CEO to CEO: Questions from Job Applicants and Strategic Planning

Best questions from job applicants and how to ensure board and staff collaborate during strategic planning.

What is the best question you've been asked by a job applicant?

I have interviewed many applicants over the years. It is usually easy to pick out those who are prepared versus those who are winging it. While there is no perfect company or perfect job, I usually go into the interview knowing what I want to impart to those seeking employment in our firm. The best question asked to me was "Do you like your job here?" This question was startling, not only because I had never been asked it before but because it didn't fit into the typical interview script. It evoked an immediate reaction that I needed to recover from. Brilliant!

—Valerie J. Cammiso, executive director, International Council of Shopping Centers Foundation, New York. Email: [email protected]

"What is your management style?" I think this is a great question, especially in a small organization. I know that I couldn't work for a dictator, and many applicants know what kind of person they would like to work with. Since I've had a 360-degree evaluation, I can provide what employees say in addition to my own perceptions. I also share management philosophy and behaviors that I think define my style. Usually the applicant's body language tells you whether or not they would be comfortable in that environment.

—John Alfano, president and CEO, LeadingAge Ohio, Columbus, Ohio. Email: [email protected]

"Please describe your working environment and its culture." The key item I work to pull out of an interview is job fit. I prize the power of our working environment over everything else. If I can find someone who fits that environment, I almost always end up with a winner. That this applicant would zero in on this issue pleased me greatly because that conveyed that fit was as important for the applicant as it is for my association.

—Nelson Fabian, executive director and CEO, National Environmental Health Association, Denver. Email: [email protected]

Recently, I had an applicant ask me, "What are you, as the executive director, going to do to help ensure my success?" It was not only a great question—and the right one to ask—it also demonstrated to me that this was somebody who had the presence and prescience to ask such a question before agreeing to take the position. It wasn't asked in an arrogant or aggressive way, but I had to collect and organize my thoughts and make explicit and specific statements that are normally implicit or kept to generalities. Needless to say, we hired her!

—Marty Saggese, executive director, Society for Neuroscience, Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

"Your industry is facing x, y, and z issues. How does your association track these trends, and what measures are you taking to counter them?"

—Kathryn Burton, CAE, executive director and CEO, Society for Technical Communication, Fairfax, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

How do you ensure that your staff and board work together during the strategic planning process?

PAFP currently has a three-year strategic plan. Included are the goals, objectives, and strategies with staff-committee responsibilities. Staff reviews the plan annually and presents their analysis and updates with recommendations to the planning commission in late August. The planning commission chair presents the recommendations from the summer meeting at the year-end board meeting. There is continuous interaction between staff, the planning commission, and the board when the strategic plan is annually reviewed.

—John Jordan, CAE, executive vice president and CEO, Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Email: [email protected]

We involve both volunteer leaders and staff from the beginning. Everyone is committed to the same shared vision for both the short- and long-term future of the association and the fundamental principles of why we exist. Throughout the strategic planning process, ideas are shared, directions discussed, resources considered, and opinions expressed. While the fundamental goals and objectives of the association remain constant, how they are addressed changes in response to a variety of factors, from technological innovation to industry regulations and societal trends. With the variety of viewpoints and insightful expertise represented by those involved in the process, the strategic plan emerges as a valuable guide for five years, with annual review and update in light of changing times.

—Don Klein, CEO, Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, Nashville, Tennessee. Email: [email protected]

The staff-board relation for strategic planning tends to be swayed by the mood of the board. Does the board feel trusting and sharing? Do they think the staff is dictating to them (which may seem true if the same board members have not done their preparatory homework)? So, the real trick for staff is to be flexible, diplomatic, and focus on the practical matters.

—Fred Hunt, active past president, Society of Professional Benefit Administrators, Chevy Chase, Maryland. Email: [email protected]

We have a three-year strategic planning cycle, and we have worked hard to create a culture that separates the identification of strategic direction from association operations. This creates an atmosphere that allows for a positive discussion about direction to occur without it drifting into the day-to-day nonstrategic business of the organization. We include key staff department leaders in the strategic planning sessions and then they are responsible for developing and executing the annual actions to achieve the strategic direction.

—Richard A. Poppa, AAI, CAE, president and CEO, Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of New York, Inc., Dewitt, New York. Email: [email protected]