Interviewing with the CTO? 3 Strategies to Help Prepare

A good interview with the CTO is key to an offer

If you’re headed for an interview with a CTO, congrats on making it this far in the hiring process—but don’t breathe easy just yet. A senior management interview often makes or breaks a hiring decision, regardless of what the rest of the team thinks. So, be sure to do some extra due diligence before this specific conversation. In this article, we’ll cover three essential strategies to prepare for an interview with a Chief Technical Officer:

  1. Interview basics – the 101 when it comes to interviewing skills.
  2. Know your interviewer – take the time to research them as a professional, and as a person. If you happen to have something in common, it could build rapport.
  3. Know the broader context – research into the company, the industry, and even competitors helps you demonstrate you’re thinking about the big picture as well as the day to day.

1. Interview basics

Before diving into the specifics of CTO interviews, be sure to have your basics down, which also helps you perform better in interviews with other team members.

To begin, practice telling your career story and be sure the narrative reflects the journey you want to portray.

Related: How to Answer the ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Interview Question

Even for the most technical roles, great communication skills reflect positively on your candidacy, and the ability to clearly walk an interviewer through your past experiences is a great way to demonstrate this.

Because CTOs generally don’t manage the day-to-day work of their subordinates and are more concerned with the cohesiveness and effectiveness of the technical team, demonstrating effective soft skills is even more important.

In addition, remember that practice makes perfect—and this certainly applies to technical interview prep. While the more technical questions will likely be asked in your other interviews, it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for whatever the CTO throws your way.

If you’re interviewing for a smaller company, chances are the interview process will be less structured, so there’s a higher chance that your interviews with the management team could include more technical questions as well.

2. Know your CTO interviewer

Google is your friend here. Do background research before your interview. Start with basic information on the CTO themself. Check their LinkedIn, GitHub, and other online profiles—particularly those associated with the more technical side of things.

If they have a personal blog, be sure to read at least a few of the articles. It’s possible they’ve participated in a podcast or two. Listen to them. This can give you an idea of the industries and types of companies they have worked for in the past. It also sheds light on their technical competencies, experience and thoughts on managing teams. You might even gather insights into how they might approach leading engineering at your target employer.

It can also be particularly helpful to do some backchanneling via your network to hear about their working style and temperament. While online research will give you a good sense of the CTO’s path and experiences, getting personality-level data is much easier from an insider.

Further, going in for an interview with a senior management team member can be stressful, but hearing a first-hand account from someone you trust helps reduce the unknown. This context helps many candidates perform better during interviews.

Even if you don’t have connections who know the CTO, don’t be afraid to ask the recruiter or hiring manager for their thoughts.

If the team wants to hire you, it’s in their best interest to help you do well when you speak to the CTO. Besides, the worst they can tell you is ‘no’ if they’re unwilling or unable to offer any insights.

3. Know the broader context

As mentioned before, it’s unlikely that the CTO will be drilling you on technical trivia (unless you’re one of their first engineering hires). Once you’ve nailed your tech basics, put yourself in the shoes of the CTO and make an educated estimation about what they might have on the mind when going into your interview.

Senior management typically thinks less about the details and more about overarching company strategies, synergies, and risks. Be prepared to talk through your thoughts on and questions about these topics.

If you’re interviewing with the CTO, chances are you’re a highly-valued candidate, and one the team will expect to be able to think at a higher level.

When it comes time to ask questions of the CTO, prepare some to show you’ve done your homework and can think critically about your day-to-day, and the company as a whole.

This is a good time to ask about longer-term company goals and how you might evolve with the organization, as well as about growth projections and how your role might fit into a changing team over time.

Related: How to Ask About Growth Opportunities in an Interview

If you can, mention an insight you gained from other interviewers—something you wouldn’t have learned elsewhere. Then, tie it back to a question on your mind to demonstrate you listen intently, as well as incorporate various data sources to form deeper insights.

Lastly, try to come to the CTO interview prepared with a suggestion or two. What would you do differently if you were in their shoes?

Read the room to know whether it’s appropriate to mention. If so, this can be a powerful way to show the CTO you’re an independent thinker, and you already care about the organization’s success.

Ready to ace your interview with the CTO? Just follow the prep strategies

To recap: practice your basic interview preparation. Prepare your answer to the “tell me about yourself’ question. Remember to be concise. This isn’t an invitation to tell your life story.

We’ve also written about some of the most common interview questions and how to answer them.

Secondly, research the CTO before the interview. Use Google and social media sites to provide context on them as a tech professional and a person.

Third, research the company, its competitors, and think about the broader scope. This helps you prepare questions for the CTO interview. Prioritize these questions, because you may only get 30 minutes of the CTO’s time.

Finally, take a deep breath. You can do this!

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Revised Nov. 1, 2021

About the Author

Napala Pratini

Napala is a consultant to early-stage technology companies. Prior to going independent, Napala led marketing initiatives across both consumer and B2B fintech for employers including NerdWallet and Earnest. In past lives she was a ballet dancer and a cancer researcher.