Sources of evidence

The assessment of each candidate’s capacity to perform the role must be undertaken through careful consideration of as much evidence as can be collected. Each piece of evidence should be considered on the basis of what it says about the candidate and how it confirms or contradicts other evidence to create a complete picture of the candidate.

Common pieces of evidence include the following:

  • The candidate’s work history
    Consideration of the overarching narrative of their career including the nature of roles held, sequence of roles, time in roles, and the reasons for gaps in employment.
  • Published statements
    Including articles, social media postings (for example Linkedin, Facebook and blogs) and quotes accurately attributed to the candidate.
  • Credible third party insights
    These can be solicited (that is, referees) and unsolicited (for example, media reports or other comments made in a public forum about the candidate). The strongest insights come from people who have little to gain or lose by the candidate accepting the CEO role.
  • The candidate’s conduct at interview and in other interactions.
  • Formal background checks such as police checks and security clearances as required.
  • Performance in tests
    These include: cognitive ability tests, which provide information about thought processes; psychometric tests, which can provide evidence about capability and ‘fit’; and scenario exercises (such as in-tray exercises, ‘day in a life’ role plays, mock meetings, or asking candidates to create a business plan), which can provide information about a candidate’s work style and capacity to perform under pressure.

While formal tests for CEO recruitment are common in some industries, their acceptance is not universal and may be met with resistance by some candidates.


Conducting interviews is an important part of the recruitment process. Interviews provide the opportunity for the candidate to talk about their suitability for the role in terms of the key selection criteria. They also provide an opportunity for the selection panel to gain an insight into the candidates’ potential for ‘fit’.

In a recruitment process for the CEO role, strong candidates are typically interviewed at least twice. The initial interview is used to establish the extent to which a candidate meets the key selection criteria. Subsequent interviews are used to explore aspects of fit. They are also used to investigate evidence about a candidate’s capabilities that may be vague, confusing or in other ways are a cause for concern for members of the selection panel.

While a candidate’s record of achievement is important, past successes do not always guarantee future ones. It is important, therefore, to investigate a candidate’s record of achievement in terms of behaviours that can and will be applied to future tasks and challenges.

Behavioural interviewing is the approach identified through research as being the most effective. The primary focus is on transferable behaviours–how the candidate thought about the situation and acted in response to it–rather than on the specifics of the situation or results (although these are, of course, of interest).1

A common behavioural interviewing technique is ‘STAR’ questioning (situation, task, action, result). In this approach, the candidate is asked to describe a situation and the tasks required of it. They are then asked to describe the particular actions they identified and undertook to address the situation and the results they achieved.

Information and evidence obtained through interviews, while important, should not eclipse information and evidence obtained from other sources. Rather insights gained through the interviews should be combined with other pieces of information to create a whole picture about the candidate. Assessments of the candidate’s capacity to perform the role should then be made on the basis of this whole picture.

Investigating Concerns

It is important not to accept or dismiss evidence about candidates at face value. The table that follows highlights some situations that, while they should not automatically exclude a candidate, warrant further investigation because they may impact the candidate’s capacity to perform the role, their credibility, their fit or their capacity to establish productive working relationships.

The candidate has … Questions to ask
had predominently private sector experience
  • What makes them sure they will be able to succeed in the public sector environment?
  • What additional support or development will be required to build their capacity for working as a CEO in the public sector?
had a significant period out of paid employment
  • Is there a credible reason for this break in paid employment?
  • If the reason was because of work-related health problems, have they put strategies in place to manage the cause and effect?
been associated with a significant failure
  • What was the nature of this failure and its causes?
  • Is the association between the candidate and the failure strongly linked in the minds of key stakeholders to an extent that it would prevent them achieving credibility in the CEO role and/or diminish the reputation of the organisation?
  • Is there strong evidence that the candidate has satisfactorily addressed aspects of their leadership capability or behaviour to the extent that a similar failure would not occur again?
been associated with comments criticising the current Government, the public sector and/or the organisation
  • What was the nature of these comments?
  • Were they expressed so strongly that they are likely to prevent the candidate establishing credibility and a working relationship with key stakeholders?
refused a request for contact with a person not identified as a referee
  • Has the candidate provided a credible reason for refusing the request?
  • Does this reason suggest that the candidate is not trustworthy or does not have the capacity to work with others?
been convicted of a crime
  • What is the nature of the crimes for which the candidate has been convicted?
  • To what extent would their crime impact on the capacity of the candidate to undertake the CEO role or establish credibility among stakeholders?
behaved inappropriately in the past
  • What was the nature of the inappropriate behaviour?
  • Was it an isolated occurrence or is there evidence of a pattern or trend?
  • To what extent would the behaviour impact on the capacity of the candidate to accept the accountabilities of the CEO role or establish credibility among stakeholders?
possible conflicts of interest (for example, commercial interests, personal affiliations or board appointments)
  • What measures will be put in place to manage actual (or perceived) conflicts of interest?


  1. Information sheets prepared by the Victorian Public Sector Commission providing practical advice about conducting recruitment interviews may also be of assistance. These are available from