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5 Chief Operating Officer Interview Questions and Answers

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Describe a situation in which you were called upon to perform a task that was unpopular in the company. How did you handle this task? 


A chief operating officer is often called on to perform difficult tasks in the company. While the CEO is the person who is out front, the chief operating officer is often viewed as the "hatchet man." The ideal candidate can handle these situations with some dexterity and sensitivity. They need to show that they can execute tough jobs and keep the situation under control to minimize any possible employee discontent. What to look for in an answer:

  • Evidence that the candidate can handle unpopular tasks
  • Skills in corporate diplomacy, especially with employees
  • Tact in handling tough situations

"I do not relish these types of situations. Nobody does. But I make sure to do the difficult work with both sensitivity and diplomacy."


What do you do when the CEO tells you to take a course of action with which you disagree?


The chief executive officer is the ultimate boss of the company. The chief operating officer, while a prominent part of management, works under the CEO. You will want to see to what extent that this candidate is the proverbial "good soldier." The company will want their senior management to be loyal and to carry out orders. But you also want to know that the chief operating officer has a conscience. What to look for in an answer:

  • Multi-dimensional thinking that spots issues and knows diplomacy
  • Evidence of sensitivity dealing with the boss
  • A strong ethical compass

"I recognize who my boss is and the company's interests. I would speak my mind respectfully, and not perform any task that is illegal."


How have you used your problem-solving skills to overcome a difficult management situation?


The chief operating officer will have the overall responsibility for a large number of corporate tasks. They handle much of the day-to-day operations of the company. Oftentimes, the chief operating officer will be called upon to provide leadership in solving complex problems. This will mean overcoming various resistance, whether it is systemic or in the form of lack of support. You will want to know that the candidate is resourceful. What to look for in an answer:

  • Persistence in the face of numerous challenges
  • Evidence of the ability to think creatively
  • Skills in handling sensitive issues

"In my past job, there were difficult communication issues between departments. I undertook an initiative to get all corporate divisions on the same page."


How do you convince or persuade colleagues who do not agree with you to come around to your way of thinking?


The chief operating officer must deal with many powerful people within the company. While the chief operating officer does have some power, there are also vested interests in the company that may resist some corporate initiatives. The chief operating officer must often deal with these interests with skill. You will want to see that the candidate is able to build consensus and achieve the necessary results in a harmonious fashion. What to look for in an answer:

  • Complex projects that involve multiple parts of the company
  • Large-scale corporate projects overseen
  • Extensive skills in communication and explanation

"I try to let people have their voice heard, and I incorporate their viewpoints within the project. I make sure to clearly communicate my point of view as well."


Are there any areas within the organization that you feel you could understand better?


Sometimes, a job candidate is best when they know what they do not know. You do not want a candidate who says that they know everything because that means a lack of self-awareness. Admitting that they do not know something is also a sign of humility, which is valuable in a chief operating officer. You also want to know how a candidate speaks of an area that gives them trouble. What to look for in an answer:

  • Evidence of self-awareness and knowledge of weaknesses
  • A willingness to ask for help when necessary
  • The ability to learn

"I find information technology to be a particularly challenging area, but I regularly consult with experts and seek their help when I an unsure."

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