Lessons from LinkedIn: Hire for results

In this edition of Lessons from LinkedIn, CIO Canada asked the following question:
What are the best questions for CIOs to ask when they’re trying to hire business-savvy staff?
What follows is an edited selection of the answers:

My favorite question for this is: Are you a business person or an IT person? The answer to usually tells you lot about where the person is coming from in their approach to the organization. Some good answers I have heard are: I am a business leader who utilizes IT solutions to solve business problems. Or, I am both.

Kimberly Bishop
CEO at KimberlyBishop.net Executive Recruiter, Speaker, Job Search Expert

My first thought is that most ‘C’ level interviews with prospective staff is usually a ‘hand shake’ kind of meeting. The candidate probably would have gone through a few rounds with staff and HR before getting in front of the Chief. With that said, a meeting with a senior level executive should be some what surface level unless the Chief is technical and wants to get into the nitty gritty. I am struggling to come up with a formative question…How about: What has been your greatest transformation from business to technology and how did you measure the success of it? 

Guy Battaglia
Professional Recruiter

Questions that come to mind (some behavioral, some knowledge based):

1) Tell me about some projects that you worked on that yielded financial impact.

2) How was your role and performance crucial to the success of your previous employer?

3) What initiatives did you work on that helped to build a competitive advantage?

4) How did you create value for customers? 

Wesley Hoke
Organizational Development Specialist at Carolinas
Medical Center-Union

I would talk about the vision for the department, and ask the person based on their experience what they could contribute to help get the department there by a certain date. Then I would dig into details on their past performance regarding said subject. It’s very appropriate for a C level person to concentrate on vision, and to explore how any new addition would help fulfill that goal. 

Daava Mills
Human Resources at Vigor Industrial

A Business-Savvy IT Professional is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have, so this is a great question. My favourite questions to ask a prospective candidate is dependent on the seniority and background of the individual, but normally one or more of:

1) Explain to me what the growth strategy was of your previous employer, and provide an example of how you or your team made a significant impact in support of that strategy.

2) What was the yearly revenue of a company you worked for? What did the top line growth vs. the bottom line growth rate look like while you were there? Was IT viewed as a cost centre or a strategic enabler? Explain with examples to support your perspective.

3) If you found yourself at a strategic development session and had to ask three questions of the senior leadership team that would most valuable for you to know, what would they be?

Whether a prospective candidate is able to even articulate a reasonable response to the question posed is a good indicator to what extent their strategic agility competency has been developed. 

Pedro Cardoso
Director, IT & e-Business

After all the pleasantries and formalities of an interview have been met, a prudent question would be to ask a candidate is: Give me three examples of how your IT expertise and talent improved the gross profit margin of the organization you were/are working for?

A IT worker who has little to show for in contribution to gross profit margin demonstrates a disproportionate balance between IT and Business Savvy. 

Kevin M. Yoder
General Manager at
McLaurin True Value


My approach would be simplistic. Assuming the CIO is talking to managers or business analysts:

– I’d start by asking how they went about learning everything they needed to know about any new system to be built or implemented for a company (looking for someone who responds with an answer that shows understanding of both the day-to-day operational needs of the company as well as strategic / long-term needs)

– Then, I’d ask something along the lines of how they put the information they received into perspective and/or priorities

– Then, I’d ask how they intended to work with all of the various departments they were supporting with the new system, especially those who landed on a lower priority

Etc., etc. Think of getting to know a candidate as an inverted pyramid. Start by asking general questions, then drill down to get a more specific picture. As the candidate is revealing their understanding, background, talents & biases, drill down on items of interest or concern to you. Simple questions like, “Why would that be important?” asked to a candidate who says something like (just for example), “I’d improve the point of purchase equipment we have in place,” will begin to demonstrate how the candidate thinks and whether or not their decisions are based on solid business reasoning.

Deb Hester
Owner at Deb Hester
& Associates

Here are a few:

1.) Tell me about your most significant interaction with a customer.

2.) Tell me about your most significant interaction with a business leader (i.e. CFO, VP Sales etc.)

3.) Describe how you feel technology enables a business to achieve its fiscal goals.

4.) Have you ever visited a customer?

5.) Have you ever spent a day with any field personnel (sales reps, operational associates etc.)?

Louis Bonica
VP/CIO Information Services Executive well versed in Technology, Marketing, Operations and Customer Satisfaction

I think it is critical to look for evidence of a candidate’s willingness to continue to learn and grow. I would ask:

1. What have you done in the last 18 months to further develop your tech skills, your people skills and your business acumen?

2. What outcomes have you experienced as a result?

Cathy Shaughnessy

Don’t know if these are “best”, but they sure worked well for my hiring …

-What do you read? (if answer doesn’t include ROB in Globe and/or WSJ and/or some such – ouch! if it’s all tech rags – double ouch!)

-Pretend I’m the VP of & give me your elevator pitch for the benefits to the company (if one single techie-jargon word appears – ouch!)

-We’re at the budget-prep meeting; give me your business case highlights for spending on (if, after some minutes of reflection, it can’t be told clearly in 2 mins – ouch!)

Steve Pozgaj
Owner, Zoralot

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