Interviewing Candidates for Key Positions Phil Kenkel Bill Fitzwater Cooperative Chair

Interviewing Candidates for Key Positions
Phil Kenkel
Bill Fitzwater Cooperative Chair
A recent study at North Dakota University examined the CEO succession planning activities of
cooperative boards of directors. One of the areas in which directors expressed the least
confidence in was in interviewing and evaluating potential CEO candidates. While managers
likely have more experience with the interview process than do board members, the evaluation of
candidates for any key position in the cooperative business is challenging.
The best way to assess competencies is through historically based behavioral interviews. The
best predictor of future performance is past performance. In order to predict how well an
individual will perform in the future you need to explore evidence of their competencies in past
experiences. Those kinds of questions go beyond the superficiality of most interviews and give
you a glimpse of how an individual would perform in a key position. The approach can be
applied to both internal and external candidates and to interviews of the board for the CEO
position or the CEO for key mid-level positions.
To conduct a behavioral based interview ask open ended questions that provoke stories about the
candidates choices and competencies in a situation. For example: ‘Give me an example of how
you used the planning process to effect a needed change.” Prompt the candidate to describe the
situation, what they did and how well it worked. Use follow up questions to find out what
difficulties they encountered and how they overcame them. By asking for more detail you
determine the accuracy of the statements and get more insights into their competencies and
personalities. For example, if the candidate says “we successfully reorganized our inventory
tracking procedures” ask specifically what was done what was their precise role.
There is no perfect system for predicting future performance. Every candidate has flaws, or
more precisely, every candidate has a different set of strengths and weaknesses. A rigorous
assessment process gives you the best chance of selecting the candidate that best matches up to
the cooperatives culture and challenges. Provoking stories about past behavior will give you the
best insights. You might also hear some pretty interesting tales!