Answering the ‘Do You Want to Be the CEO?’ Interview Question

by Derek Loosvelt | October 16, 2017

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This past summer, we surveyed more than 12,000 interns at more than 110 internship programs to come up with our 2018 Internship Rankings. Our online survey asked interns to tell us about their daily responsibilities, the career development opportunities offered, the best and worst aspects of their internships, the compensation and benefits they received, the employment prospects of their internships, and one more very important thing: their interviews.

With respect to their interviews, we asked interns to tell us which questions they were asked. And a majority of those surveyed told us that their interviews were largely behavior-based. This means (and we were told us much) that they were asked to talk about their strengths and weaknesses, a time they failed, a time they faced adversity, a time they worked with a difficult team member, a time they led a team, their passions, why they chose the particular industry they were looking to join, why they chose the particular company they were looking to intern with, why they chose their school and area of study, a time they showed persistence, etc.

In addition, there were some outlying questions. That is, questions that were asked of interns but not all that often. These questions—unexpected, out of the ordinary questions—are the ones that typically trip up internship seekers and job seekers in interviews. And so, here, we’d like to address one of these unusual but important-to-know-how-to-answer questions:

“Could you ever see yourself being a CEO?”

As for how to answer this, though there’s technically no wrong answer here, it’s going to be in your very best interest to answer “Yes” to this question. Doing so will show your great ambition and drive (employers very much like ambitious and driven candidates). It will also show your desire to lead (leadership ability is also incredibly important to employers).

Inevitably, if/when you do answer “Yes,” you’ll receive the follow-up question, “Why?” And to this, you’ll then want to express your desire to challenge yourself and to continually be growing in any job you take. You might also emphasize that you enjoy taking ownership of your work, enjoy the challenge of leading teams and making tough decisions, and would like to make a significant impact during your career, affecting as many people as possible. All of which will reiterate your ambition and drive.

Note that answering “Yes” doesn’t necessarily mean you want to be the CEO of a massive public company with tens of thousands of employees and billions of dollars in annual revenues. It could mean that you want to lead a smaller company, a start-up, say, or a mid-sized firm. But maybe one that will impact a vast number of consumers and citizens.

As further evidence of why you should answer “Yes” to this question, in a recent New York Times Corner Office column, Jody Gerson, the chair(wo)man and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, said this about how she interviews.

When I interview people, I just want to know what they want to contribute … I’ll also ask, do you want my job? I often find that the wrong answer is “no.” I want people who want my job. Why not?

Gerson goes on to say that this doesn’t mean she wants you to be gunning for her job right away. Patience is key.

Well, there are the people who are going to be nipping at my heels immediately, and it’s not the right thing. We are having a little bit of a generational problem now with kids who don’t have patience. Many of them don’t want to take the time to build a career.
That’s the hardest thing when I’m interviewing younger people. I was willing to wait 30 years to become chairman.

And so, taking Gerson’s advice here, remember to reiterate your desire to put in the hard work necessary to become a successful leader. You don’t want to make it seem as if you think you’re qualified to lead large numbers of people right out of the gate. Instead, you want to come across as someone willing to contribute to the team, to build your skills and abilities, so that one day, in the future, you’ll be able to lead the very team that you’re (hopefully) being hired to join.

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Filed Under: Education | Interviewing | Job Search

Tags: ceo | internships | interview tips | interviews | tricky interview questions

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