Questions to Ask a CTO Candidate

The Atom Team

Hiring a new Chief Technology Officer (CTO) can be challenging, especially if you’re not too familiar with the ‘techy’ side of things. The skillset a CTO needs to bring will vary, depending on the area of business you work in, the types of products or services you sell and the users you’re catering to. There are, however, crossovers, and things you can ask about that will give you a clearer picture of a candidate’s strengths and what they can bring to the business.

If tech is one area you’re not heavily involved in, then how do you know you can trust a potential recruit’s experience and expertise? If you want to find a suitable fit, you need to be asking the CTO candidate the right questions.

Can you describe your approach to technology and technology planning?

A great technology strategy will always align with the business plan. You should ask your candidates about how they see themselves handling this, and ask for past examples of how they’ve made it work in previous roles. The more experience they have in tech planning, the better.

How do you ensure that technology investments align with business goals?

This question gives candidates a chance to talk about how they will prioritise the use of technological resources, so that their tech strategy aligns with your own business ambitions. It also gives them an opportunity to show they can think commercially, rather than being completely absorbed by the techy side of things.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in technology?

Technology moves at pace, so it’s vital you find someone who has their finger on the pulse. A good CTO can demonstrate that they’re constantly learning, keeping up-to-date with the latest trends and able to predict what the ‘next big thing’ will be. You need someone who can really innovate and be creative. Give your candidates bonus points if they’re part of an online community of CTOs who discuss the latest developments and offer each other tips and support.

Can you describe an occasion where you had to compromise on tech in order to fulfil a business need?

Asking this is key, and your ideal candidate is someone who can see the bigger picture. Business and tech may not always be in sync, particularly if you work in a fast-paced industry, and sometimes a CTO will need to make decisions they don’t always agree with. Only someone open-minded, flexible and able to envisage long-term goals will be able to make these judgement calls.

How do you evaluate and select technology vendors and partners?

People go about selecting tech vendors and partners in very different ways, and your candidates might take different approaches. By asking them about this, you can get a clearer understanding of how they will choose these vital partnerships and how that might fit in with your business strategy.

How would you manage and motivate your team?

Team morale is heavily influenced by management. A huge part of the CTO role is managing people and bringing the best out of them, so get them to talk about their management style and see if it fits in with your wider company culture. Ask about their past experience and how many people they have managed in previous roles. While you might start out small, the business may expand in the future and you need to know they can handle any big cultural shifts as it does.

How do you handle conflicting demands for resources within your technology team?

No matter the size of the company, tech teams always face limited resources and tight deadlines, so you need insight into how your candidate will handle such situations. As a founder, you want to trust your CTO to cope with these shortages and direct resources to where they are needed.

How do you involve non-technical stakeholders in technology decision-making?

You need all areas of the business to work together, and that means regular communication. Whether it’s a weekly Slack meeting, a daily phone call or a progress dashboard, frequent discussion will lessen tensions and keep the working environment harmonious. Ideally, you’re looking for a CTO who communicates well and won’t alienate those in the company who don’t have a tech background.

Can you describe your experience with cybersecurity, data privacy and business continuity? 

Cybersecurity is one of the biggest issues confronting all modern businesses, and it’s important to understand how your candidate would incorporate security. This gives the candidates an opportunity to demonstrate they can identify risks within the business and plan for worst case scenarios that might jeopardise its survival.

How would you deal with a cybersecurity breach?

Since those ‘worst case scenarios’ are a very real possibility, whatever line of business you’re in, it’s worth getting an idea about how your candidate would handle them. By talking you through their crisis management approach, you will get a good feel for whether they can keep a cool head when things become challenging.

Ready to hire your next CTO?

Even if technology is something outside your comfort zone, asking the right questions helps you narrow down your choice of candidates to find those with the right experience and expertise.

Atom CTO specialises in virtual CTO services, and we ask the questions so you don’t have to. If you would prefer to outsource your tech management rather than hire an in-house CTO, get in touch today to find out more about how we can help.

We’ll be your virtual Chief Technology Officer
Whether faith in the existing team has been eroded, your current tech team needs a senior mentor, or you need a new tech vision for the company, Atom CTO is here to support you.