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Big Ideas: How to Screen Candidates for Strategic Thinking Skills

Every Middle Tennessee organization needs strategic thinkers: forward-looking, big-picture visionaries who:

  • spot emerging trends and threats;
  • connect the dots, by identifying interrelationships among business elements;
  • think competitively, to improve products or services and gain an edge;
  • ensure their organization is fully prepared to thrive in today’s volatile economy.

Knowing that you need strategic thinkers is one thing; knowing how to hire them is quite another. In an interview, any candidate can claim they have the perspective and mental abilities to think strategically. Your job is to separate the wannabes from those who have this relatively rare talent – and these interview techniques from Dr. John Sullivan can help you do just that:

Big Ideas: How to Screen Candidates for Strategic Thinking Skills from Wood Personnel Services



Present a real, strategic-level problem to solve.

Describe the problem in detail. Give the candidate a few moments to think through their answer, and then present their solution. Ask them to walk you through the steps they took to form the answer. You can either choose an unsolved problem facing your business (to which the candidate may provide viable solutions) or one you’ve already solved (so you know the steps the interviewee should describe).

Present a flawed strategic plan.

Provide the candidate with an early draft of your organization’s strategic plan. Ask them to review it and identify any flaws or gaps. Since you already know what you revised, added and omitted, you can compare the candidate’s assessment to the changes your team made.

Listen for strategic language.

True strategic thinkers often identify themselves during an interview. As you listen to their responses, keep an ear out for telltale phrases like: strategic goals, looking ahead, connecting the dots, data-driven decisions, cross-functional, multiyear plan, SWOT analysis, and more.

Consider how strategic their questions are.

Not surprisingly, strategic thinkers will ask questions related to strategy in an interview. They may ask things like:

  • how the position fits into the corporate mission;
  • what opportunities the position provides for contributing to business strategy;
  • how your organization approaches strategic planning.

Ask interview questions that reveal strategic thinking skills.

Here are a few Dr. Sullivan recommends:

  • When you are working on a strategic project, how do you identify the relevant stakeholders across the organization?
  • What have you done to make yourself a more strategic thinker? How do you measure your growth or progress in this area?
  • If you were in my shoes, how would you assess a candidate’s strategic thinking abilities?

Wood Personnel: Your Partner in Hiring Strategic Thinkers

Building a team of strategic thinkers is essential for business success, and recruiting them requires specialized skills. Serving the Middle Tennessee business community since 1988, our professional staffing experts can quickly and cost-effectively deliver the talent you need by:

  • identifying hard and soft skills that align with strategic thinking in your available roles;
  • formulating behavioral and scenario-based questions to identify critical thinking skills;
  • direct-recruiting passive candidates with proven skills;
  • marketing your opportunity to candidates with strategic thinking skills;
  • accelerating the recruiting process to minimize candidate drop-off and poaching.

Whether you need experts for special projects or direct hire, we can help you access the talented professionals you need.