15 Must-Ask Interview Questions for COO Candidates

15 Extraordinary COO Interview Questions

Y Scouts is an executive search firm that has helped place several COO’s at nonprofit organizations and social enterprises. When we’re interviewing potential candidates for a COO position, the recruiters here at Y Scouts try to understand a number of things – their purpose, values, career history, the high-impact success outcomes and achievements a COO has had in their career – and a lot more. (Note: if you’re looking to hire a Chief Operating Officer, contact us and we’d be happy to share our recruiting process with you)

But what other COO interview questions do leaders ask their candidates? We decided to ask the Y Scouts Leadership Community what their favorite question to ask a potential new hire looking for a chief operating officer role was, and why they like to ask it. Here’s what they told us.

1. Explain the rationale behind each of your career moves.

I like to ask them what their reasoning was behind each of their career decisions, from their college graduation up until this point. Their answer shows me how the candidate strategizes and prepares for the future.

2. What are your goals?

I find this question helps me understand what motivates a potential hire and sheds light as to whether she would be a good fit. I am a big believer in ‘fit’ and this question goes a long way. People draw motivation from different sources, and understanding that from the outset is very helpful in building a successful relationship.

3. What makes you stand out from others?

I love this question because it forces the candidate to talk about their accomplishments without trying to sound too humble. You can also tell a lot about a person by how they answer this question. If they start to brag or sound too modest, it says a lot about their personality.

4. Teach me something I don’t already know.

A friend told me that this is a question often used in interviews at Google. It forces the candidate to get creative and explain something out of the ordinary.

5. Ask questions that determine cultural fit.

It’s important for a future chief operating office to be talented, but finding someone who fits in with the company culture is what really makes the hire successful. That’s why it’s important to consider your company’s brand and ask question that help you determine whether or not the candidate shares your company’s vision.

6. Who do you look up to?

A person’s role model can tell you a lot about them. People pick role models who have qualities they would like to see in themselves and in others. By asking about their inspiration, you learn a lot about the personal characteristics and skills that person finds important.

7. What are your communication skills like?

A COO is going to have to communicate a lot: with clients, employees, and myself. It’s extremely important that whoever is chosen for the position knows how to communicate effectively with many types of people.

8. What is the toughest job you’ve had?

I love this question because it makes the person I’m interviewing thing critically about their work experience. It also tells me a lot about what responsibilities they find the most challenging. If they had a hard time doing a job similar to the one I’m interviewing them for, I may think about whether or not that person is right for this position.

9. Tell us 3 Likes and 3 Dislikes you have at your current job.

This is a good question to use when determining whether or not a candidate fits into the company culture. If the things they dislike about their current job could also come up in this position, it definitely raises a red flag. I also notice if they have more “dislikes” than “likes.”

10. What’s the toughest feedback someone has ever given you? How did you learn from it?

This question lets me know how the candidate deals with constructive criticism. Can they take it well, or do they take it personally? What kind of criticism motivates them, and what just hurts their feelings?

11. What is was your production measurement in your last job?

This is a simple question to ask, but it tells me if they ever thought critically at their last job or if they were just there to get a paycheck.

12. What Are Your 3 Biggest Accomplishments?

This question lets me see what the candidate considers success. It could be anything from getting a certain salary, earning a certain title, or reaching a specific goal. It also tells me if they get their biggest sense of accomplishment at the office or through their personal life.

13. How do you handle rejection?

No one has all of their ideas accepted all of the time, even the chief operating officer. This question tells me if the person uses failure to push themselves more, or if they like to learn something from each missed opportunity.

14. Can you please tell me in your own words what we do?

I use this question to find out how much research the person did prior to the interview. The best people we’ve hired have all had well-informed answers to this question that addressed our company’s goals and what they could do to contribute.

15. How do you think the company will change in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

We don’t want our organization to remain stagnant, so we want to make sure our leaders can take us in the right direction. That’s why we ask them what they see for our organization’s future and how they want to get us to that point.

You might be interested in these other posts about hiring a COO:
When to Hire a COO
What to Look For in a COO
How to Hire a COO
What to Pay a COO

What COO interview questions have you been asked? Leave your questions in the comments below.

Y Scouts is an executive search firm that helps nonprofits and social enterprises find exceptional leaders. Contact us if you are looking to find an exceptional leader. To be considered for exceptional leadership opportunities with our clients, please take the first step by joining the Y Scouts Leadership Community.