Man looking at two computer monitors
Graphic that shows three different types of interview questions you should be asking.

Use these questions to identify a candidate’s technical knowledge and abilities

Use these questions to determine how a candidate handled situations in the past

Use these questions to assess a candidate’s personal traits and cognitive skills

Why this matters

In a general sense, COOs create, enable, and oversee infrastructure to keep businesses running smoothly—but beyond that, there are multiple ways to set priorities and create results. It’s important to learn your candidate’s personal view. This question gives candidates an opportunity to define what they see as their role—and demonstrate their ability to evaluate needs specific to your business and industry.

What to listen for

  • A quick and clear definition of the role overall, along with key objectives.
  • Familiarity with your industry and business—proof that the candidate has thought about this question prior to your interview.

Why this matters

As a new executive from outside the company, your new hire will need to quickly get up to speed. The candidate’s answer will reveal what steps they would take to get to know the company and get orientated, which may provide insight into their overall approach to understanding and solving problems.

What to listen for

  • A systematic approach reveals confidence, past experience, and a self-starter mentality.
  • An organized answer reveals a sense of structure—ideal for any COO.
  • A sense of urgency to ramp up quickly, so they can start making impact.

Why this matters

A balance of happy people and healthy profits is ideal for any business, and the two are intertwined: a happy workforce will be inclined to stay (which accelerates performance and reduces costs), and strong margins increase overall morale and longevity.

What to listen for

  • Answers should value both dynamics—and clearly grasp their relationship.
  • Past examples of how candidates pulled operational levers to improve either/both people or profits are a plus.

Why this matters

This question can reveal how a candidate stays strategically focused. The COO plays an essential role in driving operational functions to keep the business on target, so it’s important to know that your candidate has a process for defining the results they want and measuring progress toward these goals, without getting too in the weeds.

What to listen for

  • An emphasis on measurable results, through a process-driven approach.
  • An emphasis on the big picture view of company operations—revealing C-level vision and leadership.

Why this matters

Among independent-thinking business leaders, there are bound to be disagreements. When these relate to strategy or direction, conflicts can halt forward momentum—and leave companies stuck.

What to listen for

  • Anecdotes that shed light on their ability to listen to opposing views, support opinions with evidence, work through differences, and craft win-win solutions.
  • Quick resolutions reveal a sense of urgency and the ability to be decisive despite uncertainty.

Why this matters

KPIs matter—but it’s people that drive business. Most COOs have oversight over every person in their business, and a healthy level of empathy for people—ranging from line workers to direct reports, and from lateral peers to the CEO—will help your new hire to thrive.

What to listen for

  • A demonstration of real empathy and how it supported a positive result, such as recognizing that a direct report was going through a difficult time and providing the additional support they needed.
  • An avoidance of black-and-white type thinking and activity.

Why this matters

In large companies, COOs can be brought into HR matters which escalate; in smaller companies, your COO may perform HR functions as well. You want a COO who can act fairly, while staying aligned with company interests.

What to listen for

  • Flexibility—a strategy that works well with one employee may not work as well with another.
  • An answer that demonstrates superior interpersonal skills is a bonus—it’s not easy to balance the needs of others with company goals without souring one side of the equation.

Why this matters

Business realities often require acting quickly and decisively, without time to weigh or discuss options. It’ll be helpful to know how your candidate will respond. This question can also tell you whether they are more conservative in their approach—or willing to take calculated risks.

What to listen for

  • The ability to quickly apply data to come to a snap decision.
  • Systematic decision making—including where “gut” feelings come into play.

Why this matters

First, if your company values are published somewhere, your candidate should know what they are. Second, as a future leader of your company, they’ll need to not only align with these values, but embody them in an exemplary way.

What to listen for

  • Awareness of or knowledge of your company values.
  • Examples or stories that illustrate their embodiment of these values.