Interviewing CTO Candidates

Interviewing CTO Candidates

Interviewing CTO candidatesNow that Suma Nallapati has officially been named the new Chief Technology Officer for the Governor’s Office of Technology, a position that I report to, I wanted to share some insights about interviewing the candidates.

  • What an honor to join the interview team! I was suddenly spending hours interacting with other C-level executives and they were treating me as if I were a peer.
  • It was my role to vet the candidates for their technical expertise. It was nerve-wracking at first because I don’t consider myself a technical expert. I quickly realized you don’t have to be one to recognize one.
  • Plus, this is a leadership position that requires technical knowledge more than hands-on technical skill.
  • C-level candidates are not above interviewing mistakes. Some made multiple mistakes. Some made huge mistakes.

It’s this last bullet that surprised me. The more powerful the job, the more polished and prepared the candidates. Right? Wrong. So what kind of interviewing mistakes did they make?

  1. The most common mistake was lack of conciseness, particularly at the beginning of interviews. I can understand that candidates get nervous and are keen to make certain points, but it shouldn’t be that hard for people at this level. Answer the question, stop talking.
  2. Low energy. It’s easy for candidates to get so focused on what they are saying that they lose awareness of how they are saying it. If your delivery is flat, it doesn’t matter what you say. It could be absolutely brilliant, but the interviewer is thinking boring and lackluster. Smile and laugh, make eye contact, vary your cadence, think about the tone and volume of your speech, use your hands for visual cues, etc. It’s hard, but low energy people are rarely successful leaders.
  3. Not directly answering the question. If you’re not quite sure what the interviewer is asking, it’s better to ask for clarification than give an answer that is off the mark. These roundabout answers make the interviewer feel like you’re not a very good listener, and that will sink any candidate for any job.
  4. Inappropriate body language. These are accomplished people coming from powerful positions, I get it, but an interview is not the place to exert power through body language. Don’t lean back in your chair. Don’t clasp your hands behind your head. Don’t tap your pen on a notebook. Instead, sit upright or lean forward, look like you’re engaged and enthusiastic (because you are).

I don’t know if I’m ready for a C-level job in an organization this large, but this experience definitely helped me understand where I need some work.


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