When hiring for a senior finance level position – such as Finance Director, Chief Finance Officer or Fractional Finance Director, it’s easy to get caught up in technical skills and qualifications. While those are clearly important – vital even – it’s important to remember that there is a wide range of other skills which are just as crucial for success in any leadership role.
Asking good interview questions about those less technical, or ‘soft skills’ can help identify candidates who also demonstrate key qualities such as strong communication, leadership, and problem-solving abilities in addition to their finance skills.
A finance director with excellent soft skills can effectively manage teams, build relationships with stakeholders and adapt to changing circumstances. Activities which are an absolute must if you want your business to grow successfully. In short, evaluating soft skills during the interview process can help ensure that the right person is selected for the job.
What’s more, asking the right questions will give you a deep understanding of your candidate, such as their goals, their values, their approach to work and much more. While you should never ignore the technical requirements for a role as specialised as Finance Director or CFO, ensuring that your candidate is a good fit will reduce the likelihood of any future ‘banging of heads’ when it comes to making difficult decisions.
Here are our 11 top soft skill interview questions to ask C-Suite candidates.
1.What motivates you?
This classic question yields more information than we can even begin to mention. As a brief overview, the answer to this question could give you insight into their approach to work, loyalty, their determination, dedication, moral compass and values. It shows how they overcome adversity, whether they are generous of spirit, enthusiastic, a planner or a spontaneous ‘doer’. Do their motivations align with yours and the rest of the board? If you have a collegiate, values-based style then you’re unlikely to gel with someone who is money-orientated or cut-throat in their approach. At the same time, this may be exactly the personality you need if you’re considering selling your business at a later stage.
You can get a lot of information from this question. There is, quite simply, no right or wrong answer. Just a set of pointers to show you if you are both likely to be heading in the same direction or if there will be uncomfortable divergences of approach.
2.In terms of values, what similarities do you have with our organisation?
This question follows on from the previous one to dig a little deeper as to how they will fit culturally within your organisation. It is very much about finding a match, or complementary differences, in the candidate. What it also tells you is the extent of their pre-interview preparation. Do they know your values? Have they considered those values in relation to their own? Are they keen to join your company because your values align, or have they applied on a whim?
3.Describe your typical working day
This innocuous question is one of our favourite top soft skill interview questions! At the Executive level you would expect someone to respond with the fact that they don’t have a typical working day! Ideally, they’ll give examples of the sorts of activities they could be doing (which are likely to involve managing people, reviewing progress, communicating with various stakeholders, negotiating terms, liaising with banks or funders). If someone at this level describes in detail a typical working day that is structured and process orientated, they are unlikely to be operating at the right level.
4.How would your best friend describe you?
This is a gem of a question to uncover more personality traits as you can often glean so much information from a candidate’s response. We once had someone responding “Impossible!” to this question. As you can imagine, this gave rise to further probing! We like to hear the words loyal or determined in the answer. Listen carefully as what they don’t say is just as important as what they do!
5.At work, what sort of things/tasks take you most out of your comfort zone?
While this post is about soft skills, this is a useful question to ask your finance candidate because it shows their compatibility, or otherwise, with your current growth and future plans. For example, the candidate may mention that they actively avoid confrontation, something many people dislike. That itself isn’t a problem. The issue could be that they run from much needed conversations or that they take their discomfort and turn it into an overly aggressive stance. This might be at odds with your plans to restructure which will need some diplomatically managed conversations with team leaders around budgets while also proposing strategic growth planning. If your future FD or CFO is unable to manage both those aspects, they aren’t going to last very long and you’ll soon be recruiting again.
6.What’s the one thing at work that you think you do better than most people?
This question isn’t a trumpet-blowing opportunity! It does however give you a good feel for whether your candidate has got an oversized ego! It’s the perfect way to find out if they are the right person for your business and how much they actually want to work for you. How well do they relate their top skills directly to your organisation? Do they know what you need or are they just showing off? Do they understand why that one thing could be useful for your business or haven’t they taken the time to understand what your priorities are?
7.Give an example of when you’ve used your initiative to improve a business process.
This is a great question to get a feel for whether your potential new Finance Director or CFO thinks strategically. Have they implemented a new system or championed new software to make the business more efficient? Is their example recent or from many years ago (if the latter, then we would suggest asking them for a more recent example). With additional probing, you will also glean from this how they use influencing skills to implement change.
8.What’s your biggest disappointment (at work or home)?
This is a lovely question aimed at finding out more about how the candidate deals with disappointment than the event itself. Again, it is also useful to see what they count as a disappointment – something that they had control over or something that simply happened to them? This gives you an idea of how they approach tricky situations and their attitude towards life and work when things are hard. It’s also a good indicator of how they move on from disappointment. Nobody is immune to things not going their way – how this candidate moves forward after a negative situation could be key to how your business grows. You can see why we consider this to be one of the very top soft skill interview questions to ask!
9.What stresses you out and how would I know you’re having a bad day?
The key to this is asking both parts of the question. Most people, if asked at interview, will respond to the first question that not much stresses them out. The trick is to listen to what they say to the follow-on part. If someone talks about a series of management strategies around how they deal with stress then you have a good indication that perhaps they do get stressed more than they let on!
10.What do you want to be doing in 3 years?
Yes, this is a classic question but it is also one of the top soft skill interview questions out there! Clearly, the aim of asking this is to find out at the most basic level if your candidate is planning on heading off to live on a beautiful Greek Island soon, and just needs something interesting to do while they save money. At the same time, this question opens the door to a host of interesting insights: does your candidate have a clear idea of their career progression? Do they know what your business goals are? Are they interested in seeing something through, or are they more of a starter than a finisher? As always, there are no right or wrong answers: just responses which do, or don’t align with you, your business and your plans.
11.Talk about a time you had a difference of opinion.
Here you are listening out for the ways that your candidate was able to persuade others, come to agreement, or change their mind. You’ll need a candidate that can do all three. This question gives them the opportunity to show how they would do at least one of those. Keep an eye out for anyone who says that they never had a difference of opinion. Nobody wants a ‘yes-man/woman’, particularly at the C-Suite level, when growing a business.
Incorporating these top soft skill interview questions in your interview process really is key to finding the perfect Finance Director or Chief Finance Officer for your growing business. Leadership, communication, and problem-solving abilities are an integral part of any such role. By asking the right questions, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of each candidate to increase the likelihood of a successful recruitment process.
Of course, recruitment can take a long time and you might not have the capacity (or patience!) to find the best candidates out there. We can help with all aspects of recruiting your next top level finance person – from a full suite Executive Search, to our agile Candidate Assessment Service. With the latter, you find the candidates and we put them through our testing and interviewing process. Both options ensure that your candidates really can do what they say!
Get in touch for a no-obligation chat about what you need and how we can help.