positions. Try to find out about how past management decisions brought about positive any changes and how those changes improved the organization.

An executive director spends much of the day making decisions. Focus the next part of the interview on decision-making styles. Find out about the candidate’s perspective on making difficult decisions and how best to approach decisions that need a fast response. Use the following list of decision-making styles as a discussion starter:

  1. Democratic-majority rules
  2. Autocratic-leader makes decision and is responsible for outcome
  3. Collective-participative-director makes decision with input from group
  4. Consensus-group makes the decision

For the most part, the executive director manages his or her own schedule. Spend some time during the interview understanding the candidate’s approach to prioritizing daily work. A good way to do this is to ask the interviewee to compare a typical day at the last position with plans for a typical day in the new position.

Working/Management Interview Questions

The executive director will need to work as a team with other managers and also with the board of directors. Ask about past examples of working as part of a team, including contributions that were made as a team member.

Since an executive director position requires forming good relationships with the board, peers, and subordinates, spend some time talking about each of those relationships, including the relationship with past managers. Ask for a comparison of the prior supervisor’s management style with the candidate’s own management style. Feel free to offer some examples of different management styles including:

  1. Directive
  2. Authoritative
  3. Affiliative
  4. Participative
  5. Coaching
  6. Pacesetting

Explore past relationships with the candidate’s best and worst supervisors and how those challenges formed lasting impressions. Probe to find out the candidate’s approach to superiors regarding giving and receiving suggestions and feedback. As it pertains to the most recent work experience, find out what past supervisors perceived about the interviewee’s performance.

Questions About Bridging from Profit to Non-profit

Managers will often bridge from profit to non-profit, perhaps with the goal of moving towards retirement. Make inquiries about how the candidate believes his skills and experiences can be best used in the non-profit world. Explore how the organization’s mission and vision fit with the candidate’s own views.

Cultural Fit

Every board of directors has its own dynamic. It’s important that the new executive director fits in with the board culture. Ask questions about cultural fit, bearing in mind the current dynamic that exists within the current board of directors. Find out if there was any past difficulty with ambiguous or challenging personalities and how those difficulties were handled. Look a bit into the future and find out about the candidate’s three to five-year plan. Gain some perspective on qualities that the candidate admires in a supervisor, a peer, and a subordinate.

Hiring the right executive director has a strong impact on the board of directors, the stakeholders, and the organization as a whole. Cover every aspect of the executive director position during the interview to find an executive director that is sure to be a strong and wise leader. It is not uncommon to conduct several interviews to attain a comprehensive perspective of the candidate’s qualifications.

Jeremy Barlow

Jeremy is the Director of Digital Marketing at BoardEffect.