6 Interview Questions that Cut to the Core
Conversations with Marketing Leaders from Canada Bread, Mars, Molson Coors, and SW+A

By Manoj Raheja

“What is your most unique ability? The thing you do better than anyone else in the world? Now I’d like you to play psychologist and think back to your childhood and tell me why that became your most unique ability?”

Ok dear blog reader – before you start sweating buckets trying to answer that interview question on the spot, please know that it was given to me as a homework assignment. This question raised my level of self-awareness 10 fold (and I know was a hugely valuable way for this employer to cut to my core).

I won’t get into my answer…other than to say that I discovered the ONE thing that defines when I have great success IN LIFE…and how if I don’t consider it – it leads to failures. Without a doubt this was a Cut to the Core question for them…and likely yielded better results than… “Tell me a time where you had to step up and be a leader” (Insert canned response here).

Now listen – I’m not going to claim to be a great interviewer…but I’d like to be…which is exactly why I reached out to smart marketing leaders to learn their “Cut to the Core” interview questions. And now we want to share them with you!

1. What do you hope to “get” from the role, and what do you expect to be able to “give?”

The question I always ask in an interview is around “give & get.” I have found that I am at my best when I am both giving (contributing) and getting (learning/growing/being challenged). That’s true of both relationships and career choices. It’s also good for self reflection when I think it’s time to move on (If I’m working in a role where the company is taking from me and I’m not getting back, time to move on).

Debra Kavchak Taylor – Molson Coors – VP Insights, Beer Reverence, Digital Marketing

2. What brings you here today?

It’s an obvious question but one that’s often overlooked, and from my experience, rarely prepared for by candidates. As such, it really helps cut to the motivation of the potential candidate, and you’d be amazed what you get in response! I’ve heard disappointing things like “the head-hunter sent me.” I’ve heard impressive things like “I want to work for a Principles based organization,” and I’ve heard ridiculous things like “My Honda Civic.” Either way it can help to break the ice…and more importantly cut to the core.

TJ Kanaris – Mars – Marketing Director

3. Why would YOU hire you?

I use this as a “cut to the core” question as it is SO broad that candidates can choose many focus areas. I find that their self-awareness and confidence impacts the direction they take the question, and that’s precisely where I get the most insight. If they go to tactics and technical skills, they see their value in more executional roles … and if they talk about strategy and team building, they have stronger leadership and followership. Overall, at every level I look for individuals that know how their experiences, capabilities and style blend together to drive business objectives and results.

KC Shendelman – Canada Bread – Senior Director Innovation

4. So in your opinion, what really is a brand?

This is my “go to” question. If I get anything that remotely sounds like it has come from a textbook, I know that the person hasn’t yet internalized the profession they are choosing to embark on. They aren’t yet on the journey to becoming a Marketing Jedi. What we do isn’t taught like math or science where there is right or wrong and elements that are repeatable. It is the mix of art and science, and the art side is where we find the magic. Artists aren’t taught their craft; they may learn it, but ultimately it flows out of them, and I believe the same is true for great marketers. The brand must flow from them, and they must lead with vision, passion, and belief as their compass.

David Bigioni – Molson Coors – Senior Director Marketing

5. Tell me about a leadership skill that you need to work on? Why is it a development area? Give me an example of where you’ve had to face it head-on and how you addressed it?

If this is a senior individual, part of what I want to hear is that they recognize that you can’t be great at everything, and surrounding yourself with people who have strengths where you have weaknesses, is essential!

Kristi Knowles – Molson Coors – VP Marketing

6. Instead of a hypothetical question – put them through a test.

I was asked to come to the company’s head office for one final interview. I was not told who I would be meeting with. When I arrived, I was ushered into a room with a table and two chairs. While I was waiting for my mystery interviewer, I noticed a manila envelope with my name on it. That’s when I realized this wasn’t an interview – it was a test. In the envelope was a sheet that told me, I had just joined this company and decided to come in on Sunday to get organized before starting on Monday. Also in the envelope were:

  • A note from my assistant letting me know she would not be in for a few days due to a death in her family.
  • A note from my new boss telling me about an urgent business problem that needed my attention – sales were down and we needed to up deliveries to meet our quarterly forecast.
  • A note from operations saying we would not meet customer delivery commitments due to supply issues.
  • Separate notes from two direct reports stating that each was ready to resign due to the other one.

The task was to prepare my “to do” list for Monday, and schedule meetings for the next few days, detailing the objective and the attendees for each meeting.

Clearly this was a test of my ability to balance results and people challenges. It was a powerful life experience for me, and clearly for the organization. It gave them an opportunity to see my judgment of situations and team dynamics and how to balance those with business realities and timelines.

Roxanne Pearce – SW+A – Managing Director

Interviewees beware! Those are 6 “Cut to the Core” questions from some of Canada’s leading Marketers. Now we’d love to hear from you. Either post your interview questions or just click the like button.

If you like our speaker series – check out the last one which showcases my conversation with Richard Burjaw, Former VP of Marketing at PepsiCo and his 9 Tips on how Marketers can better engage Agencies to get better results.