the ceo magazine, hiring,
Jennifer Davis, Chief Marketing Officer, Leyard

You are looking to grow your business and your executive team.  You want to add another voice at the table to represent strategic marketing.  Communications and brand are becoming more important and you want the organization to be more thoughtful and integrated in your approach.  You want to add some diversity to your executive team, in which finance and operations are heavily represented.  Perhaps this is your first CMO role and you want to hire right.

You have worked your network, promoted a job and possibly even hired a recruiter to broaden and deepen your search.  You have a list of key candidates who might be perfect for your new role.  You know, as we all do, that interviews are horrible for assessing talent and fit, but that is the tool you have at your disposal, so you plan to use it to its fullest potential. 

Here are five questions you should ask in an interview and what to listen for to help you find the rock star marketing executive who can help take your organization to the next level.

1. What was your first professional “win” in marketing and what made it successful?

I am a big believer that how you do anything is how you do everything (which is a tenet of the Effective Interviewing curriculum that I highly recommend).  Making someone go back to their memory banks, reaching back early in their career (or even college), tells you a lot about how they approach problems, find resources, and how they assess their own strengths.  For this question, listen for the role that they played, how they measured success (was it a feeling or data), and how those same patterns show up in their later successes.

2. What is on your dashboard?

Assuming they have done similar work in the past and that is why you are considering them for your open position, ask them how they measured success in their last role.  Listen for metrics that are not activities based (ie, number of campaigns, shows, or product launches), but results based (ie, sales-qualified leads, conversion rates, opportunities, coverage, etc).  Listen for a mix of qualitative and quantitative. Ideally, they would have financial measures that relate to revenue and profit generation, not just budget management.  And if you want to inquire as to their technical skills on some of the marketing systems that might be deployed, ask about how the metrics were set-up and delivered.

3. What marketing metric should be on the CEO dashboard?

This question helps you get a sense of how the person believes their work should be measured and how collaborative they will likely be with you and others on the staff.  They should be able to provide you with a few key metrics that are measurable and meaningful to the business.  Not just benchmark metrics like marketing spend as a percentage of revenue, which are useful, but not terribly actionable.  Each business might call for different metrics, so listen for the logic behind the answer and probe into that if anything is unclear.

4. What do you consider best practices for building a winning team and how have you deployed those successfully in the past?

In any executive role, one of the key measures of success is how well they can recruit, empower, motivate, develop, and retain high-performing teams.  This question allows the candidate to talk about their previous teams.  If they are not specific in their answers, be sure to press them on where they found their key performers in the past, how they developed them, and how they delegated authority and responsibility over time.  You should also listen for how they describe the teamwork among the executive team – your direct reports – which are critical for the company’s success.  Patrick Lencioni in his book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, talks about the importance of having a first team that is your peers, not simply focusing on teamwork within functions or groups.  As a member of the executive team, it is critical that your CMO understands their first team responsibilities and knows how to team up and build trust among their peers.

5. From what you have learned about our company and industry, where are the most impactful points of leverage in our business?

This question requires the candidate to put on their management consultant hat and it tests their situational analysis skills, as well as the research they did prior to the interview.  Do they understand your business well enough (or ones like it) to identify a few things that would be of key importance to the business.  This is also a place where they could reference your financial reports (if those are public or provided) and provide you their analysis of the leverage points in the business model. 

These questions get to the heart of what you want in a marketing executive.  You want someone who knows their stuff from a marketing perspective and can lead the function with the capabilities, credibility, and confidence you need for the investments you are making.  But you also want someone who is an effective member of your executive staff and can help you lead the business to new heights. 


About the Author

Jennifer Davis is the CMO of Leyard and serves as the vice president of marketing and product strategy at Planar Systems, a leader in differentiated display systems and digital signage with offices in North America, Europe, and Asia. Jennifer can be found @jenniferdavis on Twitter and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin/in/jenniferbdavis.

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