Tips for your CTO Interview, from a CTO Recruiter

Let’s set the scene – you’re a CTO. You’re being interviewed for that potential dream role. If you’re being interviewed by anybody worth their salt during the recruitment process you will be asked questions that are designed to get you thinking, and quite often to catch you out.

What exactly are these questions fishing for? What are they looking to achieve?

How does a CTO make decisions?

Does the CTO have a methodology/repeatable process for solving problems and building technology teams?

What’s the CTOs leadership style?

Does the CTO have the ability to overcome potential roadblocks, to be innovative and creative?

Does this CTO listen to other people – particularly the customer/client?

Here are some of the go to questions you should be ready to answer:

“Where are you in your career”

On the face of it an easy question, and an opportunity for you to “blow your own trumpet”. Ideally your answers should reflect being happy in your lot (us Headhunters believe the best candidates are generally not proactively looking for a new challenge). Avoid complaining about your boss and what they may have got you doing or blaming it all on others as to why your considering new roles. Whinging can be seen as being ignorant of your own shortcomings, not a great trait for a leader. The ideal response could be: “I’m actually happy with what I do at XYZ Ltd. I’ve got a great team around me and an awesome product.” This response would then lead nicely to the next question:

“So why would someone who’s as happy as you consider making a change?”

Talented CTOs don’t generally want to move sideways. Depending on your current level of responsibility, a great answer could be “I want to become a CTO with more strategic responsibility than my current role can offer” or “Although I enjoy coding, I don’t see it as a core duty of a CTO, so I want to explore opportunities that don’t include hands on development”.  

“What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning?”

A lot of interviewers will just review a CTO’s career history, asking questions about this job and that job. However, what really interests a Headhunter is understanding what really excites you about your job, what exactly is it that gets you out of bed. Generally speaking, talented CTOs tend to say the same type of things, like: “I love to build things and get people to help me resolve seemingly impossible challenges. Getting people really excited and on board to build something and getting to market sooner than expected.” Or “I get a real kick from bringing people on a journey with me, seeing how their careers develop and grow, I like to help and mentor people.” These answers suggest that the person being interviewed is a genuine leader, or has genuine leadership potential and can inspire others to follow them.  

“What is it you don’t like doing”

The stock answers to this question include “I don’t like getting involved in office politics” or “I don’t like bureaucracy”.  These are really quite poor responses as they don’t reveal anything about you. Better answers would be “I don’t always agree with company policy or tow the company line” or “ I sometimes don’t like marching to the best of just one drum”. To me these answers suggest someone who is not afraid of taking a risk, a potential innovator. 

“What strategic decision are you most proud of?”

Another opportunity to blow your own trumpet – so pucker up those lips, but just remember the devil really is in the detail. Any answers I get to this question must be in minute detail and delivered with real passion. Anything generic or just a headline doesn’t wash and your answers will be seen as questionable to say the least.