How We Like to Interview

How We Like to Interview

18 Jul 23 3mins Jon Midmer


One of the most enjoyable and inspiring parts of being executive search consultants is interviewing great candidates for a living. In addition to providing an obvious ‘means to an end’, every single interview provides the opportunity to learn about achievements, companies, cultures, leadership, ideas and trends the world over. As such, they are an endless source of fascination and keep us fresh and up to date.

While focusing on what candidates consider their biggest achievements; what they think has made them successful in their careers and what they’re working on to be even more effective as leaders, we particularly like to focus on the how. As a private equity Chair remarked to one of us the other day: “If I was only allowed to use one interview question it’d be ‘How?’.”

The Overview

Before we get to our tried-and-tested interview questions, we ask candidates to summarise their career in ten minutes. This sounds deceptively simple, but it’s a real test of presentation skills and (not least!) the ability to stick to 10 minutes.

The overview reveals how candidates rationalise how they have got to where they have, why they made certain decisions and who they consider the most important people along the way. Every person’s story is unique and the very best are as revealing as they are expertly delivered.


We agree with our private equity Chair that how is the most instructive question word to find out about people. ‘How questions’ to discern leadership style include:

  • How do you like to lead and inspire your team?
  • How do you ensure your team are high performing?
  • How do you care for your team?
  • How have you built a diverse and inclusive team?
  • How have you grown as a leader in the past few years?
  • How do you build internal and external relationships?
  • How did you manage to persuade people to carry out that big change?

Other how questions we like to ask are:

  • How did you keep going in such a tough situation?
  • How ambitious are you?
  • How do you like to continue learning to stay at the top of your game?
  • How do you and your family feel about your travelling in / relocating for this role?

Why and Who

It might sound rather basic, but asking why a candidate is interested in the opportunity we’re handling is critical as indicates motivations. We like to hear the following:

  • A genuine affinity with the brand
  • A connection with the company culture
  • The role the company can play in a candidate’s career plans

Failure to list any of these is a big no-no!

Asking why people have made certain decisions is really instructive and indicates values, drivers and purpose.

Even though why questions, if not handled sensitively, can come across as nosy or even judgemental, if couched in language such as “That’s interesting, what was the reason behind that?” we usually get what we’re looking for without the candidate feeling overly grilled.

We also like to hear the real reason a candidate left or is looking to leave a company, not just the sanitised version. Being open to what isn’t working and owning up to past mistakes indicates self-awareness, maturity and a willingness to learn.

Last but not least, who questions can be equally revealing, particularly:

  • Who’s had the biggest influence on your career?
  • Who are your role models?
  • Who do you use as a coach and/or mentor?
  • Who have you coached and developed into bigger roles?

The Upside of Being Professional Interviewers

The thousands of hours of interviews we’ve conducted throughout our careers and particularly at JMA have been fascinating and a huge privilege.

They have provided us not only with first-hand knowledge of ‘what great looks like’ from a leadership and functional perspective, which enables us to shortlist only the very best quality candidates, but have also enabled us to take some of the best ideas we’ve heard and implement them within JMA.

Above all, the very best interviewees have provided us with the inspiration and ideas we need to be the very best partners we can be to our clients and candidates, and – we hope – leaders and coaches within JMA.