6 ways to gauge job candidates' ability to think strategically

The vast majority of executives say strategic thinking is a leadership skill that is critical to an organization's success, according to Harvard Business Review. Unfortunately, it is not easy to assess the depth of one's strategic mind in traditional job interviews.

Instead of relying on a job applicant to tell you whether he or she is strategic, Harvard Business Review outlined six interview approaches to gauge job candidates' strategic ability.

1. Ask the candidate to solve an actual problem. Whether the interviewer uses a real unsolved problem or a problem that has already been remedied, this is the most effective approach, according to the article. With either option, the interviewer should verbally describe the problem or give the candidate a written description, ask the candidate to think about it for a few minutes and then have him or her describe the steps he or she would take to investigate and solve the problem. While different problems will call for different kinds of solutions, answers that omit a critical step or include too many tactical steps could indicate a lack of strategic focus, according to the report.

2. Ask the candidate to identify potential problems in a flawed strategic plan. Another approach is to ask a candidate to point out significant flaws or omissions in an early draft of a strategic plan. Since the interviewer already knows what's wrong with the early plan, it should be relatively easy to assess the candidate's ability to identify issues.

3. Ask pointed interview questions. There are several questions that can help an interviewer understand a candidate's thought process when it's time to think strategically, according to the report. For example:

  • How would you go about identifying the interdependencies in a proposed plan?
  • In your current job, how do you identify relevant stakeholders when working on a new strategic plan?
  • What steps have you taken to cultivate stronger strategic thinking skills?
  • What approach would you take to identify if a job candidate is a strategic thinker?

4. Look for certain words and phrases in candidates' answers to standard questions. Phrases like "strategic goals," "multiyear," "cross-functional, "connecting the dots," "root-cause analysis" and "data-driven decisions" could indicate a candidate has a strategic mind.

5. Ask questions that will expose how much they value strategic thinking. You can gain a better understanding of how important a candidate believes strategic thinking is if you ask them to list their capabilities from most to least important. Another question could be to ask them to list a few dream projects they'd like to work on in the future, then see how many of those are strategic.

6. Pay attention to the questions they ask. It's a good sign if the candidate proactively asks questions related to strategy, according to the report. Pay attention to the number and quality of strategic questions they ask, and flag anyone who doesn't ask any.

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